Friday, 31 July 2009
They currently have an online film festival dedicated to the World Cinema Foundation (WCF). The WCF is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring neglected films from around the world – in particular, those countries lacking the financial and technical ability to do so. It was established by Martin Scorsese and it's goal is "to defend the body and spirit of cinema in the belief that preserving works of the past can encourage future generations to treat film as a universal form of expression." So, something well worth supporting then! There are currently four films available to watch online, via The Auteurs, that have all been preserved and restored with the help of the WCF. So far I've only had the chance to watch one of them but on the strength of it I will be making sure I watch the others.
The Housemaid, directed by Ki Young Kim (1960) is a tense, claustrophobic film set mainly in the confines of the family home. The story concerns a piano teacher who, when his wife is away visiting family, sleeps with their housemaid. The film starts with a young female worker in the factory professing her love for him, something which is forbidden and which resulted in her temporarily losing her job. From this point on events just seem to spiral out of his control. The housemaid whom he takes on to help out his pregnant wife has some kind of personality disorder and after seducing him she gradually takes over the household. None of the characters are portrayed as being innocent and all are seen as out to get what they want without thought to the consequences to others. I love the melodramatic style and the black comedy throughout the film thought the ending just forces the morality aspect a bit too much for my liking.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Invitation to attend screening of The Old Crowd in Venice, California with ‘Director’s note’ written by Anderson © Lindsay Anderson Collection
I keep thinking about The Old Crowd after watching it again recently, it makes for such uncomfortable viewing and it's such a great piece of work that I feel it deserves to be considered on the same terms as Lindsay Anderson's films. I knew it was based on a play by Alan Bennett but I hadn't realised until cataloguing the correspondence what a collaborative piece of work the television adaptation was.
A little piece of context - Stephen Frears (who was Anderson's assistant director on If....) produced a series of six plays by Alan Bennett for LWT (London Weekend Television). The Old Crowd was the one that most interested Lindsay Anderson when he was asked to direct one of them.
[Plot synopsis – I realised after I posted this that I didn’t really include a plot synopsis as I got carried away talking about what’s in the Archive! Hmmn, not very good for an archivist though, not putting it in context, oops. So, what happens – George and Betty are having a dinner party in the large house they have just moved into with George’s mother. There is no furniture in the house due to a mix-up with the furniture ending up in another city. They are hosting a dinner party and the first people to arrive at the door are ‘the Slaves’, these two servants are Harold and Glyn and they instantly give off a sense of foreboding and menace. The windows in the house are covered in newspaper and whenever one of the guests arrives at the door there is an emphasis made on shutting the door, shutting out the outside world. There is a talk of a virus sweeping the country, of muggers, riots, rampant crime. All the guests arrive, including Totty, a friend they had been talking about who has just been given six months to live. The ‘Old Crowd’ are depicted as self-centred, boorish, bourgeoisie, but the ‘Slaves’ are not portrayed any better, they’re devious, threatening and opportunistic. The crack which appears in a ceiling at the start of the film is representative of the cracks within their own social group, the unlikelihood of their survival, and the cracks in society as a whole. All this is intensified by the glimpses of the camera, crew and edges of the set, making the whole thing much more uncomfortable and ‘real’ in the sense of a possible merging of their world and ours.]
In the correspondence files we have copies of the letter which Anderson originally sent to Alan Bennett, explaining that he would like to direct the play but asking if Bennett would mind if he made some changes. Then follows detailed correspondence between the two of them where they discuss changes to the plot, the script and the characters, it is also noted in Anderson's introduction to the play in The Writer in Disguise, that they met up to collaborate on the script. Every revision seems to make the play more disturbing, more satirical and more surreal. Anderson mentions Bunuel as an influence that came to his mind when reading the script, and also Max Frisch's play The Fire Raisers. I was very pleased to read this as one of my thoughts when I was watching the film was the Slaves, Harold and Glyn (played by Philip Stone and Frank Grimes, both wonderfully threatening and sinister in their roles), were reminiscent of the two intruders in The Fire Raisers. Indeed the overall feel of the play, the sense of foreboding, of events being out of their control, and yet that this lack of control was actually of their own making, their own blindness, is something that I got from both The Fire Raisers and Anderson's adaptation of The Old Crowd. In fact, thinking of it now, maybe the blindness of the piano player at the beginning is meant to be symbolic, I think it's one of those films that reveals more the more you watch it.
