THE GUILLOTINE; No 25: LINDSAY ANDERSON

Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last

As a stage director, Lindsay Anderson has no claim to posterity, since, by very definition, a theatrical production cannot survive. The theatre is "live": that, in a period in which the durability of a cultural artefact is increasingly contingent on its reproducibility, is no less its curse than its glory. In the aesthetic as in the natural domain, whatever is alive (a production or a plant) is fated to die; and whatever can be reproduced (the text of a play or the painting of a plant) has at least a chance of enduring.

As a film director, he was one of the most prominent of the angry young men (and they were all men) of the Free Cinema movement who sought to recharge the medium's batteries with new and primarily working-class settings, characters and themes. Like those German anarchists, however, mocked by Lenin because they would conscientiously buy platform tickets before blowing up a railway station, most of the British cinema's self-styled revolutionaries covered themselves by adapting tried and tested plays or novels (A Kind of Loving, Billy Liar, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Tom Jones, etc).

Anderson himself was of a more independent cast of mind. His first film apart, This Sporting Life, the few he completed were directly conceived for the screen. Yet they, too, conveyed meaning through dialogue and performance rather than filmic imagery; and no matter that If ... was made 33 years after Jean Vigo's Zero de conduite, its acknowledged model, it's the latter which strikes us today as the more subversive and, in a sense, younger work. By the time Anderson filmed Britannia Hospital, yet another satire "tilting at" the Establishment, he had become little more than a third, upmarket Boulting brother.

Another point may be raised. Notoriously sensitive to criticism, Anderson was in his lifetime something of a terrorist. He would publicly berate reviewers whose enthusiasm for his films had been, in his hardly disinterested opinion, insufficient to the occasion and would even go so far as to ring up newspaper editors and insist that they be sacked. It's perhaps not by chance, then, that his reputation started to decline almost from the moment he died, and there may be a lesson here for all artists determined to control the way their work is received: no one can network from beyond the grave.

GILBERT ADAIR

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