Daily Archives: Sunday, July 28, 2013

  • The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner Tony Richardson(Uk 1962)

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    Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
    Tony Richardson(UK 1962) Tom Courtenay

    Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
    Karel Reisz (UK 1960) Albert Finney; Shirley Anne
    Field; Rachel Roberts

    Viewed: 11 July 2013 and 14 July 2013
    Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle; ticket £5

    Retrocrit: pride and prejudice

    Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and
    Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner were both novels written by
    Alan Silitoe. Silitoe was one of that generation of post war British
    writers who chronicled the lives working class people in the 1950’s
    when they were being told that they had never had it so good.
    Silitoe’s novels were keenly picked up by the new wave of British
    film makers epitomised by directors such as Tony Richardson ( Who
    directed Loneliness)and Carol Reisz ( director of Saturday Night and
    Sunday morning) These film makers, like Silitoe, were driven by
    ideological opposition to the traditional British class system; they
    were committed to listen to rather than to gaze patronisingly at
    Britain and the voices of her workers.

    A contemporary film critic wrote of
    these directors:

    ….when they came together, we
    felt they had an attitude in common. Implicit in this attitude is a
    belief in freedom, in the importance of people and in the
    significance of the everyday.

    Both Loneliness and Saturday night
    which were also scripted as films by Alan Sillitoe, share one
    critical attribute: attitude. They were iconoclastic products and
    were perceived as such at the time. The intention of Alan Silitoe’s
    writing was to give the lie to the contemporary smug propaganda messages that Britain was somehow a fair and pleasant land. As far as
    Sillitoe was concerned Britain wasn’t even one land, he saw two
    lands, governed by two codes. It was a feudal society of controllers
    and the serfs, serfs chained not to the land but to factories shifts
    and poor housing. Reisz and Richardson’s films stay true both to
    this iconoclasm and to the moral vigour of Sillitoe’s writing. It is
    not betrayed.

    These films shocked the usual suspects
    at the time were made. Ealing Comedies they were not. And when we see
    these films today, they’re not only a voyage into another country,
    they also resonate as a cry of pain for something that is about to
    be lost ; even if what was lost was hardly noticed as everyone was
    too busy watching the telly. These films are no cosy up Hovis style
    nostalgia fests of terraced housing, enamel signs and chimney stacks.
    The films capture and express working class life in the early
    sixties. It’s a culture of full employment and extensive family ties
    but it is also a culture of resistance and resilience. What Sillitoe
    foresaw and foretold and is captured in both films, was the loss of
    working class Pride. And that is the source of the pain. Because it
    was a pride that was on the point of being undermined and destroyed
    by the fostered desires of consumerism and the dependancy culture of
    the Welfare State.

    Noises off: Trainspotting and the skag
    boys wait in the wings.

    The protagonists, Colin in Loneliness
    and Arthur in Saturday Night, are complex characters; spontaneous and
    generous, twisted and two faced, but they have an intrinsic pride,
    born of their class, that cannot be bought. Colin burns a one pound
    note in one scene. However destructive their pride, it defines them,
    and this pride, for all its fault lines and even bad faith, lies at
    the core of their being. As Arthur says: You don’t let the bastards
    grind you down.

    So the two films probe not physical
    landscapes but psychic landscapes. Attitudes shaped by social
    conditions class work and graft. In their focus on these relations
    Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson are closer to films made today in
    developing countries that are still characterised by social and
    cultural matrices of the kind we no longer have. The contemporary
    Western movie industry has desire at the root of its narratives,
    rather than struggle of one form or another.

    Of the two films Loneliness of the Long
    Distance Runner is the more politically radical. In fact it’s not a
    very well made film. It has a clumsy structure based on flashback,
    which fails to deliver tension, and it is over reliant on the use of
    the hymn Jerusalem in the soundtrack. But Richardson’s casting of Tom
    Courtenay is inspired and is enough in itself to carry the film.
    Courtenay’s skewered meat body look, hungry mien, misshapen head and loose
    mouth, in themselves define the film’s theme of defiance and
    resistance. As an actor of working class origins, Tom Courtenay has the authenticity necessary for the film to deliver Colin
    Smith’s punch into the solar plexus of middle England: the refusal of
    the petty thief, Borstal Boy, to play the establishment game.

    Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday
    Morning is also superbly acted. Albert Finney, as Arthur and Rachel
    Roberts as Brenda, came from hard backgrounds that made them able to
    work in the grain of their characters. And it shows in their
    performances. Unlike Loneliness, Saturday Night is an exceptional
    film not just because of the acting but because it is suburbly
    crafted. The editing energises the action and always adds a
    dimension to the narrative. With confidence and verve Reisz and his
    editor, Seth Holt manipulate Freddie Francis’ superb cinematography
    to shift the film through its gears, energising the tension between
    images as the film cuts from the close and the intimate to the wide
    and impersonal. The point here is that the dynamics of the editing
    serve to heighten awareness in the viewer to shifts in perspectives:
    from the bed to the factory, the pub to the kitchen. The way the
    film is spliced sensitizes us to the different codes that operate in
    these contexts, deepening and sharpening our understanding of
    relations within the film. The main story is the moral rendering of
    an extramarital affair. But this explicit narrative thread is never
    allowed to dominate the scenario. It has to take its place within
    the context of the images and cameos of working class in Nottingham
    that Sillitoe Richardson and Reisz have woven together to produce the

    The Loneliness of the Long Distance
    Runner and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning both retain the raw
    power of film to shock and make visible things that otherwise we
    would not see.

    Adrin Neatrour