Metaphorical Music and British New Wave Film.
“But who could describe the delicious sensation produced in me by the delicate harmony and angelic singing of that song which finally did! What an awakening, what bliss, what ecstasy when I opened my ears and my eyes together!” (Rousseau, 1781, p.294).
British New Wave Film.
The British New Wave movement, like so many other European movements at the same time, seemed completely at odds with what had gone before it, using new techniques, both musically and visually, to tell stories about a younger generation, perhaps left behind in the wake of the Second World War. Bryanston Films led the way in this movement, with a trilogy of social realist films about the working class, whose depictions, points of focus and uses of music seem to be a natural progression from David Lean’s ideas. Some thematic points are worth mentioning briefly about the two films (not to be looked at in great detail here). Tony Richardson is our director of focus for this section but his first film for Bryanston, A Taste Of Honey (1961) has many elements that pass on later to Distant Voices, Still Lives.
The use of pop music is at its most dynamic in the film (itself named after the pop standard from the era by Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow) but its use of controversial themes for the time show honesty and a step forward from Lean’s work. The film, about a runaway girl who falls for a black man and lives with a homosexual, is such an extreme jump that it’s surprising that only fifteen years separate it from This Happy Breed. The other film of the trilogy is by the same writer of our main film, Allan Sillitoe. Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960) is about a working class factory worker played by Albert Finney who manages to get a married woman pregnant. Again the use of music is generally mixed and pop music is used as a signifier for the youth that the film magnifies on as well as a layer of publicity made to appeal to the younger and increasingly culturally aware audience.
However, everything used in these two films is solidified and used more effectively in the third film; The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner. Taking Richardson from A Taste Of Honey and Sillitoe from Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, it brings all the elements together; exploring music as a potential metaphor on the narrative.
The use of music in Richardson’s film is one that seems relatively straightforward to analyse but one that is nuanced with ideas that makes it far more effective for a drama about working class life. Unlike This Happy Breed, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner is not shy about showing the effects that a broken background can have on future actions. This means that the use of music simply has to change from a Mathieson style of score to something far more fluid and lyrical to adapt to the schematics of the film. There is no point in romanticising something which is clearly unpleasant. Aldgate and Richards (2002, p.92) suggest that “If Tony Richardson’s production for Woodfall Films differed somewhat from its new wave predecessors in employing a greater measure of artifice to draw attention to itself as a film in a self-conscious manner, its social realist trajectory was still paramount and firmly anchored in a British context.”. It is this artifice that allows the film to explore far more interesting ideas in its music and sound world.
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner follows Colin Smith, a young man sent to borstal after stealing money from a bakery. The film switches back and forth between his life outside and inside of the borstal. It shows a hard life in a working class household contrasted to his life in the borstal where he’s becoming the governor’s favourite because of his skills in cross country running. When the borstal set up a sports day against a public school, the governor is determined to take the cup from them, putting all his faith in Smith. However when the final race comes, he puts his plan into action and deliberately lets the public school win, showing a permanent rebellion for the establishment, the middle class and the “poshos”.