Obituary: Lindsay Anderson

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The Independent Online
LINDSAY ANDERSON gave the impression of an old curmudgeon, and during the making of a film he could be difficult, to put it mildly, but there was another side to him, writes Kevin Brownlow (further to the obituary by Adrian Turner, Peter Cotes and Penelope Houston, 1 September).

When I was a schoolboy, 40 years ago, I made a film. It was on 9.5mm, and I was very bothered by its technical shortcomings. A friend introduced me to Lindsay Anderson, the first film-maker I had met. He sat through the half- hour drama and at the end he was encouraging. He assured me that little things like incorrect exposure really didn't matter. Other elements were far more important. His encouragement came at a crucial moment; had he done what he was to do so often later, and told me what an idiot I was, I should have abandoned film-making.

When, a few weeks later, I was offered a job as an office boy I took it - for it was with the company for which Lindsay Anderson had made his Oscar-winning documentary Thursday's Children. He only appeared at Christmas parties, however, as he had passed on to other projects. I met him more often at the National Film Theatre, for whom he organised a magnificent tribute to John Ford. His trailer for this season, with Ford's favourite songs on the track, was a model of what a trailer ought to be.

Lindsay was always provocative and sometimes alarming; provocative because his theories were often difficult to accept and alarming because of the way he dealt with you in an argument. He mellowed as he grew older, but when he was young he was as passionate and brutal as a Jacobin. The owner of my favourite restaurant came up to commiserate with me after one encounter and said, in disbelief, 'That was a friend of yours?'

At this period - in the mid-Sixties - I was working as Lindsay's film editor on The White Bus. I completely misunderstood his intentions - he never bothered to explain them - and, at the showing of the first assembly, I cut the picture for action instead of mood and it was over in half the time he expected. It was the only time I remember Lindsay lost for words; he stood up, shook his head in disbelief and slowly left the viewing-theatre. The next few weeks were a baptism of fire. I may have physically made all the cuts, but I decided on none of them. He should have edited the film himself, but he seemed to prefer working through someone else, labouring and belabouring until he felt every transition was right.

Apart from the tension, there was a great deal of hilarity, and it is a period I look back on with nostalgia. He was also generous; he recorded the narration for a documentary I made on Abel Gance and never even suggested that he might get paid. And years later, David Gill and I chose him to narrate our documentaries on Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and DW Griffith. He directed one of the films for the British Cinema series we produced in 1985, bringing to life the days when Free Cinema was a guiding light for so many struggling amateurs like myself.

Adrian Turner writes that Lindsay adored the films of Humphrey Jennings and loathed the traditional British commercial cinema as represented by David Lean. This is true, although there were a number of traditional British pictures he admired highly - such as Victor Saville's South Riding. But he certainly disapproved of David Lean. This presented me with a problem recently when I began to write my first biography - of David Lean. For Lindsay was an amazing source of videos, and a visit to his flat in West Hampstead was an education. And, now that the BFI Library no longer lends books, I hoped to borrow what I needed from him. Lindsay came through with flying colours; he gave me a crash course in British cinema, he lent me videos and books and, as he absent-mindedly provided non-stop tea and toast, he revealed that there was one David Lean film he liked very much. It was the last title one would think he would admire, and it tells you a lot about Lindsay Anderson - Brief Encounter.

I kept suggesting that he write his memoirs. He said he couldn't face it - 'And who cares?'. But he had the title - Never Asked Back - which sums up his humour and self-deprecation and suggests also the delayed-action explosives he left in his wake.

(Photograph omitted)