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Just how do you get the Knack? According to Richard Lester's quixotic film, a defining film of the Sixties, it could be any of these reasons: luck, sublimation, pseudo rape, perseverance, unconscious obsession, backward logic, a cool motorbike, or the careful placement of gold medallions. In what still remains probably one of the best extensions of the French New Wave, The Knack (1965) brought together the fast-paced editing style of television advertising (Lester had directed and perfected his techniques in over 50 commercials before directing The Knack) with the sensibilities of New Wave directors like Jean-Luc Godard, an unlikely combination which nevertheless worked at selling a hip new concept.
The movie has its origins in the play The Knack by Ann Jellicoe, a minor Off-Broadway play which ran successfully in New York and London and caught the eye of the film's producers. The screenwriter, Charles Wood, first negotiated with Lindsay Anderson to direct the film, but he eventually declined. Lester was a hot director after the critical and financial success of the Beatles' sensation A Hard Days Night (1964) and was commissioned to direct the next film for the Fab Four, but was offered The Knack as an in-betweener. Made in a matter of weeks for a minor sum of $385,000, The Knack was assembled with a combination of careful planning, some improvisation, and a great deal of creative freedom. The film retained a great deal of Jellicoe's dialogue, but moved the action out onto the streets of Swingin' London. Lester employed an innovative use of the camera capturing candid and unrehearsed reactions of onlookers during key outdoor sequences and over-dubbing their scenes with a running dialogue, a technique he would use again in subsequent films.
Of the ensemble cast, only Rita Tushingham came from the stage production and she was probably the best known 'star' after bursting onto the 60's film scene in A Taste of Honey (1961) which won her a British Academy Award and The New York Film Critics Award. The film also surprised critics and audiences alike when it took home the top prize, the Palm D'Or, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.
Producer: Oscar Lewenstein
Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: Ann Jellicoe (play), Charles Wood
Production Design: Assheton Gorton
Cinematography: David Watkin
Costume Design: Jocelyn Rickards
Film Editing: Antony Gibbs
Original Music: John Barry, Alan Haven (songs)
Cast: Rita Tushingham (Nancy Jones), Ray Brooks (Tolen), Michael Crawford (Colin), Donal Donnelly (Tom), John Bluthal (Father).
by Richard Steiner