The Hours And Times

Choices Select,

Christopher Munch

David Angus,
Ian Hart,
Stephanie Pack, Robin McDonald, Sergio Moreno

Unrated, 60 minutes


Brian Epstein: Inside the Fifth Beatle

Passport Video,

Henry Stephens

Sid Bernstein,
Alistair Taylor,
Gibson Kemp,
Billy Harry,
Alf Bicknell,
Beryl Adams,
Richard Porter,
Allan Williams,
Julia Baird,
Chris Stamp
Archival Footage:
Brian Epstein,
John Lennon,
Paul McCartney,
George Harrison,
Ringo Starr

Unrated, 60 minutes

Working Class Homo
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, September 2009

It is the spring of 1963, in a few months The Beatles will conquer America, and John Lennon is taking vacation with his famous band's manager, Brian Epstein, in Barcelona.

Speculation has surrounded their holiday together for many decades now. Epstein was gay and in love with Lennon, that much is known for sure. The question of whether or not the two men ever slept together will never be answered with certainty as historical accounts disagree and both of the principals are no longer with us. The Hours and Times, a short 1991 film by Christopher Munch, is a delightful flight of fancy that explores what could have happened. This tantalizing hypothesis makes for an interesting curiosity in the queer cinema canon.

"What if?" stories like this, revolving around actual historical figures, can be a lot of fun. Peter Schaffer's 1979 play, Amadeus, and the 1984 Milos Forman film - wherein the rivalry between composers Salleri and Mozart is greatly exaggerated - is one of the best examples of this genre. A similar case is Nicolas Roeg's 1985 Insignificance, which featured Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Dimaggio and Senator McCarthy meeting at the same hotel. The Hours And Times is in this same vein. Before we discuss the film, this is how John Lennon, himself, addressed the subject in the Playboy interview he and Yoko Ono granted in 1980, just before his tragic death:

"I was on holiday with Brian Epstein in Spain, where the rumours went around that he and I were having a love affair. Well, it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship.

It was my first experience with a homosexual that I was conscious was homosexual. He had admitted it to me. We had this holiday together because Cyn was pregnant, and I went to Spain and there were lots of funny stories. We used to sit in a cafe in Torremolinos looking at all the boys and I'd say, 'Do you like that one, do you like this one?' I was rather enjoying the experience, thinking like a writer all the time: I am experiencing this, you know."

