Lindsay Anderson

The film that has made the biggest impression on me lately is Lindsay's Anderson's O Lucky Man! (1973). At over 3 hours it's quite a commitment but it's the most fantastic, entertaining, inventive 3 hours I've seen in a long time. Summarising the plot doesn't really do it justice: Malcolm McDowell reprising the Mick Travis character from If... is an aspirational travelling coffee salesman trying to get up the greasy pole but more often sliding in the other direction. I took it as a swipe at ambition (others say it's about the justice system or capitalism while If... is about education and Britannia Hospital is about health care). Alan Price pops up throughout with some wonderful songs, like a sort of earthier Ray Davis. There is a superb cast of classic British actors - not exactly megastars but familiar faces on the small screen. Arthur Lowe plays multiple parts including an African general. It's surreal and black but also coherent and funny in a way that leaves a slow-burning smile long afterwards. It's hard to imagine a film like that being made now. I loved it and have been trying to learn more about Lindsay Anderson ever since. Findings so far:

  • Britannia Hospital (1982) completes the Mick Travis trilogy. This has another fantastic cast including the divine Leonard Rossiter. I haven't seen it yet but will rent the DVD.
  • The Free Cinema movement was founded by Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti. The short sweet manifesto stated: "Implicit in our attitude is a belief in freedom, in the importance of people and the significance of the everyday". The introduction to O Dreamland rails against traditional British documentary film-making for being impersonal and lacking any kind of viewpoint. Social documentary should "dot its own i's". More info in Lindsay Anderson's 1977 notes on the Free Cinema movement.
  • O Dreamland and other Free Cinema films are available on Four Docs.
  • His 1966 film The White Bus is showing at the GFT as part of the Glasgow Film Festival on Friday along with a 1969 documentary on the making of it. The films will be introduced by Karl Magee archivist at the The Lindsay Anderson Archive at Stirling University.

I'm still learning about all this so any other pointers welcome.

Am I alone in not liking 'If'? I thought the machine-gun massacre was the most obvious metaphor imaginable. It was like a box-bedroom rebel of a sixth former had written it. Maybe I'm missing a double irony. I do quite like 'O Lucky Man', though.

Arthur Lowe had a funny old year of it. He spent the rest of 1973 as pompous drama critic Horace Sprout getting his (prosthetic) head impaled on a milk-bottle in the splendid Theatre Of Blood.

There's a lot of duplication, but I think Screen Online might have a couple of Free Cinema films that aren't on Four Docs. Here's the link:

I saw Nice Time at the Whitechapel Gallery a couple of years back and it was fantastic - a snappy tour of lowlife and highlife on Saturday night in Picadilly in 1957. Recommended.

Now I'm looking forward to watching O Dreamland...

I saw If... when I was about 17 and loved it, but I can't relate to it so much now. I know what you mean Gareth.

Spud - thanks for the tip. I'll check 'em out. Report back on O Dreamland. It's not the most polished affair but you can see how groundbreaking it was and still is, to be called cinema at all.

Alan Price's songs for this film are wonderful, and Price does a fine job playing himself. In true picaresque style, Mick keeps stumbling into new adventures -- it's not unlike Tom Jones in that respect -- and when he meets up with the musicians, who have been "offstage" commenting like a Greek chorus all along, it's a startling dislocation. Ditto for all the character actors who keep appearing in new roles --- eventually even Mick starts to look at them oddly, wondering if they've met before. I find this film a glorious, cryptic, unruly mess ... not unlike life itself.

Just been enjoying a double bill of O Dreamland and We Are The Lambeth Boys.

Hadn't seen WATLB in a couple of decades. Lovely. That was the time and the place that I was born into so it's fascinating for me. I wonder where all those youth club kids are now? Nice Johnny Dankworth soundtrack too, not long before he did the one for The Servant.

As for O Dreamland - blimey. I thought it was always all funfair rides. I had no idea about this weird Fifties world of caged beasts, freakish automata and jazz bingo callers. The Four Docs blurb describes the punters as 'bewildered and sheep like' but I think that Lindsay Anderson displays a bit more unambiguous sympathy for the masses than the school of Martin Parr. What do you think? Excellent film.

If you like O Dreamland you'll definitely like Nice Time (on the Screen Online link). Same subject matter: this is the modern world Fifties-style. Same technique: roving-eye people-watching collage with a soundtrack dubbed on afterwards.

Probably don't say this often enough but..thanks for all the great stuff that I might not ever find out about if I wasn't keeping an eye on I Like.


I've loved "If.." ever since it was first shown to our class at secondary school by a lefty English teacher we had.

I haven't seen it for years though (don't think it's on DVD in the States) so I might feel differently about it now.

Spud - ScreenOnline wouldn't let me in because I'm not a student. Grrr. And thanks for the thanks, it makes a difference knowing people like it.

Lee - I didn't know you were in the States. Blimey. Where are you?

Sorry about the Screen Online wild goose chase. I had the same problem last night. Bah. This must be why people join the BFI. The site does provide a shot-by-shot synopsis (an ink movie?) but that's not quite the same.

I meant to say how much I liked the opening sequence to O Dreamland. Bentley: so far, so British. Old bloke polishing Bentley: expectations about class are wrong-footed. But it's not about him either. It's about the new proletariat around the corner, marching off to Dreamland. The British working class has a few bob in its pocket for a change, and it's looking to spend it. Some of it'll be gambled away or squandered on cheap tat because they haven't had much practice at this sort of thing. But some of them will have a good time.

I wonder if he found the inspiration for the misleading set-up in Passport To Pimlico, released a few years earlier? Similar thing. Bright sunshine, sunbathing and Latin music suggest an exotic location before you discover you're in Pimlico.

It was funny to see that gorgeous jukebox, with its hypnotised audience of gum-chewing quasi-Teddy Girls, being used as a symbol of brash new US-imported modernity. I'd just been watching all the kitchily retro images of VDUs and pocket calculators on the video for ROYGBIV, and my brain did a time-travelling boggle as it adjusted its terms of reference.

Recommended reading

More from I like's Amazon astore