Lindsay Anderson, Jill Bennett and Frank Grimes on set ofThe Old Crowd © Lindsay Anderson CollectionWriting to Philip Stone, the actor who played Harold, before the film was aired on ITV, Anderson pre-empted the hostile reception the film would receive -
“I’m afraid it is fearfully sophisticated for a television “play” – in fact I have grown used to calling it an anti-television play. It will be another work I fear a few years advance of its time and one which disastrously will need to be seen more than once. And I don’t need to tell you that television isn’t designed for a product of this kind.” 28/07/1978, LA/2/3/3/4/17
There were a number of positive reviews, most notably by Alexander Walker and Tom Sutcliffe in The Guardian. These were however, overwhelmed by the slightly hysterical nature of the critical reviews, for example, Clive James writing for The Observer (04/02/1979)
"[The Old Crowd] was so unsophisticated in its presentation that it could scarcely be said to exist... People like Lindsay Anderson can never learn what people like Alan Bennett should know in their bones: that common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds".
Well I'm certainly not sure what that last bit is meant to mean but I know that 'common sense' as Clive James put it, is something which Anderson had little patience for in relation to humour. This is illustrated in a letter Anderson wrote to Melvyn Bragg where he asks ""the English tradition of Nonsense. Why have people generally lost their capacity to respond to it, or 'understand' it?" 28/02/1979, LA/2/3/3/3/9
The repeated glimpses, throughout the film, of the camera and crew are intended, in Anderson's own words "not to alienate the audiences from the drama, but rather to focus their attention on its essential - not its superficial or naturalistic - import." (taken from The Writer in Disguise, Alan Bennett, introduction to The Old Crowd by Lindsay Anderson, p164). He highlighted alienate as he didn't like the Brechtian term Alienation for the reasons outlined in the above quote. The critic Herbert Kretzmer, writing for the Daily Mail, said that these devices, intended to alienate, only served "in reassuring frightened viewers that they had nothing to worry about - it's only TV, folks!". Well, for me they did the exact opposite, making the content of the play more aligned with reality and illustrating the disturbing habits which we all have, of enclosing ourselves in our own little reality and ignoring what's going on outside.
There are a large amount of press cuttings for The Old Crowd in the file. A lot of reviews, but also a large number of letters to the editor from viewers who either strongly liked or disliked the film. It seems to have been, and will probably continue to be, a film which divides audiences into these strict camps.
Having all of Anderson’s correspondence relating to the film, all the press cuttings he collected (and was sent), the scripts, on-set photographs, production material and promotional material all together is such a wonderful resource and research tool and even from this preliminary look whilst cataloguing the correspondence, I feel like I’ve gained a much better insight into The Old Crowd. I hope quotes from Anderson’s correspondence and the on-set photographs are providing as much interest to others on here as they do to me whilst cataloguing them!
Lindsay Anderson and Rachel Roberts on set of The Old Crowd
© Lindsay Anderson Collection
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson on set of Home
© Lindsay Anderson Collection
Home concerns two elderly gentleman, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, reminiscing about their past, discussing the clouds, their childhoods, and the news. The conversation is punctuated by oft-repeated phrases such as 'oh yes' 'how extraordinary!' and 'my word!'. It becomes apparent as the conversation goes on, and as two women, played by Dandy Nichols and Mona Washbourne, join them, that they are all residents in a mental hospital. The conversation continues, the characters getting upset at different points, and in the end the women leave, leaving the two men to sit on their own again, contemplating their lives 'Time passes very slowly' says Ralph Richardson as 'Jack'. It's such a moving ending and I can imagine it would have been even more so to see it in the theatre, to see these two actors on the stage.
