John Russell Taylor

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190

It might be possible on the basis of Wakefield Express to imagine Anderson as a soft-hearted liberal, a sentimental kind of humanist who rather uncritically loves people, the quainter the better. But the humanity of Thursday's Children is something altogether tougher, harder won…. Though the information conveyed by the film is by no means uncomplicatedly optimistic—only a third of the children, we learn, can ever hope to achieve true speech—Thursday's Children comes across as a hymn to man's potential, a study not so much of suffering as of triumph over suffering. (p. 74)

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If Thursday's Children showed a new tough-mindedness in Anderson's work, O Dreamland moved further into something very like savagery…. (p. 75)

[The] film could superficially be read as a denunciation of the exploitation of the working classes in a consumer society where rubbish such as we see for ourselves was all that was offered as cheap popular entertainment. But the film does not feel like that. Despite the opening shots of a chauffeur polishing a Bentley, it is hard to feel that the filmmaker's attitude toward the people he shows is entirely compassionate; often it is hard to see it as compassionate at all…. Humane, in a true, critical, unsentimental sense, the film may be, but anger replaces the conventional gesture of condescending sympathy "Only connect" is the film's message, and anger at those who refuse even to try, who remain passively stuck in their tawdry amusement-park world, is the only humanly possible reaction. (pp. 76-7)

[O Dreamland] has the richness and complexity of a poem, and a highly personal poem at that, transcending its immediate occasion and its period through sheer force of the creator's conviction. And it does contain in microcosm much of the later Anderson—his humanity and his savagery, his pity and his anger, and the impossibility of pinning him down to any simple formula. O Dreamland is immediately recognizable as a work from the same hand as If … (p. 77)

Every Day Except Christmas is an extremely soigné, effective, romantic documentary of a rather old-fashioned kind. (p. 80)

[However, most] of Every Day Except Christmas, for all its technical skill, its cunning assemblage of vivid, vivifying detail, is just that little bit too bland and rosy to be altogether true. It is rosy realism which does not quite come across as a genuine feeling. The act of selection and the nature of the selection are fair enough—obviously some sort of selection is inevitable and any selection must at least imply the criteria by which it is made—but I have the impression that the darker, tougher sides of Anderson's observation are being deliberately suppressed…. (pp. 80-1)

[This Sporting Life's] most immediately striking quality is its unashamed emotionalism. Here is no stiff-upper-lip understatement of emotion; when the characters suppress or repress their emotions, it only produces an even more powerful charge of violence—every scene in the film is charged with the passion of what is not said and done, as well as what is. (p. 84)

[For] a film of such boldness in conception and complexity in execution the errors are amazingly few—the film remains true to David Storey's conception, but at the same time takes on the quality of an auteur work, the unmistakable expression of Lindsay Anderson's own tender, violent temperament in images of unshakable power. (pp. 88-9)

The White Bus is deliberately light and slight, but it is, beneath its deceptively whimsical exterior, already an exercise in the freer, even less realistic form of cinema Anderson was to move on to in If … Except that it does not seem as arid as calling it an exercise in anything might imply; fantasy and documentary reality meet, mingle, and are interfused inextricably in a film that moves with the unpredictable, unanalyzable certainty of a poem. Though not at all "poetic" in the vague, impressionist sense of the term—everything in it is absolutely sharp and precise—it yet uses the procedures of poetry to transfigure its prosaic materials into something rich and strange. (p. 90)

[If …] is an extraordinary film, a film that virtually defies ordinary verbal description because it works as only the cinema can, on the indistinct border between fantasy which has the solidity of tangible experience and reality which seems as remote and elusive as a dream. (p. 91)

The film is a rich, complex, obscure metaphor of the way we live now, the tone of the times…. With one small exception … there is nothing in the film that could not be real, and nothing that absolutely has to be. (p. 92)

If … carries even further the characteristic technique we have observed in This Sporting Life and The White Bus of creating strangeness, ambiguity, and magic by juxtaposing things in unexpected ways, so that all the pieces, each perfectly credible in itself, do not quite fit into an immediately credible whole. There is a disturbing sense of a gap in the system somewhere, which always keeps us on our toes, ready to use our intelligence as well as react through our instincts. (p. 94)

The inspiration of If …, as of much of Buñuel, is anarchic in the strict philosophical sense of the term—it confronts rival notions of reality, of responsibility, rather than merely opposing order with chaos. And in detail the film is richly, meaningfully contradictory…. Tradition is both loved and criticized: rebellion is romantic, backward-looking, and practically doomed. Anyone looking for a simple left-wing liberal tract, condemning the public-school system, disapproving of violence, advocating sweet reasonableness as the best way toward making things "better," will find naught for his comfort in If … (p. 95)

[O Lucky Man! is obviously] a fable suggesting a journey from innocence to experience through a fantastic dream vision of modern Britain…. It is the sort of film which invites—indeed, compels—one to suspend intellectual judgment till one has seen it through, accepting each stage in Mick's journey as one would a dream of one's own, and wait for illumination to burst afterward. It works on this level only as a whole, and finally works on one as the slap does on Mick—it explodes into meaning all at once, in a nonrational way. As soon ask the significance of any particular detail in the film, like the gold suit or the suckling by the vicar's wire … as ask why If … goes from black-and-white to color and back again in the eccentric but completely unquestionable way it does. If you ask the question the film is failing in its effect on you—it should move, and move you, with the certainty of a sleepwalker. Lindsay Anderson's most extraordinary quality as a filmmaker—and in this he comes closest perhaps to Pasolini—is his ability to keep his instincts uncontaminated by his intellect, his intellect unmuddled by his instincts. His films are about ideas, but defy paraphrase. (pp. 98-9)

John Russell Taylor, "Lindsay Anderson," in his Directors and Directions: Cinema for the Seventies (reprinted by permission of Hill & Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; in Canada by A D Peters & Co Ltd; copyright © 1975 by John Russell Taylor), Hill & Wang, 1975, pp. 69-99.

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