In September 2022, the Criterion Channel added a British New Wave collection, which made me quite happy because I’d been interested in those movies ever since I listened to a Filmspotting series on the topic. Wow, back in 2008. I didn’t actually wind up watching any of those at the time, but 14 years later isn’t too bad, right?
I’ve been watching them in order as the spirit moves me since September, and since a few of them are leaving at the end of November — Criterion Channel collections aren’t necessarily permanent — I got into higher gear and finally finished off the collection today. My capsule reviews are here.
It was a really satisfying way to dive into the psyche of a specific time and place. My overall impression was that Britain was well overdue for a bunch of directors to escape their formalist constraints, and that most of those directors weren’t quite as free from the stereotypes of class as they thought they were. The seventeen movies were too varied for any universal statements but an awful lot of them centered around lower class men who badly wanted to be upper class and just weren’t well suited for it.
I enjoyed most of them. Particularly notable: Room at the Top, mostly for Simone Signoret’s performance. It’s the second movie I’ve seen of hers but this is the one where she really registered. She’s been in some great stuff, so I’m looking forward to more of her. Billy Liar was one of my two favorites: I hadn’t felt much emotional connection to John Schlesinger in the past, but wow, this one was good. And Kes was just beautiful and harrowing. I knew it wasn’t going to end well but that couldn’t stop me from delighting in those scenes of Billy training his bird.
A couple of them left me cold. Not to beat up on Richard Lester but wow, The Knack… and How to Get It is a misfire through modern eyes.
I also really liked seeing some of the actors who I think of as aged veterans in their prime. Lawrence Oliver, Albert Finney, Julie Christie, Richard Burton — all wow. And actors who were new to me, too; Dirk Bogarde was really something.
For whatever licensing reason, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner didn’t make it into the collection but I’ve got a date with S. to watch it in, um, looks like March based on our Thursday night date list for 2023.