Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Lindsay Anderson

While the gossip mags speculate about Queen Latifah's same-sex relationship, here's my addition to the debate.

A particularly looming influence on my art and writing is Lindsay Anderson. Better known for his work on the stage than behind the lens, Anderson did direct two films which I still watch frequently, 1968’s If... and 1973’s O Lucky Man!. In addition to that, he was an eloquent and influential film critic, much in keeping with British and French New Wave directors of the period. Aside from the content and the themes of both cinematic works, I am utterly fascinated by the director’s unusual personal life which in some ways is similar to mine. I understand what it is like to feel afraid to be honest with the rest of the world, but I have never taken these fears to such extremes as he did. Though the identities I claim are slightly different from his, I do understand his quandary.

Lindsay Anderson’s sexual orientation stayed a secret until his death. The subject was a matter of massive speculation among many a cast and crew as well as those who knew him personally, but never revealed for any reason. Anderson’s profuse journals, published after his death, reveal a man in a kind of perpetual masochistic torment, a person who fell in love with every single leading man in his films or frequent stage plays, nearly all of whom were straight. Perhaps he found something safe in that fact, being assured that his feelings would never risk being reciprocated. He lived alone most of his life and never partnered, though he did surround himself with friends and associates at all times, which I suppose kept away loneliness.

During his life, had his homosexuality been common knowledge, Lindsay Anderson would have been horrified had anyone tried to label him a “gay director”. Unlike his contemporary John Schlesinger, Anderson’s films never explored overtly gay themes like those found in the latter director’s controversial Midnight Cowboy or Sunday Bloody Sunday, one of the first films to confront homosexuality and bisexuality. While the two of them might have hailed from the same country and may have been of the same persuasion, their whole ethos and attitude towards their work and they themselves could not have been more different. Schlesinger was openly out and Anderson was resolutely closeted.

A Lindsay Anderson film contains elements of homoeroticism based on setting or scene, but one careful to preserve plausibility denial. If..., for example, takes place in the all-male environment of a British public school, the American equivalent of an elite private boarding school. There are elements of the plot which are clearly homoerotic and violent, but can be easily excused as part of the experience of hazing and initiation rituals: humiliation, submission, pain, dominance. Since much of the movie was based on Anderson’s actual experiences as a public school student, one wonders how much of the conduct young Anderson found perversely appealing and which he found totally appalling. He was said to have greatly enjoyed the experience of being at college, though for the life of me, I can’t see how one could.

Since his death in 1994, Anderson has been criticized by film critics for fetishizing the male form in his works in ways that I have alluded to above. It is indeed interesting to note that the British director’s greatest influence was the super-macho auteur, American John Ford. Anderson even published a well-regarded book on Ford's work. Perhaps Anderson was drawn most strongly to the intensely masculine, a regrettable attraction for someone already inclined towards the impossible in romance. It is a tragedy when anyone lives in a state of being that denies the prospect of joy or happiness, but I can also understand Anderson’s desire to be seen through more than one lens.

The tragedy of his life is that of a man who, I believe, wanted desperately to be straight, and found a way to live as something close to one, but at such a cost!

1 comment:

Kathryn Hannan (nee. Mackenzie) said...

Hi Kevin, this is a really interesting post - thanks. I'll need to take some time to read through it properly - (which is not a Friday afternoon when i'm about to leave the office!). One immediate point which I find interesting is a point that Gavin Lambert, one of his long-time friends, made (I'll need to check if it's in his book 'Mainly on Lindsay Anderson: a Memoir'). His view was that if Anderson had not denied himself his sexuality then we may not have had the same creative outpouring from him as it was only through his films and theatre that he could truly express himself. I don't think in any way Lambert was suggesting that this was adequate compensation for the man himself, for the self-imposed loneliness, but it's something interesting to think about I think.