Lindsay Anderson Robert Vas - Essay

Robert Vas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In This Sporting Life] Lindsay Anderson is the first to free himself from what seven years ago he was the first to aim at: the direct attack, the deliberate harnessing of poetry to propaganda, which came then as a shot in the arm but which has gradually been left behind by the complexity of life itself, so that it now seems a constricting rather than a liberating attitude. Here Anderson demonstrates that his social consciousness is not, and never really was, a programme: it is the sine qua non of the existence of his world. He doesn't need to pull out and dwell on all those now fashionable aspects of English life—the North, the rainy Sunday, the tired face of the Establishment. His world simply exists within this context. Freed from the anxious guidance of a reporter/sociologist director, the characters are encouraged to discover their own feelings as they go along…. It is, simply and naturally, a film of the senses. (pp. 56-7)

[The] sudden, subjective glimpses at the beginning, counter-pointed by the tough realism of the setting, stir up our interest in the character and encourage us to look out for his interior drama. Our continuity will obviously be a loose one, drawing the "molecules" of the hero's thoughts and emotions into a slowly thickening texture. Everything that happens is going to be seen from his point of view.

Just how consistently this interior quality is present throughout the film (although in different forms) emerges clearly from one scene—in fact the weakest in the entire work—when it is not present. This is the evening out at the restaurant, where Machin behaves as he never really would—at least, not at that stage of the story…. Here the subjective view is abandoned, and the film takes the standpoint of a detached onlooker. (p. 57)

At its best, however, the "portrait of a man" blends with the "story of a man": interior and at the same time narrative cinema…. We approach the story through the interior drama, and soon realise that in fact the interior drama is the story. The result is a thick texture, carrying the complexity of life itself, defying us to give a straight answer to the question of what the film is finally about.

We may approach This Sporting Life as a study in human behaviour or, as its creators prefer to call it, in temperament…. [Frank Machin's] is the typical fate of tragic heroes who strive to achieve something worthwhile but go about it the wrong way, and cannot help getting into a mess which they are then unable to explain. His real purpose is a frantic search for his own identity. His...

(The entire section is 1092 words.)