The correspondence concerns the loss of the original master copy of Home. Anderson spends two years (1986 - 1988) trying to locate the master copy, with help from a fan, and someone at WNET. It really struck me, once again, how little control the Director has over his work once it is made. Maybe this is why he liked to exercise so much control over the film-making himself, knowing that he would lose all control once the film became the property of the production company.
Talking about making the film in a letter to the fan who helped him locate copies of the film Anderson said "That production is certainly one of my most cherished memories... It was a happy experience for all of us." He finished the letter "I do hope we are able to find a copy of HOME - for you, for me and for the rest of the world." The correspondence continues, with Anderson locating, with the help of this fan, a copy of Home in the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library in New York. Writing to them to ask if he could have a copy of their copy Anderson explains "I'm sure I don't need to emphasise the value and importance that HOME has for both Mr Storey and myself, for purely personal as well as for creative reasons." Anderson is grateful to get a copy from them but is disappointed that it's not of transmission quality - so the quest continues...
He then finds out that there may be a copy at the National Film Archive (NFA) at the British Film Institute so he follows this lead up. Luckily for him, and for us all, they had a/the master copy of Home, which had been sent to them from the BBC, and made a copy for Anderson and for WNET (WNET paid for Anderson's copy as well as they had been as keen as Anderson to locate it). Writing to the NFA Anderson expresses his happiness at finding his film "I need hardly say how delighted I am to find that HOME is not after all lost, but has been in such safe keeping all this time." It turned out that the BBC had bought a/the master copy from WNET and that eventually this copy, in line with BBC policy at the time, was donated to the NFA. The final letter in the sequence of correspondence, once again to the NFA, ends with "God bless the National Film Archive!"
Contact sheet for stage production of Home © Lindsay Anderson Collection
The lack of concern over the misplacement/loss of the master copy seems to indicate that, as a television adaption, Home was deemed less important than a 'proper' film. From the stories we hear in the news about the loss of classic television recordings it seems that this was quite common in the 1960s/1970s and there was less concern over preserving television broadcasts. Neither are there any on-set photographs in the Anderson Collection, which, given the large amount that exist for Anderson's films and theatre productions, seems a bit of an anomaly. So the photos which I've included here are from the stage production. It must have been awful, as the creator of a film, to realise that it could be so easily misplaced, and to know, as Anderson did, that such events were outwith your control, although he proves that with some determination and good friends and supporters, there can be a happy ending. Home is now available to buy on Video and DVD through Amazon, although I have to qualify this by saying it is rather expensive. It is also available to rent on Lovefilm.
Friday, 10 July 2009
Art is not a mirror, its a hammer!
11 July - 5 September 2009
Thursday, 9 July 2009
I really like the way the website is set out as well. it's really easy to use, visually appealing and the search options work really well. You can search by name of film maker, by topic, and by just browsing over the photographs of each film maker that make up the home page.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
The Big Picture is a new, free film magazine (and website) that 'offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. Aimed at the enthusiastic film-goer at large, The Big Picture provides an original take on the cinematic experience. Drawing from cinema's fundamental visual power, The Big Picture turns traditional magazine publishing on its head, allowing the powerful filmic images to do the talking rather than masses of text. The Big Picture can be picked up for free from major independent cinemas nationwide.'
Here's the front page extract and link to the complete article:
O Dreamland: inside the Lindsay Anderson Archive
Kathryn Mackenzie is a member of the research team based at the University of Stirling currently working with the Lindsay Anderson Archive, a large collection of the filmmaker's personal and working papers, photographs and memorabilia. Jez Conolly asked Kathryn to shed some light on the man and his legacy as she sees it through her contact with the archival materials.
Thursday, 2 July 2009
“there is no such thing as uncommitted criticism, anymore than there is such a thing as insignificant art. It is merely a question of the openness with which our commitments are stated. I do not believe that we should keep quiet about them.”
Lindsay Anderson, 'Stand Up! Stand Up!', originally published in Sight and Sound, Autumn 1956 and reprinted in Never Apologise: The Collected Writings (ed. Paul Ryan), p232