The Hours & Times

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In 1963 John Lennon went on holiday with Brian Epstein in Barcelona. Cynthia Lennon had just given birth to John’s son Julian. In less than a year’s time The Beatles would take America by storm and finally be the “topper-most of the popper-most”. Lennon’s account of his trip to Spain with Brian Epstein varied considerably over the years, adding to the mystique of this chapter of Beatles’ lore.

No one can say definitively what happened on that holiday in 1963 but Christopher Münch’s debut feature The Hours and Times (1991) offers some ideas of what likely happened. Münch uses the circumstances of Lennon’s and Epstein’s trip to subtly critique the queer panic of the early nineties in the aftermath of the initial AIDs outbreak and its political backlash. The Hours and Times is never blunt about its political or social agenda, opting instead for a gentler, humanistic touch.

Shot in black and white, The Hours and Times intentionally recalls the chic New Wave films of the early sixties. Münch’s versions of John Lennon and Brian Epstein live in a world that is an extension of Bande à part (1964) and Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) where taboos are sacred and societal/technical constructs are venomous. An existential dread underpins every sequence of The Hours and Times as two men struggle to define their relationship and reach each other on an emotional level. The similarities between Lennon in The Hours and Times and Patricia Franchini in À bout de souffle (1960) are as striking as they are intentional.

In Barcelona hotel rooms, bars and parks Brian Epstein (David Angus) attempts to seduce his friend John Lennon (Ian Hart). Lennon responds with verbal jabs that torment Epstein’s conflicted morality. But Epstein is willing to suffer at Lennon’s hands just to be near him. Epstein knows, just as we and Lennon do, that Lennon’s macho posturing and hostility is just a defense mechanism; a means to deny his own bisexuality. Münch gives a lot of detail to what queer life was like pre-Stonewall. The conversations in The Hours and Times are coded to disguise any queer readings or innuendo. Epstein’s accounts of being blackmailed and arrested give as much general historical context as they do personal context to the character.

Essentially a chamber drama The Hours and Times is entirely reliant upon the abilities of its performers to be affective. Münch’s script, which is entirely conversational in nature, aids the actors in creating a realistic dramatic space that compliments the cinéma vérité aesthetic of Münch’s film. Ian Hart is a very good John Lennon and was cast as Lennon again in Backbeat (1994). But it is Angus’ performance that brings all of the conversations and looks together in a character who is romantically doomed.