Close Up

30 April 2017: Free Cinema Movement


In this programme, solely devoted to the Free Cinema films, Robert Vas’s Refuge England provides another unique record of London in the late 1950s. Instead of the bombsites, narrow streets, warehouses and pubs of the East End, it follows, from Waterloo via the West End to suburbia, the footsteps of a Hungarian refugee arriving in London with no English, little money and an incomplete address. Introduced by Peter Hames.

Everyday Except Christmas
Lindsay Anderson
1957 | 40 min | B/W | 16mm

Lindsay Anderson followed his Free Cinema debut O Dreamland with this affectionate tribute to working-class life, depicting the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden market. On the back of his renowned Free Cinema film Momma Don’t Allow, producer Karel Reisz managed to secure a job directing advertisements for the Ford Motor Company, on the proviso he could continue making documentaries. He immediately enlisted fellow Free Cinema practitioner Lindsay Anderson to make the first film. Like Anderson’s previous Free Cinema film, O Dreamland, it would be a study of working class life, but with a more affectionate appreciation of the hard-working Covent Garden market porters than the previous film’s ironic view of Margate seaside. At nearly 40 minutes in length and with Walter Lassally’s virtuoso 35mm cinematography, it’s a more polished production than the earliest examples of Free Cinema, while retaining the stylistic and tonal signatures of the movement.

Refuge England
Robert Vas
1959 | 27 min | B/W | 16mm

Robert Vas was himself a refugee from Hungary, having arrived in London only three years earlier when he received a grant from the BFI to make the film. Despite its slightly incongruous use of voiceover, the film was adopted by the Free Cinema movement for its stylistic contrast of contradictory images and sound and its focus on the dispossessed. With its enquiry into themes that are just as resonant in today’s society, and its uncompromising outsider’s view of an inhospitable 1950s London, Refuge England is a fascinating example of Free Cinema.

We Are the Lambeth Boys
Karel Reisz
1959 | 52 min | B/W | 35mm

Karel Reisz’s honest and sympathetic depiction of South London teens aimed to challenge the media perception of ‘Teddy Boys’, and would be one of the last films to appear under the Free Cinema banner. One of the key elements of the Free Cinema films was the sympathetic representation of working-class people, something the filmmakers felt was lacking in contemporary British cinema. Here, members of Kennington’s Alford House youth club talk about their lives and interests. By avoiding a strict narrative, We Are the Lambeth Boys gives its subjects space to express their frustrations and aspirations, allowing the youngsters a voice and sensitively capturing the nuances of their daily lives. The film has much in common with Lindsay Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas, which was also produced by Leon Clore, sponsored by Ford Motor Company as part of its ‘Look at Britain’ series, and filmed on 35mm by the usual Free Cinema cinematographer Walter Lassally and editor John Fletcher.

Peter Hames is a Visiting Professor in Film Studies at Staffordshire University. His books include The Czechoslovak New WaveThe Cinema of Jan Svankmajer, and Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition. He most recently contributed to the award winning Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney. He is also a programme advisor to the BFI London Film Festival.

Part of our season on Milos Forman and the British Free Cinema movement
, in collaboration with Czech Centre London: