'The Hours And Times': Christopher Munch's Acclaimed John Lennon Drama Gets A Beautiful New Restoration [Review]

Essentially forgotten after its 1991 Sundance premiere, Christopher Munch’s beautiful, spare, imagining of John Lennon and Brian Epstein’s friendship, “The Hours and Times,” has finally been restored and is being given a proper release courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. While this understated film may not be for everyone, it is nonetheless a stunning time capsule into the independent film movement of the early-’90s, and a psychologically complex look into the lives of both Epstein and Lennon, right before ‘Beatlemania’ hit.

Fictionalizing a trip that Epstein and Lennon took to Barcelona in 1963, right after the birth of Lennon’s first child, Munch explores the complicated relationship existing between star and manager, as the film circles around Epstein’s (David Angus) desire for Lennon (Ian Hart, probably best known as Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”). Taking place almost entirely in the Hotel Avenida Palace, Munch frames his film, running a scant 58 minutes, around a series of conversations between the two.  While upfront about his connections to their real-life counterparts, Munch doesn’t overplay the Beatles connection. Instead, choosing to complicate these two as individuals struggling with their own oscillating desires.   

If Munch resists plot, then he builds his film off of the interactions between Lennon and Epstein. Angus’ Epstein is both submissive to Lennon’s demands, as he is his manager, but also openly desirous of him, which Lennon uses to prod Epstein. Hart’s Lennon, on the other hand, moves between teasing Epstein and openly embracing it. Their interactions are interrupted by two individuals, a flight attendant (Stephanie Pack) and a Spanish gentleman (Robin McDonald), both complicating the sexual tension between Epstein and Lennon. The film, then, circles around unconsummated desire. While Lennon and Epstein flirt and talk openly about sex, Lennon’s unwillingness to submit to Epstein highlights the power dynamics that play into their relationship. Epstein’s rigidness, and his sense of class, is at odds with Lennon’s persona of free-spirited emotion, yet the two reverse roles when it comes to their own possible relationship. If the film never reaches a conclusion, then that appears to be Munch’s entire point, as Epstein would die only four years after the trip, and Lennon would, well, you know.  

Shot in evocative black and white, “The Hours and Times” is often beautiful to look at, recalling, purposefully, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night.” Favoring close-ups and medium shots, Munch is interested in Angus and Hart’s faces as they playfully tease and flirt. Often the film recalls a stage play, if only to break free of those static shots occasionally, including a notable dance scene between Lennon and the aforementioned flight attendant that is truly a standout.

“The Hours and Times” is sometimes too opaque, sometimes too stagey, but it’s always interesting for its short run time. A complex character study and reimagining, just before Lennon, and The Beatles, would change music, it’s a film that complicates our public understanding of one of our most famous musicians. Oscilloscope, with the help of Sundance and UCLA, has created a stunning transfer, reclaiming a film that should’ve been a pioneering work of Queer Cinema all along.  [A-]