In a pair of interviews during the 1970s, Karel Reisz himself acknowledged this clear line of continuity in his work, he always thought of himself as a cinematic auteur, but stressed that it was a continuity of neither British nor Czech sensibilities. Like many exiles and outsiders, Reisz was able to balance an emotional investment in his adoptive country with the ability to remain critically distanced enough to recognize and then de-familiarize the cultural tropes that make it tick. Given his lifelong affinity for outsiders and exiles, it is clear that Reisz's personal background is crucial to any understanding of his cinema, not only because of his own exile from Nazism and subsequent displacement into a foreign culture. Because of his graduation into film-making from the academic world of film criticism, a realm largely alien to many of the veterans of the British film industry. The book discusses the 'kitchen sink' realism of the Angry Young Men, the birth of the British New Wave, and the Gorilla war. Morgan is an important film in the Reisz canon, not only because it reinforced his continued move away from the last vestiges of social realism associated with the first British New Wave, but also because it was his first truly self-reflexive film. The book also discusses Momma Don't Allow, We Are the Lambeth, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Night Must Fall, The Gambler, Dog Soldiers/, Who'll Stop the Rain, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and Everybody.
More English than the Brits' proclaims one of the chapter headings in Michel Ciment's seminal series of interviews with Joseph Losey. Losey's life embraces a major crisis in political commitment and public tolerance (the blacklist); his career, his oeuvre, spans the most fundamental cultural confrontation of the century, between Marxism and Modernism, between progressive "realism" and the avant-garde subversion of optimism. Losey began his directorial career in the leftist political theatre of the 1930s. For Losey, as for many leftists of the period, Communism meant allegiance to the Soviet ideological model, and by extension, to Stalin's policies. The 1950s proved to be a difficult decade for Joseph Losey, a period marked by prolonged exile, the ever-lengthening reach of the blacklist and the constant fear of betrayal. The Sleeping Tiger, The Intimate Stranger and A Man on the Beach were made during his period of exile in the 1950s. There was an experimental, writer-oriented focus in Joseph Losey's later work, opening the way for collaborations on a more equal footing. Losey collaborated three films with Harold Pinter: The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. His involvement in Secret Ceremony, Boom! and Figures in a Landscape was a case of blatant economic necessity. Most of his work directly explores and addresses the ideological interpellation of women by analysing the cultural assumptions that both construct and perpetuate it. Losey officially became a tax exile after relocating himself from Chelsea to Paris because of tax problems.
On one level, Karel Reisz can be defined as cinema's Emile Zola, a cultural determinist whose characters are inescapably defined by their background. This 'trap' is all the more profound because the films' milieux are transparently 'real' and stylistically 'neutral' to the point of seeming inevitability. In a pair of interviews during the 1970s, Reisz himself acknowledged a clear line of continuity in his work, he always thought of himself as a cinematic auteur, but stressed that it was a continuity of neither British nor Czech sensibilities. Like many exiles and outsiders, Reisz was able to balance an emotional investment in his adoptive country with the ability to remain critically distanced enough to recognize and then de-familiarize the cultural tropes that make it tick. He was affectionately described by director Stephen Frears as 'The last great man in England'.
Given his lifelong affinity for outsiders and exiles, it is clear that Karel Reisz's personal background is crucial to any understanding of his cinema. This chapter examines facets of both Reisz's early life and career in more detail. By 1950, Reisz had abandoned formal teaching, venturing on a career in film criticism. The chapter looks at the connection between Reisz's film theory and criticism and his own ideological self-evaluation and his subsequent work as a film and theatre director. Although Reisz always used an outside editor to cut his own films, as a critic he was well equipped for such an evaluative task. One of the more consistent threads running through his film criticism is his passionate belief in the synchronicity between film style, editing, mise-en-scène, camera movement, and the role of the actor in serving the cause of expressing and furthering character development.
Momma Don’t Allow (1956), We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959) and March to Aldermaston (1959)
Given their common roots, the evolution from Sequence to Free Cinema, from Karel Reisz's career as a critic to that of amateur film-maker, seems both logical and, with the 20-20 power of hindsight, smoothly preordained. Reisz's Momma Don't Allow is a prime example of the 'story documentary' form, in order to set up a series of binary juxtapositions, all the better to contrast but also deconstruct class stereotypes. Although We Are the Lambeth Boys represents a major step forward artistically and technically, particularly in its use of faster Ilford film stock and synchronized sound, its incorporation of several of Gavin Lambert's dialectical suggestions and the use of an overly didactic commentary created some serious aesthetic shortcomings. Reisz and Lindsay Anderson became directly involved in developing New Left strategy with March to Aldermaston, which focuses on halts in the march to the atomic weapons factory in Berkshire.
The so-called 'British New Wave', of which Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is exemplary, emerged less out of the documentary roots of Free Cinema than in response to the burgeoning world of proletarian drama and literature. Of crucial importance for Reisz (and subsequently, Lindsay Anderson, whose first feature was an adaptation of This Sporting Life) was the work of younger, second generation kitchen sink novelists such as Alan Sillitoe and David Storey who were just starting to emerge as important regional voices from the Midlands and Northern England. The film sets up a clear tension between Arthur's and Reisz's conflicting points-of-view, the former represented by Albert Finney's brash, physical stature, the latter expressed through formal style, allowing Reisz to foreground his character's perspective while at the same time showing it to be yet another example of 'received wisdom' doing its insidious work.
Night Must Fall seems to be an odd choice of material for a director eager to break the kitchen sink stranglehold but in retrospect it proves to be an extremely adaptable vehicle for experimental risk-taking and is arguably one of Karel Reisz's most underrated films. It fuses elements of poetic realism and Resnais-like elliptical disjuncture into a penetrating psychological hybrid. In Night Must Fall, a fluid interactivity between subject and Other, Imaginary and Real, is played out both performatively, through Albert Finney's deliberately mannered acting, and through mise-en-scène and elliptical editing. According to Penelope Houston, there are moments in the film when feels the shade of Truffaut at the Reisz's shoulder. However, Reisz did not consciously copied anyone: merely that he cannot but find himself thinking in a European idiom, however devastating the results may look in a context of old English melodramatics.
Karel Reisz's Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment can perhaps be viewed as an appropriate formal hybrid. Under the comedic veneer lies a serious study of an individual's descent into madness and a broader metaphor for the intrinsic failures of both the Old and New Left's ideological response to the burgeoning counter-culture. In the film, Reisz portrays the shifting role of gender relations and the ideological import of fantasy and art as both poison and cure for the film's own ambivalent political position. An accurate reading of Morgan is that Reisz rescues the audience from mass confusion by setting up a revealing discrepancy between his protagonist Morgan - who is a failure as an artist but obsessed with gorillas - and the film Morgan, which exploits its role as serious art to set up a defamiliarizing commentary on Morgan's creative impotence, which is rooted in self-pitying solipsism.
After the mid-1960s, Karel Reisz made a parallel withdrawal into examining the nature of the committed artist, particularly an art that comes into inevitable conflict with its necessary psychological corollaries, love and death. The biographies of Isadora Duncan and Patsy Cline are haunted by their tragically premature deaths and both women successfully fought to revolutionize extremely traditionalist artistic fields and both struggled in vain to find an equitable balance between career, family and healthy sexual desire. Reisz's biopics Isadora and Sweet Dreams were based on these two women. In Isadora Reisz transcends the materiality of death and moves into an image of immanence through his symbolic focus on the dancer's identification with water. However, in Sweet Dreams he regresses the narrative back from the distanced professionalism of the Kansas City concert and Patsy's very public death to a direct and sensual link with her husband.