Lindsay Anderson Notes

By John Anderton

These notes are based on the documentary Is That All There Is?, an autobiographical film by Lindsay Anderson shot in 1992. I worked with Lindsay for two weeks, not having met him before or since. If people who know him better find these two-year-old memories unfair, inaccurate, or badly informed – tough, that’s what (most) documentary film-making is all about.

Why do the upper-middle classes have long dark corridors? Less well off people may have dark corridors but at least they are short.

lindsay-anderson-notes-1.jpgPhoto: Conrad Blakemore

The photographs lining the corridor are the sort I expect to find in biographies, or in the albums of parents, not on the walls of the living: school portraits, sports days, India and the army. The actual subjects may not be as described, it’s the impression rather than the fact.

Lots of posters for the films of, and for the plays directed by… I would have thought that you would soon get sick of the sight of them, especially as some of them aren’t very good (the posters I mean). Maybe I’d feel differently if they were my films.

The film felt as though it came from a different age, a documentary of the early 60s or before. Everything was staged very formally for the camera, more like a drama than a documentary. While most documentaries cover part of their subject in this way, here, all the action is repeated and cutaways planned.

Obviously, if one is as hugely experienced as Lindsay, being the director as well as the subject creates a number of problems if one wants the usual ‘unconstructed’ feel of documentary. Whether his choice of styles was a conscious one or simply the result of Lindsay’s early experience I don’t know. Unlike most documentaries at least it is honest about its lack of objectivity.

lindsay-anderson-notes-2.jpgLindsay Anderson right, with his brother. Photo: Conrad Blakemore

Given the obsessive mediocrity of TV’s commissioning editors I can’t understand why I’m surprised that Lindsay had such problems getting commissions for new work. Script after script was brought out, together with its rejection letter, until it became obvious that what was required by each of the editors was a script written and directed by the editors themselves. Gradually walls and barriers are erected around each idea until Lindsay, or indeed any other film-maker, is reduced to the editors poodle.

Whether one likes his work or not, and I don’t particularly, Lindsay had imagination and enough experience to deliver a ‘product’. He also had enough of a ‘name’ to guarantee a respectable audience for at least one film. What’s wrong with taking a risk once in a while?

Still we can all praise him now he is dead.

The grand old rebel of British cinema who wasn’t allowed to make films anymore, and even when he had managed to… well, no-one is killed (If....), and we all get to have a party at the end of O Lucky Man!

I’ve come across this with other directors, but it still pisses me off: the idea that the sound recordist is the most conspicuous person on the shoot. Why do they think that no-one will notice you filming with a huge black lump of metal and glass on your shoulder, but that if you hold an eight-inch microphone in one hand everyone will flee in terror?

While always open to suggestions, it was never in doubt who the director was. Once he’d made a decision that’s what we shot.

In the film Lindsay sought to make fun of various aspects of the British way of life – the National Theatre, supermarkets, the tabloids and their establishment subjects, in this instance David Mellor, and yet to me the attacks seemed both too soft and badly thought out.

Waitrose, Lindsay’s local shop, lets nobody film in their stores, so we didn’t. Instead Safeway made us welcome and were very helpful. We filmed people shopping. On the Underground, London Transport made us welcome and were very helpful. We filmed people travelling. On both occasions I felt, possibly wrongly, that Lindsay was trying to make some critical point about the way that the English live and yet just turning up to film was not enough to make any other statement than people shop and travel.

At the National, where Lindsay definitely had criticisms to make, we turned up to film – what? A pre-theatre crowd having a drink and a chat. Again, just turning up to film was not good enough.

Two good things about working with Lindsay:

Because of his experience he knew what he did and didn’t need. So we never shot all those tedious cutaways that everyone on the crew knew (or at least hoped) would be junked in the edit.

Because of his age we tended to start later than usual (about 9.30) and did not work flat out all the hours of the day. It’s surprising (for most directors/producers but not for crews) how much material one can get when everyone is not exhausted and the director knows how to construct a film.

He was worried before he met the crew that we would turn up looking like a BBC crew (anoraks, down jackets, that sort of thing). Always a good sign. (Three things).

I liked him. (Four things – Ho Hum!)

John Anderton is a freelance sound recordist.