Sunday, 3 November 2013

Notes On A Certain Tendency In British Films, 1961-1967

001 The Kitchen Sink was a watershed for British cinema, as well as a crucible in which a number of great careers were forged. Would a watershed put out a crucible, do you think? In any event, wet or hot, it was a big deal. Within a few years, however, these films exchanged youthful defiance for decadence and, finally, disillusionment. In this, they reflect the arc of the sixties, which started so brightly and optimistically but, in the end analysis, turned out to be more complex and dark than popular cliché would allow.

002 ‘A Taste Of Honey’ is a film which resonates with love and kindness, not least in its ground-breaking choice of main characters (a teenage single Mother, a homosexual, a black man) and the compassionate, sympathetic way they are presented and played. The film that launched a thousand Smiths songs, it is, ultimately, a hopeful film, especially given that, outwardly, the circumstances and surroundings are so grim. Rita Tushingham is great, and Murray Melvin is brilliant. He always is. The sixties worked for Rita Tushingham, and she worked the Sixties. In a previous decade, her options would have been limited: even assuming that she could have made it into films, her career would have perhaps been confined to playing a succession of comedy barmaids, or silly housemaids, perhaps the odd murder victim. But – in the sixties - she is a star. Funny looking, gawky, unashamedly Northern, unapologetically working class, very talented, Rita took her chance and surfed the zeitgeist to Hollywood. She came back, of course, most did, but what a ride it must have been.

003 The Swinging Sixties! Oh, for a time machine and a few hundred quid in old money. You jump in your MG and cruise to Carnaby Street to buy some new gear: you’re going out tonight – you go out every night. But the reality is that for millions the Swinging Sixties only swung for others. And what props up the dream for the select few? What underpins their new liberties, new freedoms, the new opportunities for a few lucky people at the epicentre? Alfie might be having a ball, but he does it at the expense of his girlfriend’s, who he treats like shit. In ‘Smashing Time’, Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave arrive in London from t’North and spend a frantic few weeks at the vanguard – they model, make records, have sex, get fucked; used up, worn out, they get the next bus home. Alfie ends up feeling like shit, too, like a little boy who has eaten too many sweets. Charlie Bubbles knows that feeling, and Joe Lampton, and Diana Scott and George Best and Tara Browne and Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull. By the end of the 60’s, a great many people will have tummy ache.

004 ‘The Knack (& How To Get It)’ is a very swinging film – fast, wacky, hip, stylish – but the main theme is threat, with Rita Tushingham as Little Red Riding Hood and Ray ‘Mr. Ben’ Brooks as the big, bad wolf. His character wears leather gloves, for fuck’s sake, like a mod Dr. No . Brooks is at the epicentre of his own scene, but he needs a constant supply of mugs, victims, consumers, consumables – he’s not fussy, they are disposable items, there’s always more where they came from. He’ll wear himself out, eventually, but not before he’s worn out everyone else around him.

005 ‘Charlie Bubbles’ is perhaps the personification of what I’m fumbling around trying to say – working class talent is recognised, leading to fame and riches. But, for Charlie, it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be, the playground has become a prison cell. Not of the new world, no longer of the old, Charlie ends up slumped in a chair, barely a thought in his head apart from to try and get away somewhere – anywhere. From delight to disillusionment: it’s slightly too dramatic to say that the dream has become a nightmare, but it’s certainly become a massive pain in the arse.

006 Films that could have made the arc a little clearer: ‘Billy Liar!’, ‘Darling’, ‘Life At The Top’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Nothing But The Best’, ‘Smashing Time’, ‘Straight On ‘til Morning’. Just watch them at home in date order and draw your own conclusions, perhaps staging a Q & A with your family acting as an enquiring audience. Don’t forget to use the word ‘zeitgeist’.

007 Subverse Britannia 2 takes place at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield on consecutive Sundays from the 10th of November, and will feature ‘A Taste Of Honey’, ‘The Knack’ and ‘Charlie Bubbles’, plus Q + A’s and records. Full details HERE.

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