Look Back in Angst
For every household name of contemporary British cinema represented in the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s excellent series, “The Next Wave: British Films of the 1970s and ’80s” — Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach — there are just as many others whose names are less known but whose contributions to this renaissance moment in the British film industry were no less significant. Chiefly, the series serves as a mini-retrospective of two masterful directors who both got their start making semiautobiographical trilogies produced (and now lovingly restored) by the British Film Institute. In the rarely screened My Childhood (1972), My Ain Folk (1973) and My Way Home (1978), the Scottish-born director Bill Douglas reconstructs his own formative years in a series of starkly poetic, black-and-white fragments from the WWII-era youth and adolescence of Jamie (extraordinary child actor Stephen Archibald), who grows up in the gloom of an impoverished coal town, raised by his maternal grandmother, a stone’s throw from where his father has started a new life with a new family. Tragedy — death, hunger, madness — waits around every corner, yet somehow Jamie trudges forth, eventually winding up (as Douglas did) as an RAF cadet stationed in North Africa, where he finds glimmers of hope and escape amid the desert sands.
UCLA Film & Television Archive
(Click to enlarge)
My Ain Folk
Coming of age in the same years as Douglas, albeit in Liverpool, was another budding filmmaker, Terence Davies, whose own BFI-sanctioned “Trilogy” (comprising the short films Children , Madonna and Child  and Death and Transfiguration ) connects with Douglas’ on several key points: a depressive childhood; the smoky romance of old Hollywood movies; the first blushes of homoerotic desire. But if Douglas is close to Bresson in his films’ austere, painterly beauty, Davies more readily recalls the old, bedridden Proust, presaging his earthly demise as he recasts his entire life through the prism of memory. Religion and ritual, love and impure desire collide as Davies’ onscreen surrogate journeys through several stages of existence: schoolyard whipping-boy; devoted son; shame-faced schoolteacher surreptitiously trolling Liverpudlian leather bars; elderly stroke victim imprisoned in his mental palace. The sadness in these films is ineluctable but exquisite — something that could just as easily be said of Davies’ sporadic subsequent features: Distant Voices, Still Lives (also screening in this series), The Long Day Closes and The House of Mirth. Less lucky, Douglas completed only one more film, Comrades (1986), before his death from cancer, in 1991, at the age of 57.
Finally, UCLA resurrects another BFI-produced gem of ’70s British screen — this one the first feature-length film made in England by a black director. In Horace Ové’s aptly titled Pressure (1975), the British-born teenage son of Trinidadian immigrants finds himself stranded between two impossibilities — rejected at every turn by lily-white London society and frowned upon as an inauthentic interloper by his older brother’s black-power confidants. Ové espouses neither assimilation nor militancy as a cure-all for the “black problem” but prefers to traffic in the literal and figurative gray areas in between. In doing so, he puts the viewer under the skin of a racial outsider more uncannily than almost any work of film or literature since Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. (UCLA Film & Television Archive; through Sun., Aug. 10. www.cinema.ucla.edu)
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