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March 17, 2008

Lindsay Anderson: 1923 – 1994

Lindsay Anderson (1923 - 1994)

He was the most thoughtful film-maker Britain has ever had. He wanted to think through, in private, in public, in print, on film, what films we should be making and how. Today there is a lot of talk about the need for "good" films. "Good" means those that make money; films that make money are "good": there is no place for thought.
I miss Lindsay. I miss the old bastard. We need him now. Mamoun Hassan

YouTube Extract from 'If'. Cafe scene expressing the interiority desire & imagination set against the realism of a transport caf. a fine example of Anderson's surrealistic tendencies


In many ways the enormous contribution of Lindsay Anderson to British Cinema is critically underwritten yet two of his feature films are present in the top 100 most popular British films . 'If' (1968) also won a Palme d'or in 1969. Anderson's contributions to cinema started as early as 1947 when he became a founder member of Sequence a critical film magazine based at Oxford University.  Anderson was also a key figure in the Free Cinema movement and again a key figure in the British New Wave of Social Realism which emerged at the end of the 1950s and continued until 1963. His film This Sporting Life (1963) is a memorable one from this period and like 'If' also figures in the British top 100 British films. Anderson also did a lot of work in the theatre and in TV which explains why his output of feature films is quite low. The key point is that his significance goes far beyond the films which he made although those were ones which most people would be proud of. 

Anderson behind a Camera

Anderson Where Art meets Cinema 

I'm always disappointed when critics complain about Anderson's Oh Dreamland (1953) as ' attack on the leisure habits' of the working class (Hedling, 1997 directors such as Malle p 180). It is clearly an attack upon those who exploit the desires of the British working classes in the name of 'popular', it needs to be compared with the surrealism of Humphrey Jennings who was a key inspiration for Anderson, indeed Anderson was to describe Jennings as the only poet British cinema had had up until that point. When Jennings features a British Kazoo band on a Sunday he is noting the surreality inherent in popular culture that is genuinely popular in a Gramscian sense of being developed by and for the people. Anderson's Oh Dreamland in an excoriating approach to the massification, expropriation and exploitation inherent within a commercialising postwar society which is industrialising 'popular culture'. 

Anderson was one of the founding members of Sequence an Oxford based film criticism magazine which ran between 1947 - 1951. Anderson, please note, was involved in writing film criticism before the worthies of Cahiers du Cinema. Anderson's Oh Dreamland was also prior to the work of the swelling of works leading to the French New Wave by directors such as Malle and Vadim. Britain played its role in the developments of European post-war cinema leading to many 'New Waves'. After Sequence ended Anderson continued with his critical role writing for Sight & Sound writing an important article on Humphrey Jennings for Example: Only Connect: some aspects of the work of Humphrey Jennings.

After playing an important role in the development of the Free Cinema Movement Anderson was integrally involved with the British New wave of social realist filmmaking. Some like Hedling (ibid) saw This Sporting Life as something of a shift towards a Griersonian educational realist approach, but there was too much dramatic intensity and a representation of the interiority of the miner turned rugby league star to be a purely naturalistic account. The narrative structure which was dependent upon flashbacks also was antipathetic to British documentarism of a Griersonian ilk. 

It wasn't until 1968 with 'If' that Anderson was to repeat and exceed his success with This Sporting Life. This was the first and most successful of his loose trilogy of films which included Oh Lucky Man (1973) and then Britannia Hospital (1982). These last films were never so popular as 'If' although all to some extent were films of their times as Gavin Lambert pointed out in his book Mainly About Lindsay Anderson (2000). Hassan's review article comments on this:

Maybe Lambert is right that the hostility to both films is due to Anderson holding up "a devastating mirror-image to Britain". But there is a problem with "the way it is said". The Brechtian alienating device adopted to make the audience "think" is difficult enough (how many films in that style have succeeded?) but the internal rhythm is not consistently dynamic. Swiftness of attack was called for. The dash, so evident in This Sporting Life , is not always there. (Hassan THES)

Although Hassan has noted the Brechtian approach which ensures that the viewer is distanciated rather than alienated ( abetter translation of verfremdungseffekt) somehow the mood of the country had changed. The long boom had ended, sixties optimism and radicalisation, which 'if' represented so brilliantly, was on the wane. The Conservative Party under moderniser Ted Heath had regained power between 1970-1974. The period was marked by increasing inflation and economic unrest including two miner's strikes culminating in the three-day week. 

