The new film "The Hours and Times" is garnering a lot of attention no doubt because it speculates upon a few days in the life of endlessly speculated-upon rock hero John Lennon.
But for writer-director Christopher Munch, the film is really about its other lead character--Brian Epstein, the not-quite-so-famed manager of the Beatles.
"I think I had more of an emotional connection to Epstein," said Munch, stopping in at his Hollywood apartment last week between film festival jaunts. "I found myself when I was preparing the film in London and in Liverpool being drawn to things that he had done and places he had been. As a historical figure, he really resonates. . . .
"Lennon was different because he's such a well-documented person. His life encompassed so much, and this (episode) is just one small part of it. The time that I focus on was one before a lot of the really important events that came to shape his character occurred. So he was still very much in a state of becoming."
Munch's highly acclaimed debut feature, which opens today at the Nuart, fancies that Epstein, a homosexual, had an unrequited love for his friend and client Lennon, and that sexual tension between the two might have been stirred when they took a vacation together in Spain in early 1963. Although there is a nervous kissing scene between the two leads in Munch's film, the relationship ultimately remained non-sexual.
Or, as Lennon later sang, \o7 Hey, you've got to hide your love away\f7 . . . .
A few reviewers have compared "The Hours and Times" to "My Own Private Idaho" for revolving around a gay man's unconsummated crush on a friend. Munch finds the comparison irrelevant. But inasmuch as the themes do coalesce, a crucial difference is apparent: In "Idaho," the friendship between the leads was doomed by their differences, whereas in "Hours," Munch ultimately waxes quite hopeful on the prospects for a meaningful, platonic relationship emerging out of the tension.
"What was so compelling about it to me was the degree of love they had for each other, and although this was one way they tried to make it workable, still it was going to endure. I think that the reason people often are drawn together in unbalanced situations like that is simply because the very intensity of the feelings serves to cement the friendship in a way that really allows it to mature and come into what it most truly is. Those compulsions, I think, were important in this relationship blossoming."
While many over the years have viewed Epstein--who died of an overdose in 1967--as a tragic figure, Munch again takes a positive slant on his protagonist's legacy.
"I think it might have been fashionable to reduce Brian to the idea of being unhappy or unable to be fully free with his sexuality because of the context of the times," he says. "But in truth, he had a lot of sides, and he lived very fully in a few short years.
"Yeah, he did a lot of drugs and gambled a lot and was sexually compulsive. . . . It was sad on one level that he didn't really form enduring, intimate connections to other people that could really nourish him on that level, although he was nourished by his friendships. There \o7 was\f7 a level of intimacy that probably eluded him. And he just seemed to draw to him so many unscrupulous types when it came to relationships. But no, he wasn't tragic. He was just who he was."
Figuring he might draw the scorn of Lennon devotees, Munch originally thought of leaving the characters unidentified and being less specific about their milieu.
"I had considered making the film just about two people who weren't actually named as the actual people, but since I was doing it so independently anyway, it seemed to me that the story really lost something by doing that. Although I didn't set out as a huge Beatles fan, still I was sort of aware of their friendship, and it seemed that that expressed a pretty specific type of connection that I thought it would be nice to make a film about. . . . I tried not to speculate too wildly about it. It felt right."
Munch says he relates to Epstein--whose original interests lay with the theater and clothing design, not rock 'n' roll--as an unusually scrupulous businessman who excelled despite "sort of being in an environment that wasn't entirely his own, and the fact that he was not quite in the right place."
The uncommercially oriented Munch, for his part, feels nearly as uncomfortable taking meetings in Hollywood as Epstein must have when first visiting the dives of Hamburg.