Don’t Look Now - Ed. Paul Newland

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This article is from 2010.

Don’t Look Now - Ed. Paul Newland

Private Road

(Intellect Press)

Don’t Look Now is a work of low-key persuasion; it wants to convince us that seventies British cinema wasn’t an aesthetic dire strait, but a forking path of numerous possibilities. The decade may have given us film versions of On the Buses, Love Thy Neighbour and Till Death us do Part, Carry On movies and the Confessions films, but the years between 1970 and 1980 also offered up Don’t Look Now, Tommy, Get Carter, Rude Boy, The Silent Cry, Private Road and The Bill Douglas Trilogy. For every hack making money, there was someone else trying to make art. Some of the directors were well- known: they might have often been prophets without honour in their own land, but they managed to turn a profit elsewhere: Nic Roeg and Ken Russell were international filmmakers. Others were lucky, though, to find any audience at all.

Directors like Roeg and Russell are now seen as people whose careers have been slow fade outs, but the death rattle wasn’t so obviously due to limited funding and viewer indifference. From New York-born but British-based Stephen Dwoskin to Jack Hazan, from Barney Platts-Mills to Bill Douglas, these directors’ careers were in various ways, and to varying degrees, still born: there is more than enough work to show singular brilliance, but in certain instances not enough to illustrate fulfilled genius. Part of the sorrow of seeing The Bill Douglas Trilogy now lies in not only viewing the stunted life of his central character, but also watching aware of the stunted directorial career of what many see as Scotland’s finest ever filmmaker.

With this new book, edited by Paul Newland, and a season of seventies films at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year, will the revisionism result in seventies film becoming perceived as a golden age? In his introduction, Newland talks of 'a dystopian negativity' that still informs views of 1970s Britain, and the cinema produced in the period has been viewed within this context. But next to the cappuccino froth of the Blair era, with Notting Hill, Jack and Sarah and Love, Actually, the salt of the earth sentimentalism of The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, dystopian negativity has a ring of aesthetic optimism to it.

In total there are nineteen essays from various academic figures, and the pieces include a look at actors Glenda Jackson and Stanley Baker, Stephen Dwoskin’s Silent Cry, British apocalyptic films of the decade, male anxiety in A Clockwork Orange, Tommy, The Man Who Fell to Earth and a useful article by Dave Rollinson where he returns to British television films within the context of studio production. Maybe the most insightful, though, is Melanie Williams’ essay on Glenda Jackson. Jackson is an interesting case: someone who often showed contempt towards a profession she would eventually leave and which she was hardly expected to enter. After she graduated from RADA in the late fifties, she was told to expect much unemployment: that she was “too young for the sort of parts they thought would suit her – like 43 year old chars.” Jackson might be little referred to now, but she exemplifies a moment when actors from working class backgrounds could become stars and didn’t feel any obligation to be grateful about it. She sought, in Alexander Walker’s words, “a fetishistic disowning of her own fame.” In this she was rather less successful than some of the fine directors we’ve already mentioned – Douglas, Dwoskin and others – as she obviously made more money in films like A Touch of Class than it cost to make some of the independent works. They could have done with a little of Jackson’s disowned fame, when it came to getting funding, no matter their own intransigent independence. A book like Don’t Look Now, and the season at the EIFF, can belatedly help the redistributive process.

This article is from 2010.

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