Hedling points out that the critical mood of film studies represented by the work around Screen had also changed. It was strongly Althusserian / Lacanian emphasising a structuralist-Marxist approach which was antithetical to Anderson's more humanist approach as well as being critical of Brechtianism wanting more of a critical engagement with 'popular' cinema. Across the board then Anderson was losing his audience. Britannia Hospital was made into the teeth of a Thatcherite storm which saw the Falklands War start in March 1982. As a film of the left Britannia Hospital was never going to get a look in in the mainstream.

His last two films as a director Foreign Skies (1986) & The Whales of August  (US 1987) appear to have sunk into critical abyss.

Andrson's contributions have still continued throught the tradition of the British art film for both Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway have paid tribute to Anderson. But Anderson's strength when at his best was the ability to bridge the gap between the "Art Film" and popular film which appealed to wider audiences. He both contributed to and was influenced by the overlaps of art cinema and the popular which also had a critical edge. Britain in the 1960s perhaps led the way in this with Films like: The Servant; A Hard Days Night; Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment; The Charge of the Light Brigade all being a part of this wider movement.   

Theatrical Work

This section isn't intended to be complete but included as an indicator of Anderson's versatility. Anderson was involved with producing many of the most radical of the British plays being writtenin the late 1950s and and early 1960s, such as: Willis Hall's The Long the Short and the Tall; John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance; Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar. This last play was of course turned into the last of the social realist films of the British New Wave by John Schlesinger. Its content brilliantly representing Britain on the cusp of changing from the tale end of austerity Britain to London of the 'Swinging Sixties' and the mood shift in the population marked by the return of the Labour Government of Harold Wilson in 1964. 

In Celebration

In Celebration, by David Storey
(Andrew) 22.iv.69, Royal Court Theatre, London
directed by Lindsay Anderson
American Film Theatre film, 1975, directed by Lindsay Anderson



The Lindsay Andrson Archive @ Stirling University. This is an excellent site and should be a very early port of call for anybody interested in Lindsay Anderson. 

Lindsay Anderson on Humphrey Jennings: Sight & Sound, Spring 1954

BFI Feature. Lindsay Anderson interviews Satyajit Ray at the NFT 1969 or 1970

Free Cinema Movement  

Screenonline Biography of Lindsay Anderson  from Brian MacFarlane 

Screenonline Credits for Lindsay Anderson  

Lindsay Very useful website developing knowledge and connectivity about Anderson 

Never Apologize (2007)  Directed by Mike Kaplan, whose friendship with McDowell began on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and who produced Anderson’s last feature film, The Whales of August  (Cannes, 1987)

Mamoun Hassan in The Times Higher Education: The virgin queen and his progeny


Hedling, Erik. 1997. 'Lindsay Anderson and the Development of British Art Cinema'. In Murphy, Robert. 1997. The British Cinema Book. London: BFI

Hedling, Erik. 2003.  'Sequence and the rise of Auteurism in 1950s Britain'.  MacKillop Ian & Sinyard Neil. British Cinema in the 1950s: A celebration. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lambert, Gavin. 2000. Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: a Memoir. London: Faber
and Faber,

January 04, 2008

Glossary of Documentary Film Terms

Glossary of Documentary Film Terms

From the Kinoeye Reference Section

Aleatory techniques. Aleatory technique is when the element of chance is incorporated into the film making process. Action and sound may not have been planned or scripted. The British film maker Humphrey Jennings was renowned for this.  Even in fiction films this technique has been used. Jean-Luc Godard used improvisational interview techniques with his actors which questioned the distinction between acting and being and also the division between documentary and fiction.

Cinema Verite. A type of observational film which uses available light, fast film stock, handheld lightweight cameras, portable sound recording and a minimum of other equipment to record profilmic events. Aleatory techniques are very important to this style. The style became widely known after being introduced by the anthropologist / filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Jean Morin in Chronicle of a Summer (1961). Rouch saw the camera as a participant in the unfolding of events which makes cinema verite quite different in approach to Direct Cinema. Rouch believed that the camera functioned as a psychological stimulant which although it altered behaviour in front of the camera arguably revealed deeper underlying truths about personalities. Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) can be understood as a precursor of this approach. The camera did boast of its own presence and influence upon the profilmic events. The Sorrow and the Pity (1970) by Marcel Ophuls can be seen as another example.


