Richard Lester made the two big Beatles movies. He made the middle two original “Superman” films. He made the beloved ’70s “Three Musketeer” movies. But that list gives you no idea of all the retired filmmaker is capable of. From the ’60s to the ’80s, Lester made a string of movies as dizzying in technique as they were insightful — fast-paced, perpetual creativity machines with a bemused concern for the human race.
A couple handful of those films come to the Lester retro at Film Society of Lincoln Center from the 7th through the 13th — some of them stone-cold classics, many perpetually underrated, others outright obscure, and every one of them hard-to-find in our streaming future. Lester himself has been modest, arguably to a fault; he rarely participates in behind-the-scenes docs or in the sculpting of his legacy. So far there’s only one interview book on his career: super-fan Steven Soderbergh’s invaluable “Getting Away With It,” pus one terrific, academic study of his work, Neil Sinyard’s “The Films of Richard Lester.”
Lester has been eternally self-effacing, but he’s more complex than that. Around the same time, in the late ’60s, that he was saying things like “I work in a haphazard, sloppy fashion” or “I make the world’s most expensive home movies,” he was also referring to himself as a dictator, albeit a “non-militant dictator.” And he was stubborn about grafting his unusual, not always respected cinematic voice onto both populist fare and daring, uncommercial films, like the sometimes difficult satires “How I Won the War” and “The Bed-Sitting Room.”
We’ve picked seven films in the retro you should definitely see, but you should almost certainly see the remaining half. Each oozes with instant pleasure but also greatly rewards repeated, more focused visits. What follows is a breakdown of the films, with a look at the diversity of his methods and how he modestly, but not that modestly, changed movies: