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

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
film.

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

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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