City Symphony film. This developed as a sub-genre of documentary film. They are often abstract films loosely structured around the theme of the day in the life of a city. The use of montage provides a sense of rhythm and movement. Rien que les heures (1926) Alberto Cavalcanti was shot on the streets of Paris. It was the first of the ‘City Symphony’ films made in Europe during the 1920s and preceded the better know Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) by Ruttman. It was very influential amongst the documentary movement at the time. Man With a Movie Camera: Dziga Vertov (1929) is far more than just an impressionistic view of the city. The film is an optimistic perspective on the importance of industrialisation and modernisation. Vertov also brings in a strong element of reflexivity in which the film is shown as being made as well as showing the audience and the place of exhibition.

Crown Film Unit. In August 1940 the GPO Film Unit was remaned the Crown film Unit directly under the Ministry of information thus becoming a directly propaganda organisation. Many of the films were made by Humphrey Jennings as well as Watt and Jackson. After the war documentaries were stil made but the energy, belief by government and and social consciousness had dissipated. The Unit was closed in 1951.

Direct Cinema. A type of observational documentary practice which developed in the USA during the 1960s. Profilmic events were recorded as they happened without rehearsal or reconstruction. Unlike cinema verite the practivce sought to be as unobtrusive as possible giving rise to the term ‘Fly on the wall’ coined by the film-maker Richard Leacock. Stylistically they feature long takes and minimal editing and try to keep a chronological structure to preserve profilmic events as effectively as possible. Subjects are allowed to speak for themselves and the camera observes ho0ping to record a privileged moment which will display the truth of the person behind the words.

Documentary. The term was invented by John Grierson when reviewing of Flaherty’s Moanna (1926). Any film practice that has as its subject persons events or situations that exist outside the film in the real world also referred to as non-fiction film. The first films ever shown to the public were documentaries exhibited by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895. They were very popular for some some with travelogues being especially popular. As editing techniques developed fictional narrative films gradually eclipsed documentaries. Documentary then survived inside the institution of cinema as newsreels. Pathe News began these in 1910 and soon other major companies began making them. Nanook of the North: Robert Flaherty (1922) was the first ever full length feature documentary. It demonstrated that fictional techniques could be used in a documentary.

Nanook of the North DVD Cover

Few full length documentaries have ever been made. Woodstock : Michael Wadleigh (1970) was one that managed to be distributed in mainstream cinemas. Documentaries differ from fiction because they refer to the historical real. The documentary theorist Bill Nichols describes the pleasure derived from watching documentary as ‘epistephilia’ or knowing about the real world. Fiction film cannot substitute for the hooror of an on-screen assassination or the explosion of the space shuttle challenger or the planes flying into the world trade centre. There is no need to suspend disbelief. Initially for many the fact that real events were caught on camera meant that documentaries were somehow unbiased. Nowadays it is widely accepted that documentaries are biased, as a result those seeking more objectivity take more concern with how the subjects of the documentary represent themselves. Blandford, Grant and Hillier (2001) argue that documentary isn’t a genre citing Nichols who comments that:

Documentary as a concept or practice occupies no fixed territory. It mobilises no finite inventory of techniques, adresses no completly known taxonomy of forms, styles, or modes’.

Nevertheless on the arguments that Neale uses to describe 'Art Cinema' as a 'genre' by virtue of its exhibitionary and distribution target audience, documentary with all the sub-generic forms has a more powerful case to be described as a genre. Interestingly Bill Nichols himself has included two articles on documentary including one by himself under 'Genre Criticism' in his seminal Movies and Methods Vol 2 (1985).

Empire Marketing Board (Film Unit). Existed to market the British Empire. John grierson headed the film unit between 1928 - 1933 when the whole board was wound up. It produced nearly 100 short films including The Drifters (1929) by Grierson himself and also Industrial Britain 1932) by Robert Flaherty. The Public Relations head Tallents went to the GPO and took Grierson and the film unit with him.

Ethnographic Film. Anthropological documentary that seeks to present and describe other cultures with a minimum of interpretation and ideological distortion. The first feature film usually considered as a foundational ethnographic film was Nanook of the North: Robert Flaherty (1922). However it romanticised the Inuit people. This type of approach to documentary film making can often be seen as condescending by representing indigenous people as ‘exotic others’.

Fast Film Stock. This describes how sensitive the emulsion is to light. Fast film stock is more sensitive to light and is rated at 400 ASA and above. Slower film stock can start as low as 50 ASA. Fast film was very useful in low light conditions and shooting could take place without artificial lighting. The disadvantage of this was that the film would look grainy compared to slower speed films.

