Lindsay Anderson

Lindsay Anderson

Anderson served in WWII in a British Army Rifles unit and the Intelligence Corps. While a student at Oxford, he edited SEQUENCE, an influential film magazine, along with writer Gavin Lambert and future directors Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz. Like its fellow French journal, CAHIERS DU CINEMA, SEQUENCE favored Hollywood film, the new postwar realism and the avant-garde, and dismissed its homeland's national cinema as static and choked by empty "prestige" product. Anderson's own most important discovery during this time was the works of John Ford, which influenced his early affinity for the poetic aspects of cinema.Anderson began his film career in 1948, making documentaries for industrialist Richard Sutcliffe. He continued to work in the nonfiction field through the 1950s, displaying a clear-eyed flair for visual detail and a sympathetic, even lyrically humanistic manner of gently stylizing the vignettes which make up these films. One of Anderson's earliest films to display his deeply personal approach to filmmaking was "Wakefield Express" (1952), a study of a newspaper. He won an Oscar for co-directing (with Guy Brenton) another short, "Thursday's Children" (1953), an exceptionally delicate, intimate look, doubtless influenced by Alexander Mackendrick's fictional "Mandy" (1952), of the efforts of deaf children to learn to communicate."Every Day Except Christmas" (1957), meanwhile, an affectionate tribute to the merchants of Covent Garden, displayed Anderson's sympathy for the proletariat, while "O Dreamland" (1953) even more tellingly pointed toward his later work as it savagely lampooned both the tawdry purveyors of amusement park diversion and their mindless, passive customers. In these films and in his writings, Anderson promoted the influential Free Cinema movement, which explored the universal significance of mundane events and the relationship of art to working-class experience.In 1957 Anderson became a director at the Royal Court Theatre; his work there and at other venues embraced Shakespeare and Chekhov as well as contemporary playwrights, most notably David Storey, with whom he would collaborate regularly over the next 35 years, staging such Storey plays as "In Celebration" (1969), "Home" (1971) and "Stages" (1992). Anderson's first feature, "This Sporting Life" (1963), was adapted by Storey from his novel about a troubled rugby star and coal miner and brought Richard Harris, a suitably rebellious Anderson hero, to stardom. An extension of Anderson's documentarian concerns, the film was also important in the evolution of Free Cinema into the fiction-based "Angry Young Man" school of British "Kitchen Sink" realism."If. ." (1968), Anderson's most important film, marked a fierce revisionist departure. In this icy ode to rites of passage, deliberately modeled on Jean Vigo's landmark filmic call for anarchy, "Zero de Conduite" (1933), Anderson painted a scathing portrait of the English private school system, using it as a thinly disguised metaphor for society as a whole. The film was the first of a trilogy ("O Lucky Man!" 1973, "Britannia Hospital" 1982) featuring the character of Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), who cavorts and lurches through a modern England characterized by absurdity and decay. The often bitterly hilarious "O Lucky Man!" led Travis into a series of encounters with the military and medical establishments, the industrial hierarchy and, finally, the media--in the shape of a director (played by Lindsay Anderson) looking for a star for the film we have just been watching. "Brittania Hospital" was a nightmarishly comic indictment of the British medical system of the 1980s, whose decay is again representative of society as a whole.In 1981 Anderson completed a well-received documentary study, "About John Ford," and that same year played a very funny cameo role as a schoolmaster in "Chariots of Fire." "The Whales of August" (1987), his last feature, was an elegy to old age that paired legendary actresses Lillian Gish and Bette Davis as housebound sisters on the Maine coast. Though touching and well-played, it displayed neither the lyrical realism of his early career nor the abrasive satire of his later films. His last major work, "Glory! Glory!" (1989), a made-for-HBO TV-movie, sent up the televangelist phenomenon in more typical, unreserved Anderson style. But the director's iconoclasm in his later years seemed to yield to an awareness of the intractability of the problems he once railed against and, via frequent work doing voice-overs for documentaries, seemed to take comfort in a nostalgia for the history of cinema.