Sunday, July 20, 2008
I've always been a fan of movies which represent the first taste of success for their director. They are usually edgy enough to appeal to my artistic sensibilities, but commercial enough to be accessible to the rest of the world. Often after achieving public success, artists of all shapes and sizes have a tendency to lapse into vanity projects which represents their worst excesses personified. So it is that I much prefer This Sporting Life to Lindsay Anderson's later films, of which If.. and Oh Lucky Man are ample evidence of this phenomenon.
Director Anderson's films all possess a kind of dreamlike bleakness and deep pessimism. This Sporting Life fits the definition of a tragedy underneath it all, though it masquerades as a drama until its final conclusion. Anderson's films subtly switch from ultra-realistic cinema verite to surrealism which would not seem out of place in a Fellini piece. This Sporting Life plays like a particularly savage nightmare, particularly with its partially non-linear narrative, especially in evidence in the first half of the film, an extended flashback by which rugby player Frank Machin (Richard Harris, in one of his best leading roles), reflects back on the past several months of his life while presumably under ether having his front teeth extracted after a vicious hit incurred while on the playing field.
Nearly forgotten now is the "angry young man" genre of filmmaking common to British cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s. The genre featured beautifully photographed, usually black and white portrayals of the lives and struggles of rough and tumble men in the dirty, industrial north of England. Prior films belied their roots in the theatre, often relying on the claustrophobic staging of one or two interior rooms to emphasize the poverty of the characters. This Sporting Life ups the ante by occasionally moving away from this setup into documentary-style sweeping portrayals of the rugby scrum or the pub. A synthesis of conventional tactics, combined with obsessively tightly crafted editing and scene selection is what makes this movie a worthwhile view from start to finish.
On why Lindsay Anderson never moved to Hollywood or felt totally comfortable with the glitzy, glamorous, utterly sterile American studio system---
"Lindsey preferred British hypocrisy to American bullshit."
A fantastic quote and one I both totally understand and agree with enthusiastically.