Free Cinema !

No, this isn’t a political cry for free movie admissions, or a call to unshackle the art of filmmaking from the evil paws of elephantine greedy corporations. The header refers to Free Cinema, a movement-on-the-go in England during the 1950s, and a novel marketing concept begun by a handful of filmmakers to basically get the public’s attention so people could see their movies.

In a pre-internet era, Free Cinema begun as a publicized quartet of screenings featuring the short documentaries by Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, and Lorenza Mazzetti.

Before Anderson gained fame for directing This Sporting Life (recently released by Criterion), before Reisz made the definitive ‘angry young man’ film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and years before Richardson earned an Oscar for his bawdy Tom Jones (1963), these young lions began their careers making short documentaries, mostly for the BFI’s Experimental Film Unit.

After years of being available as PAL VHS recordings or rare 16mm film prints, the original British films that comprised three of the six Free Cinema programs from 1956-1959 were released on DVD by Facets Multimedia in November of 2007, and perhaps one reason this superb set has been stuck below the radar since its release is its massive collection of shorts totaling almost 8 hours of viewing material.

Unlike a TV series, each film is unique, and demands attention and some familiarity with the work of the numerous directors, both in short and long-form, and many of the directors, such as Mazzetti, more or less disappeared from British filmmaking; their subsequent work was either sparse, or was made in neighbouring countries, thereby relegating their British films to mere mental footnotes in spite of being pioneering works that helped define Free Cinema’s counter-culture design to basically tackle local, indigenous subjects using different technical and creative approaches.

We’re going to review each of Facets’ discs in separate review waves, saving the final disc and its bonus documentary & interviews as a bridge to additional reviews of Free Cinema films not covered within the set. That’ll include shorts still trapped on VHS, shorts separately archived as bonus content on several Criterion DVDs, and in small stages, some of the feature films regarded as pivotal anchors of the Free Cinema movement, aka England’s own New Wave, which deserves as much attention as the venerated French Nouvelle Vague.

Godard, Truffaut and the pair’s colleagues are important figures in French and European film, but the Brits have been marginalized for a while now. Criterion’s own releases of This Sporting Life is a good start to rescuing this fine work from the margins, and one hopes they’ll have further titles in 2008 and 2009, since the few Region 1 DVDs burped out by MGM thus far are bare bones releases that contain zero historical and educational extras.

So what better way to start than from the beginning?

Check out our review of Free Cinema: Disc 1, which includes Anderson’s O Dreamland (1952), Reisz and Richardson’s Momma Don’t Allow (1956), Mazzetti’s Together (1956), Anderson’s Wakefield Express (1952), Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner’s Nice Time (1957), the amateur film short The Singing Street (1952), and Anderson’s Every Day Except Christmas (1957).

And we've also added a film review of Hue and Cry (1947), a classic Ealing suspense/drama that, like Mazzetti's Together, was filmed throughout the postwar Blitz ruins of London. (This classic film is still unavailable on home video in North America, but its release as a British Region 2 DVD means some Canadians weaned on Ealing fare courtesy of Elwy Yost's Magic Shadows - yeah, I'm that old - can revisit this classic if they have a multi-region player.)

Next up: soundtrack CDs, and an interview with David Schecter on the late, great Herman Stein, whose music for Roger Corman’s The Intruder (1962) was released on a must-have CD by Schecter and Kathleen Mayne’s smart label, Monstrous Movie Music.


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