There seems to be no reason to disbelieve Mr. Lennon; it's not like a one night stand with Epstein would have ruined his reputation after all those years. Other sources have disputed his claim, asserting that the affair did take place but it is all based on hearsay. This is a terrific topic for a film, rife with dramatic conflict. Perhaps it might only appeal to gay Beatles fans but that does nothing to diminish its charm.
Epstein (David Angus) and Lennon (Ian Hart) are first seen on board a plane. Lennon is asleep and Epstein, cradling a drink, gazes at him longingly. When Lennon awakes, and gives the stewardess the phone number to their hotel, ("She was just a bird!"), Epstein admonishes him and insists that they have come to Barcelona to "rest." Yeah, right. It soon becomes clear that Epstein has other hopes for their holiday together.
Surprisingly, it is Lennon who brings up the elephant in the room - if only to reiterate that he is not interested. "It puts me off to think about doing it," Lennon declares, to which Epstein replies, "But you do think about it, no less." Epstein won't be deterred; he asks Lennon if he is happy being tied down so young with a wife, Cynthia, and their newborn son. You can cut the sexual tension between them with a knife. Following an afternoon of sightseeing, Epstein takes Lennon to a gay bar. When another man joins them for a drink, Lennon's good intentions backfire when he tries to fix Epstein up with the man by inviting him back to their hotel room. Later in the film, Lennon listens attentively as Epstein delivers a touchng monologue about sometimes getting lucky while cruising public toilets by the docks. He shares an all-too common (for the time) story about getting beat up and subsequently blackmailed when his assailant recognized his family's name.
What's nice about the film is that Lennon, when he isn't teasing Epstein, tries to be supportive. After all, The Beatles might have been still playing in the Cavern Club if it wasn't for "Eppie." It is clear that he respects him as a mentor; Lennon came from working class Liverpool, Epstein had class, education and style. Maybe deep down he might fancy a shag with "the fifth Beatle" while away from everyone in Barcelona. He is certainly aloof to his wife when she calls on the telephone.
[Spoiler alert: Skip this paragraph if you don't want to know how it plays out. Epstein will walk in on Lennon taking a bath. Lennon is either oblivious to Epstein's feelings or being a cocktease when he asks his love-struck manager to scrub his back. The inevitable passion erupts between them but ends just as abruptly when Lennon applies the brakes. "And with that," Epstein mutters, sadly, "whatever never was is ended." Before they can trash out their emotions, the telephone rings and the stewardess from their flight is waiting in the hotel's lobby. This was a believable scene, especially in light of the fact that we don't know and never will know what really happened. It will satisfy all viewers - those who want Lennon to "go for it" and those who are convinced that the rebellious Beatle was terminally straight. Even so, a brief shot near the film's final scenes (one of which is a flashback to Liverpool) shows the two of them lying in the same bed and the viewer is left with a sense of ambiguity.]
The Hours And Times beautifully conveys the relationship between these two very different men. In other circles, Lennon might have been nothing more than a piece of rough trade to the more erudite Epstein. Instead, the object of his lust will soon be one of the most famous men in the world as well as one of the twentieth century's most important artists. The early days afforded Epstein a measure of control over his creations but the lads from Liverpool, especially Lennon, would soon be exercising their independence. Epstein and Lennon embody a master-slave dynamic and, by the end of the film, it is clear who is on top.
The decision to film in black and white may have been for budgetary reasons, but the monochromatic palette recalls the look of The Beatles' classic film, A Hard Day's Night - crossed, perhaps, with a 60s arthouse flick. Munch allows many scenes to play out without a background score. The melancholy piano music underscoring a few movements is Bach's Goldberg Variations and it adds an air of romance and sadness to the proceedings. Munch trusts his actors enough to champion several scenes captured in one long take.
The acting by both is terrific. David Angus underplays Epstein splendidly, coming across as Oscar Wilde's distant cousin on Valium and not as a grand fop. Ian Hart's performance is such a marvel that he was cast again as Lennon in 1994's Backbeat, another film about The Beatles' early days, this time taking place when they played the clubs in Hamburg, Germany. Backbeat explored John's relationship with his art school chum, Stuart Sutcliffe - who was The Beatles' first bass guitarist until Paul McCartney wanted him out of the band. Sutcliffe stayed behind in Hamburg where he died of a brain hemorrhage. (There would be a hint of homoeroticism in that film as well.) Hart, at times, bears a striking resemblance to Lennon but, most importantly, he captures the man's personality, voice inflections, body language and attitude to such a degree that you sometimes think that it is really him on screen.

I've always liked this short film. It's true that the subject matter would especially appeal to me; I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 when I was 6 years old, and Lennon was always a personal hero. And, yes, it's fun to speculate whether anything happened between them when they ran off to Barcelona. Deep down, we all want the Hollywood Babylon version. The Hours And Times would also make a great one act play. It's only an hour long and it's over before it overstays its welcome.

The Hours and Times was part of the explosion that became known as "The New Queer Cinema," at Sundance in 1992, when it was screened with Derek Jarman's Edward II, Tom Kalin's Swoon and Greg Arraki's The Living End.


