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THE HOURS AND TIMES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  David Angus, Ian Hart, Stephanie Pack
Director:  Christopher Munch
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Widescreen 1.37:1
Studio:  Choices Select
Features:  Audio Commentary, Making-Of Featurette
Length:  60 Minutes
Release Date:  October 29, 2002

“You’ve got the world at your fingertips.”

“I haven’t the one thing that would make the slightest difference.”

Film ***1/2

One was sophisticated, quiet, and secretly homosexual, the other was working class, rebellious, and talented.  They were two men with nothing in common, but when providence brought them together, they helped alter the course of popular culture forever.

Those men were Brian Epstein and John Lennon.  Lennon, of course, was a rock star in the making, whose band The Beatles would become the biggest selling group in music history.  Epstein was the Jewish socialite who became the group’s manager, polished their image, helped them land a record contract, and presented them to the world as the group it had been most waiting for.

Most music fans know that part.  What isn’t as widely known is that Brian harbored a secret crush on Lennon, and that once upon a time, after a grueling series of concerts and the recording sessions that would make Beatlemania a worldwide phenomenon, the two went on a four day holiday together in Barcelona.  What happened or didn’t happen between them has been the stuff of gossip, conjecture and speculation for decades.

Writer/director Christopher Munch crafted one possible version of what happened during those days in a remarkable independent film from 1991, The Hours and Times.  With a cautious disclaimer at the beginning, this movie accepts the version of the truth that, yes, these two men did share an intimate encounter in Barcelona.  But the beauty of the film and screenplay is that it doesn’t look upon it as a lurid moment ripe for tabloid fodder.  It instead explores two souls at their most lonely and vulnerable, during the last quiet hurrah the two would probably ever enjoy again as the tides of fame and fortune were about to turn and turn hard.

Epstein (Angus) arranges the Beatles’ holiday, but takes Lennon (Hart) to a place special to him…Barcelona.  It’s a beautiful city known for its architecture and bullfights, and there, in a hotel room, the two friends/business partners begin to bare their souls a little bit.  Though the events in the film are of course undocumented, the picture at least gets the men’s characters right.  Brian is thoughtful, caring, and easily wounded, while John frequently hides his real feelings behind humor and biting barbs.

There isn’t a sense of voyeurism here, which I appreciated…it would have been easy to sensationalize this material and turn it into something shocking.  Munch’s approach is much more concise and skillful.  His story is not about a sexual encounter, but an emotional one.  It’s four days that change everything, yet at the same time, change nothing, because this thing called The Beatles was soon to balloon into something much bigger than both of them.

Consider the excitement of Beatlemania, then reflect upon the stillness of this film as a calm before a storm.  The tone may have been partially owing to the low budget, but still, it’s the right mood and atmosphere.  It’s a conducive environment for self-exploration, and makes the events seem all the more possible.  Both lead performances are astounding, with Angus and Hart finding the right notes in Epstein and Lennon so that the audience easily believes they’re watching the real things.  Their work supports the script, which surprisingly, never hits a false note or really raises an eyebrow. 

In fairness to Munch, there have been reports over the years that have suggested such an encounter was real.  Though Brian tried to keep his personal life out of the press, it has been said that he confessed to a friend or two that he and John had slept together on that trip.  Lennon, on the other hand, usually denied it, but I remember reading at least one instance where he admitted it had happened, because he “wanted to see what f—king a guy was like”.  As with most of his answers, you could never be sure if John was telling the truth or simply trying to shock you.

The Hours and Times may not have many facts to draw on, but it reaches a level of emotional purity that easily takes the place of truthfulness.  This is independent filmmaking at its very, very best.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Ian Hart would go on to portray John Lennon once more, in the movie Backbeat.

Video **1/2

I found this DVD to be an improvement over my previous VHS copy (released by a different company whose name I won’t mention here).  The monetary concerns can’t help but equate to a few strikes against the picture quality…blacks are often a little murky, whites aren’t always clean, and there are some instances of specks and spots on the print from time to time, but those are all faults that can be attributed to the source material instead of the transfer.  One aspect I liked was that the picture was slightly letterboxed to maintain a 1.37:1 ratio, which hardly any company even bothers with…a nice touch!

Audio **

The two-channel mix seems to be a simple stereo one, and it’s serviceable but unremarkable considering that the picture is mostly dialogue-oriented.  The music is mostly solo piano and acoustic guitar, which sounds nice, but the real bonus is the inclusion of a twistin’ Little Richard tune!

Features **1/2

The disc features an interesting running commentary with Munch, as well as a 20 minute making-of featurette…mostly him in interview form, but intercut with some pieces of the film. 

Summary:

The Hours and Times is a thoughtful, modest but quietly effective film that centers around a possible drama occurring between two soon-to-be-celebrities; one man in the spotlight, the other behind it.  The terrific screenplay and top notch performances make this one a must-see even for those who are only mildly curious.