The Knack …and How To Get It (1965)

RICHARD LESTER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

, 1965. . Screenplay by , based on the play by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

A number of British Invasion movies remain popular today as both nostalgic indulgence and retro fashion appreciation, though the one that was seen at the time as the ultimate summation of the movement is the one that appears to have aged the worst in the years since; Billy Liar, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo, Darling and even Richard Lester’s previous venture, A Hard Day’s Night starring the Beatles, have all gained new followers in the decades since they were released while this, which one the top prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, has been forgotten by many, and for very good reason.

Inspired by what appears to be a highly conceptual play by Ann Jellicoe, the film has four characters who form the basis around which Lester’s buzzing, energetic experimentation operates: is a ladies’ man perpetually in mod suit and skinny tie, is a schoolteacher who can’t catch up with the sexual revolution and wants Brooks to teach him how to land the birds, is their quirky roommate who keeps repainting their house, and has just moved to the big city from the sticks and is ready to enjoy Swinging London for all its worth.

Whimsy is the name of the game here, the humorously chatty, circular dialogue accompanied by scenes capriciously moving from one to the next, there’s clever editing and curious camera angles and always a sense of youthful exuberance that eventually reveals its curious irony: the young people who are dictating the new ways of the world, it turns out, don’t really know what they’re doing beyond using provocative language as a pose, when pressed to actually get down to expressing their free ideas about sexuality, they choke (as displayed in a very curious scene involving Tushingham’s shouting the word “Rape” down every street in London). The perpetual commentary on the soundtrack from older passersby criticizing these kids, however, shows that the older generation doesn’t really have the answers either.

It’s a charming, funny and beautifully shot bit of cheekiness, but now that its aesthetics are no longer as hip, its shallow nature has become much more apparent and, in retrospect, Lester’s work with the Beatles has a lot more to offer the modern viewer. Look carefully and you’ll spot Jane Birkin, Charlotte Rampling and Jacqueline Bisset in bit roles.

Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Rita Tushingham); Best English-Language Foreign Film

Berlin Film Festival: In Competition

Cannes Film Festival Award: Palme D’Or

 

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