The Hours and the Times (1991)
Directed by Christopher Münch
Thursday, October 11, at BAM, part of its New Queer Cinema festival
Here's a fact that yesteryear's hordes of hysterical teenyboppers may have had trouble negotiating: one of the Beatles' earliest cheerleaders and image-groomers was an unapologetic homosexual. You may ask however what if anything this behind-the-scenes trifle truly changes about the group's monstrous influence on pop culture. Brian Epstein, their gay manager, was an irreducible man of many talents, and his preference for pressed suits over black leather was a matter of social motility first and Royal Academy fetishism second. Epstein furthermore wrote himself into the Fab Four's narrative as an ancillary Faustian hero rather than Greek tutor; he drafted and honored but neglected to sign his contract with them, an idiot tragedian's display of ego suggesting how deeply he needed to be needed. Epstein's undeniable attraction to the Beatles' potential as much as to their music, then, was hardly a mere sodomy fantasy, even if his preferences suggest a rousingly alternate Beatlemania. The girls may have been screaming their heads off, but the boys—some of the boys, anyway—had heads of their own throbbing down below.
Christopher Münch's not-quite-feature length debut The Hours and the Times sadly sifts through the above history, disregarding what Epstein's gayness does mean about the Beatles' iconography and instead speculating over its interpersonal effects on the band. Set in a spookily abandoned Barcelona during the much-hairy-eyeballed sabbatical Epstein (David Angus) and John Lennon (Ian Hart) took there in 1963, the film is nothing more than a series of anticlimactic conversations, photographed in aching black and white. And yet a romance of repressed gestures emerges, one rooted not in sexual curiosity but in complementary pathology. Epstein, the craven professional, scolds his ward-like companion with desperation, fielding snide questions about anal sex and batting away other queen cougars with a wounded lapdog's eagerness. Lennon, the roughhewn orphan from Liverpool, vents his pressurized frustration to his travel partner via sarcasm; he's often kept ever so slightly out of frame, as if his latent fury were something from which you must avert your eyes.
The film takes place almost entirely from Epstein's unrequited perspective, a decision most perceptible in the ponderous Let it Be-bending rooftop flashback that ends the story. But Münch notably departs from the dolorous, hungry manager for one hypnotic sequence in which Lennon entertains a stewardess in his hotel room. She's just purchased a new Little Richard single, which immediately piques the rising star's interest. “It must be a reissue,” he says dismissively. He's startled to discover that it isn't, and then proceeds to shake in time to the music spewing from his turntable. Ian Hart can't quite approximate Lennon's charisma, but his feigned aficionado’s irritation suggests the movie as a two-fisted elegy. When Epstein died of an overdose in 1967, it was Lennon's tragedy; when Lennon was shot to death in 1980, it was ours. And while Lennon may not have been gay, he was ingeniously anal retentive about rock 'n' roll.