Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ah, those British teens

I've mentioned Hollywood's "generation gap" movies a number of times in the past, and how the squares making the movies seem to be totally out of touch with the teens of the time. I wonder how different things were in the rest of the world. The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is airing tonight at 8:00 PM on TCM as this week's Essential, but I don't know how realistic it is.

If you've seen the trailer that shows on TCM, you've heard the quote from the narrator that this is a film about "boys and girls who take life as it comes, and do-gooders who wish they wouldn't". The boy here is Tom Courtenay (actually 24 at the time), playing Colin Smith. Colin is the oldest son in a working-class family in which the father dies, leaving the mother with a small insurance payout which she fairly quickly squanders. That, and taking up with another man Colin doesn't like, leaves Colin disillusioned, taking up in a series of petty crimes with his male friend and cavorting with the girls. Colin unsurprisingly eventually gets caught for one of the crimes, and gets sent to a reformatory for this.

The do-gooder is Michael Redgrave, playing the governor of Ruxton Towers, the reform school to which Colin is sent. Ruxton Towers is a typically dingy place, cold an functional, and entirely unpleasant for its unwilling residents. Redgrave is trying to do right by the young men, although he really has no idea what they want. He thinks that if he can find a skill at which the boys are good, it will serve them in trying to get a job once they get out of the reformatory; to be fair to him, this isn't so illogical. But of course the young men rebel. Eventually, he thinks that beating the rich boys from the nearby public school in the annual cross-country race might be a way to reach them, as they have a class-warfare mentality already. It's also a way to reach Colin, as he's shown a particular aptitude for running.

I have to admit that I don't know how well The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner represents reality as it was in the UK in the early 1960s. The black-and-white cinematography certainly looks real, though, much more real than what we were getting from studio-bound Hollywood films. And that's a huge plus in the movie's favor. On the other hand, I didn't care quite as much about the characters as the filmmakers would have expected the audience to. It's somewhat like the characters in Rebel Without a Cause who are rebelling just for the sake of rebelling. Colin has much better reason to rebel considering the way his mother treated him, but I still found it hard to have too much emotional attachment to his plight, either positive or negative.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is still a worthy movie despite what I find as a flaw. I'm sure, too a lot of other viewers won't have the same problems I had; I think I've mentioned elsewhere that I have the same problems with the French New Wave films.

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