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Author: Neil Sinyard

This book explores why Jack Clayton had made so few films and why most of them failed to find a large audience. It examines the kind of criticism they generated, sometimes adulatory but sometimes dismissive and even condescending. The book hopes to throw light on certain tendencies and developments within the film industry and of film criticism, the British film industry and film criticism in particular. The fact that Clayton's films fit David Bordwell's paradigm of the art film is one explanation why producers had difficulty with him and why mainstream cinema found his work hard to place and assimilate. Clayton's pictorial eye has sometimes antagonised critics: they often take exception to some aspect of his mise-en-scene. Clayton had come to prominence with Room at the Top, around the time of the British 'Free Cinema' movement and immediately prior to the so-called British 'new-wave' films of the early 1960s from directors such as Tony Richardson and John Schlesinger. Thorold Dickinson's evocation of the Russian atmosphere and, in particular, his use of suspenseful soundtrack to suggest ghostly visitation undoubtedly had an influence on Jack Clayton's style in both The Bespoke Overcoat and The Innocents. The critical controversy concerning the status of Jack Clayton as director and artist is probably at its most intense over The Pumpkin Eater. Clayton stressed the importance of an opening that established right away the situation of 'a woman in crisis' but wanted to delay the Harrods scene so as to build up an atmosphere of suspense.

Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top
B. F. Taylor

A cinema of surfaces 3 A cinema of surfaces: Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top Let us then begin by examining the film in its general outline, as a shape, as a whole; and in setting ourselves such an aim, it will be observed, we are presupposing that a film is, in fact, a complete whole and does have a shape. This is the first thing we are entitled to expect of any work of art, that it shall have unity, and be a thing complete in itself which we can appreciate for its own sake, every part falling into place to create a satisfying pattern unmarred by redundancies

in The British New Wave
Room at the Top (1959)
Neil Sinyard

Lampton, you might say, had opened hostilities. (John Braine, Room at the Top , London, Penguin, 1959, p. 30) 1 No finer work has come out of our studios since – oh, since Brief Encounter . That’s how good I think it is. Take this film’s slightest feature, and so barren, timorous and

in Jack Clayton
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The talented Mr Skikne
Andrew Roberts

right into his role, having to only concentrate on the expressive requirements of the film’s fictional situation. When a role achieves this ideally, so there is no feeling of characterisation whatsoever and the actor is at his expressive best, then it is his archetypal role’ (Shaffer 1973 : 105). What is remarkable about Harvey’s career is that he managed similar triumphs with Expresso Bongo , The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer 1962) and Life at the Top (Ted Kotcheff 1965). Stanley Kauffmann contended that prior to Room at the Top Harvey was merely

in Idols of the Odeons
A certain tendency?
B. F. Taylor

theory; in film criticism, the more . . . single-minded and dedicated . . . the theorist is, the more likely he is to be regarded as serious and important and ‘deep’ – in contrast to relaxed men of good sense whose pluralistic approaches can be disregarded as not fundamental enough. (Pauline Kael)3 The British New Wave: definitions and directions The British New Wave is the name conventionally given to a series of films released between 1959 and 1963. Here is the series in full: Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959); Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959); The

in The British New Wave
The films of Tony Richardson
B. F. Taylor

perfectly keyed to the action within the pictures.’ As Robinson concludes: Look Back in Anger is a breakthrough – to a much greater extent, I believe, than Room at the Top, with which it must inevitably be compared. Here is a film which has something to say, and which says it without reference to conventional box-office values. It is a film in which a director has developed a personal style for the purposes of his theme.12 In a separate review, Penelope Houston draws attention to Richardson’s efforts to translate a stage play to the screen. As she writes: Obviously a

in The British New Wave
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Neil Sinyard

, in her role as a heroine dressed as a boy 5 Sex comes to British cinema: Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret in Room at the Top 6 The price of wealth: Mary Peach, Laurence Harvey and Donald Houston in Room at

in Jack Clayton
A certain tendency?
Author: B. F. Taylor

This book offers an opportunity to reconsider the films of the British New Wave in the light of forty years of heated debate. By eschewing the usual tendency to view films such as A Kind of Loving and The Entertainer collectively and include them in broader debates about class, gender and ideology, it presents a new look at this famous cycle of British films. Refuting the long-standing view that films such as Billy Liar and Look Back in Anger are flawed and therefore indicative of an under-achieving national cinema, the book also challenges the widely held belief in the continued importance of the relationship between the British New Wave and questions of realism. Drawing upon existing sources and returning to unchallenged assumptions about British cinema, this book allows the reader to return to the films and consider them anew. In order to achieve this, the book also offers a practical demonstration of the activity of film interpretation. This is essential, because the usual tendency is to consider such a process unnecessary when it comes to writing about British films. The book demonstrates that close readings of films need not be reserved for films from other cinemas.

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Lonely passions - the cinema of Jack Clayton
Neil Sinyard

Jack Clayton is out of fashion at the moment. Best remembered for Room at the Top , his incisive but impersonal craftsmanship almost counts against him in an age when directors have to be flamboyant projections of their own movies’ obsessions. Clayton’s time will come again. (Alexander Walker, Hot Tickets , 30 April 1998, p. 12

in Jack Clayton
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Naples is a Battlefield (1944); The Bespoke Overcoat (1955)
Neil Sinyard

instrumental in landing him this role; and Maggie Smith always felt that the experience gave him an insight into the handling of actors which was to stand him in good stead in later years. His co-stars included Peggy Ashcroft, Ernest Thesiger, Wendy Toye (later to become a fine film director in her own right, of course) and Wilfrid Lawson, who was to play Joe Lampton’s uncle in Room at the Top . By this time, however, Clayton had set

in Jack Clayton