Christopher Munch's audacious film debut, “The Hours and Times,” is a fictional account of what might have happened in April l963, when John Lennon and Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager, spent a four-day weekend in Barcelona. The trip to Spain is the only factual element in Munch's highly original film. The rest is an evocative, rather painful, meditation on the meaning of friendship between two men who could not have been more different.
Indeed, much of the power of Munch's astute observations derives from the contrast between the two men. Epstein (David Angus) was an upper-middle class Jew, educated in London. Lennon (Ian Hart), in contrast, was a simple but curious and intelligent working class kid from Liverpool. Epstein was a brilliant entrepreneur; Lennon had the genius. Six years Lennon's senior, Epstein was a sophisticated gay man with vast knowledge of the arts. The hetero Lennon, married at the time, was unrefined.
From the opening scene on an airplane to Barcelona, we sense Lennon's admiration for Epstein, and the latter's hopeless yearning to develop a meaningful bond with his gifted musician, including sex. “I find you engaging and remarkable, Brian,” says Lennon early on, “I've never met a man like you.”
Most of the one-hour narrative consists of intense dialogue between Epstein and Lennon in scenes charged with both intellectual and sexual tension. The tension builds to an emotionally gripping climax, in which the men begin to engage in sexual intercourse, but Lennon can't go through with it, and backs out.
Shot in black-and-white, The Hours and Times is quite an elegant film. The first image, a blank white screen, gradually becomes less overexposed, dissolving into brief shots of Gaudi's imaginative architecture and the streets of Barcelona. Munch also uses the blank white screen to pause between the film's brief scenes. In its long, static shots, Munch's minimalist style bears some resemblance to Jim Jarmusch's earlier work. For long stretches, the camera zeroes in on Epstein's expressive face, staring at Lennon with adoration and wistful longing.
To alleviate the film's compressed intensity, Munch uses some melodramatic devices that serve his plot well. On the airplane, the two men meet Marianne (Stephanie Pack) a sexy stewardess, who later shows up in their hotel. Clearly, the jealous Epstein is offended by Lennon's attraction to her. And in one of the few scenes set outside their hotel, they encounter Miguel (Sergio Moreno), a Spanish businessman, whom Lennon invites to their hotel, though nothing happens.
The movie, however, is anything but a tale of Lennon's seduction by his gay manager. In fact, it is Lennon who asks candid questions about anal intercourse, and it is he who encourages Epstein to jump into the bathtub with him. The narrative suggests openness, curiosity, and even flirtatiousness on Lennon's part, a willingness to experiment with a unique friendship. “Christ, I only came here to get away with you,” he says in earnest, “We could have gone to the North Pole for all I care.”
In his sensitive treatment of the tenuous relationship, Munch shows the shifting balance and imbalance, steps and counter-steps in the two men's words and gestures. Surprisingly, however, the film contains little humor–which is its major deficiency.
Considering that the protagonists are celebs, “The Hours and Times”'s avoidance of trivializing or sensationalizing the story is commendable. Spare, precise, and focused, the film lacks any intimations of gossip or sleazy scandal, instead depicting a hypothetical situation that seems perfectly plausible and credible.
In the final account, the tension between Epstein and Lennon is only partly sexual– the issues of their friendship extend far beyond sex. Though dealing with particular personalities, the essay-like The Hours and Times illuminates the constraints of any friendship, gay or straight, and the sad realization of these limitations.