The Knack... and How to Get It (Richard Lester / United Kingdom, 1965):

Une Femme est une Femme painted over by Richard Lester is no pretty sight. The "exaggeration" under the opening credits (an assembly line of sweater-clad fembots abstracted by David Watkin’s corkscrewing camera) lays out London’s mod harem, the teddy-boy pasha (Ray Brooks) has the knack of seduction, his geeky flatmate (Michael Crawford) wants it. The catalyst is the provincial lass (Rita Tushingham) wedged between the chaste nerd and Mr. Tight Trousers, a sort of leprechauny Jean-Pierre Léaud (Donal Donnelly) completes the Pinter-like (and Pinter-lite) quadrille. "Weren’t all of us, more or less, sexual failures?" Ann Jellicoe’s play situates the desire and power games in a blanched chamber, which is clearly too much proscenium for Lester’s Mack Sennett-Nouvelle Vague screwball skittering. Thus: Superimposed titles, jump cuts, freeze-frames, slow-motion, gratuitous fumbling with water skis and bathtubs, the junkyard bed (filched from Keaton’s Go West) pushed, wheeled, rowed, and turned into an Edwardian trampoline. Middle-aged double-takers comprise the Old Guard, given to disembodied grouchiness and bad puns: "She’ll regret she didn’t wear a safety device ... I’m used to innuendo ... There’s no national heritage anymore ... Kip, milk and biscuits, and you wonder why they’re screaming out for roughage?" Shot like a beehive and paced like a carousel, Lester’s kooky-fey take on British alienation makes the Carry On movies look like Losey’s The Servant. It’s smart enough to question the faddish masks worn by the characters, and cheeky enough to risk giggles out of Tushingham ringing every possible inflection of "rape" (the one word here that can rattle tomcat hegemony). Yet its anarchic youthfulness is just a product, pushed by admen ultimately as square and complacent as the fogies who try to paper over the cracks of a transitory society by offering "a nice cup of tea." Screenplay by Michael Wood. Music by John Barry. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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