What prompted me to suddenly revisit The Hours And Times was a so-so documentary about Brian Epstein that I rented from Netflix. Brian Epstein: Inside The Fifth Beatle is a short (60 minute) documentary that's a good introduction for the uninitiated but leaves out way too much to satisfy longtime Beatles aficionados.
Brian Epstein, as mentioned earlier, was the manager of The Beatles. Inside The Fifth Beatle does an adequate job presenting the main biographical facts. The opening scenes involving Epstein's record store are actually quite interesting, and his hunt for "My Bonnie," an obscure platter on which The Beatles had first appeared while backing up Tony Sheridan, is rather fun. A lot of screentime is devoted to Epstein playing Pygmallion as he remakes The Beatles, and to the sacking of original drummer Pete Best. The narrators make it clear that he managed other artists too, such as Gerry And the Pacemakers and Cilia Black. However, once The Beatles become a worldwide sensation, the film becomes rushed and, before we know it, Epstein dies in 1967 from a drug overdose.
Numerous talking heads literally gush about how great a manager Epstein was to the point that this doc turns into a love letter to him. Yes, his role in The Beatles' unprecedented success is beyond question. His marketing skills, however, far outshined his business acumen. The film barely touches on his financial ineptitude except to report that United Artists was all set to give The Beatles 25% of the A Hard Day's Night soundtrack until Epstein came in and firmly stated that they would take no less than 7 1/2. Truth be told, Epstein made a lot of bad business deals, losing his lads millions, and it has even been suggested that he might have been killed because of it. The Fifth Beatle never soars, like some documentaries do, because it never explores these more controversial topics in-depth. Some thought Epstein's death was a suicide and this isn't even mentioned. A narrator tells how Epstein lost his influence over The Beatles and there is so much that could have been elaborated on at that point. Like, for example. one of his last papers was a plea for the cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club to be a plain paper bag to avoid lawsuits. Without these nuggets, it's like reading the Cliff Notes or those old Reader's Digest Condemsed Books that always left out the naughty bits.
To its credit, the film does acknowledge Epstein's sexuality even if briefly. It is noted that buggery was illegal in Britain at that time and that, unlike another man named Brian from Queer As Folk, Epstein had to be very discrete. "Eppie" certainly wasn't Joe Orton - whose script for the third Beatles movie was, by the way, rejected by Epstein for being too risque. [Note: this is imagined in the great Orton bio-pic, Prick Up Your Ears.] His trip to Barcelona with Lennon is mentioned but the sexual question never arises. Instead, one associate asserts that Epstein took Lennon there to talk him into getting on the same page as Paul McCartney, concerning the group's image. Another talking head vehemently debunks the myth that Epstein signed up The Beatles just because he was in love with Lennon. While he is correct, the commentator is blinding himself to the reality that Epstein was very excited when he first saw his lads clad in leather jackets on the Cavern Club's stage. In fact, the following hilarious faux interview with the queer manager's mother in the Eric Idle/Neil Innes Beatles spoof, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, isn't that far from the truth.

Leggy Mountbatten's Mother: Mrs. Iris Mountbatten. (from an interview with Brian Fowl of Rutland Weekend Television.)

Mrs. Mountbatten: Leggy told me he'd been to see these young men in a dark cellar. He was always very interested in young men-- youth clubs, boy scouts, that sort of thing. But these he said were different.
Brian Fowl: In what way?
Well, their hair, their music, their presence.
He liked it?.
No, he hated it.
What did he like?
Well......their trousers.
What about their trousers?
Well they were very.......tight.
Yes, you could see quite clearly...
Oh I see.
Everything. Outlines. The lot.
Oh. Yes thank you.
Clear as day.
Thank you very much.
Nothing left to the imagination.
Yes thank you very much indeed, Mrs. Mountbatten.

Brian Epstein: Inside The Fifth Beatle is a decent primer about the man but it leaves the filmgoer still feeling hungry. Undoubtedly due to budgetary restrictions, their choice of talking heads was limited. Lennon's sister offers her reminiscences but obvious missing persons include the two surviving Beatles (although McCartney's voice is heard a couple times). Producer George Martin is absent too. The word "obscure" doesn't even begin to describe some of the commentating musicians that do appear - I've never even heard of Paddy, Klaus & Gibson, let alone their drummer. There also isn't a single Beatle song heard in the film.
But, all griping aside, there is enough archival footage and old photographs of The Beatles from the Hamburg, Germany days in the movie to command your attention and, despite its brevity, it does tell most of the man's story. A most fitting coda is Brian waving from a balcony with The Beatles in the film's last shot. There were four possible "fifth Beatles." There was Stuart Sutcliff, who first played bass. There was Pete Best, their original drummer. There was George Martin, whose producing skills in the studio and contributions to the Beatles' sound cannot be overstated. And finally, Epstein. Whether or not the trousers had anything to do with it, Epstein created a pop phenomenon that has yet to be repeated at the same world-wide level. And he should be remembered for that.