John Berger

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 692

There is an indication of Anderson's attitude right at the beginning of Every Day Except Christmas; it is affectionately dedicated to several of the Covent Garden porters whose twelve hours of work from midnight to mid-day are the subject of the film. The key word is affectionately. Personally I would never have used such a word; for me it has too many avuncular, dutiful associations. But Anderson gives it new associations and justifies his use of it by the film that follows. He approaches his heroes (there are no villains) and so also makes us approach them, on a basis of natural equality. He neither idealises them—nor does he "study" them…. What he does is to muck in with them…. Having dissolved the problem of his relationship to his subject, and having decided to leave in abeyance the question of what the single purpose, the concluding argument of the film is going to be, he is intensely open-minded, open-eared, open-eyed to the ironies, the contrasts, the undertones, the warm, momentary, human revelations in the scenes through which he takes his cameraman….

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[The] imaginative connecting power of the [opening] sequence is remarkable. It connects numerous ideas. It suggests the middle class nature of the monarchy, the present "safeness" of English life, and in contrast to that, somewhere, a memory of what a London broadcast could mean to clandestine listeners during the war, the way those who work at night begin working rather silently, the apparent vulnerability of a sleeping city that leaves its lights on as a kind of bluff. Anderson does not of course expound these points. He simply acknowledges them as associations, as ingredients on different levels of the total meaning of the scene.

At the same time his attitude is never precious because he never allows himself to be led away from the popular basis of his theme—in this case the work and life of the porters. (p. 13)

In the film's treatment of this central theme, the strength and limits of Anderson's approach are most clearly revealed…. We are never told what the average wage of a porter is; we see none of the rackets that probably exist higher up the commercial scale of the trade; the important town-planning argument for moving the market out of the centre of the city is not touched upon. In the 'thirties all this would have been the stuff of documentary. But despite this I believe that Anderson is renewing the tradition he has inherited. I have listed what he does not give us. What he does give us are images, in the literal and poetic sense of the word….

Such images have a culminating effect. They spring from, and provoke, a sustained sense of sympathy. Finally, one salutes the night porters, and one is made to feel indivisible from the daily life—gay, impressive, tragic and silly—around Wakefield. Whilst it is true that our problems today are not just simply the result of a world shortage of friendliness, it is becoming increasingly clear that in an age of official genocide humanism is a positive, even a subversive force…. But apart from this there are two other more specific reasons why Anderson's attitude is particularly relevant to our time. First. The squalor of our society today—as distinct from the 'thirties—is revealed more sharply in the values it breeds than in plain economic facts. And this demands a far more subtle approach from the social commentator. A man's hopes become more significant than his wage packet. Second. This is a period of scepticism. And in face of this an artist like Anderson demonstrates his commitment, not to a preconceived generalisation, but to the complicated reality of his subject matter. He produces images that are so vibrant that they persuade us to remember and create explanations for ourselves—and so to begin to abandon our scepticism. His films are like daylight after formalised dreams. They are full of people who are noisier than private thoughts, more intractable than all categories. (p. 14)

John Berger, "Look at Britain!" in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1957 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 27, No. 1, Summer, 1957, pp. 12-14.∗

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