Free Cinema Movement. This was a short lived movement in the late 1950s in Britain which tried to develop a different approvoach to documentary cinema. It had a powerful effect upon the British New Wave feature films which emereged soon afterwards. It was founded by Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson. The term was used to designate a number of documentary films they made during the 1950s. The ideals held in common were that documentary films should be made free of all commercial pressures. That they should be inflected with a humanistic and poetic approach. This gave the work of Humphrey Jennings over that of John Grierson. Both anderson and Reisz were critics for the film magazine Sequence . The magazine criticisd British documentary for being conformist and feature filmmaking for its lack of aesthetic innovation. They also criticised the monopoly practices of British cinema. They also criticised the predominant genres of war films -which seemed to glorify war and avoid the horrors - and weak comedies. Their own shorts were largely self-funded although some grant money from the BFI was forthcoming. Ford UK was also a significant source of funding. Ford commissioned a series of documentaries ‘Look at Britain’. Free Cinema was responsible for Every Day Except Christmas : Anderson (1957) and Karel Reisz’s We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959). These filmmakers believed in representing working class culture as it was lived. The editing was very rhythmic dliberately connoting Jazz which had become an important part of working class subculture. Stylistically these 3 directors were smilar and 4 out of the 6 films they made had Walter Lasally as the cinematographer. The directors they were influenced by included John Ford, Marcel Carne, Jean Cocteau, Jean Gremillon, Humprey Jennings, Jean Renoir, Vittorio de Sica and Jean Vigo.

GPO Film Unit. This started under Grierson in 1933 after the Empire Marketing Board was wound up. It became the main institution to be associated with documentary film in the 1930s. It had a wide brief only some being linked directly to the Post Office. The films were heavily influenced by montage alongside a committment to representing ordinary people. It was propagandist in so far as it existed to serve the needs and purposes of the state. After Cavalcanti joined the unit there was also experiment with sound montage. Tensions arose between exponents of developing new forms and those who emphasised a more straightforward aproach. Later 1930s films tend to be less experimental than the earlier ones. There was also the development of drama documentaries. Many of the Unit’s conceptions were based around a similar public service principle to the BBC. In 1937 Cavalcanti took over the unit. In 1940 the unit was renamed the Crown Film Unit under the Ministry of Information.

Handheld Camera. Rather than using a tripod, dolly or crane the camera operator had far more flexibility and mobility. Images produced handheld weren't stable before the development of the steadicam. This created a certain look and feel usually associated with cinema verite and Direct Cinema both of which sought to follow profilmic events as they happened.

Woman with Steadicam System

This Steadicam system allows film makers to significantly reduce the unstable feeling of handheld cinematography. Handheld photography can now be used as an artistic device to impart a feeling of reality for the viewer. A good example of this is the sequence in Saving Private Ryan where the American troops are pinned down on the beach by Nazi gunfire as they launch the invasion of France.

Observational Cinema. This is a type of cinema in which the camera follows the profilmic events as they happen intending to reveal truths about these events. Ethnographic film, cinema Verite and Direct Cinema are all types of observational cinema. The question of whether and how much the film exploits, manipulates or documents the social actors are central. The films are seen as relatively truthful as they aren’t constrained by the technological limitations of older equipment which required dramatic reconstruction and a voice of god narrator.

Portable Sound Recording. Sound recording of location sound remained a problem until the 1950s when the break through in electronics which saw the development of the transistor meant that locational synchronised sound and filming was possible. This encoured styles such as cinema verite and Direct Cinema. The Swiss Nagra sound recorder was very popular with the French New Wave.

Profilmic Event. This is a theoretical term for the reality in front of the camera which is photographed. In observational documentary such as Direct Cinema / Ethnographic Cinema / Cinema Verite film makers aim to preserve the spatial and temporal integrity of these events (what is filmed) as much as possible

Voice of God Narration. The term has developed to describe the use of voice-over in documentary films. It is often used to describe the voice-over style used in Grierson produced documentaries. The voice is usually male, disembodied and omniscient. This style has been rejected by documentary makers in recent times as it is considered as being patriarchal, ethnocentric and manipulative. Personal voice-over is often used as in Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989)

Other Kinoeye glossaries include:

European Cinema and Media Glossary A-E

European Cinema and Media Glossary  Ed-Mo

Glossary of New Media Technologies (A-N)

Glossary of New Media Technologies (O-Z)

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