As we’ve said before, film club gives us the opportunity to work with and meet lovely people. Thanks very much to Dan Jordan, film studies student and one of our volunteers, for being one of them.
Here are his thoughts on our screening of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and a bit of background about the film. We only showed it 36 hours ago so this is truly hot off the press!
Magic Lantern: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning screening
I volunteered to help Magic Lantern because the prospect of giving classic but little seen films a chance to shine in an open air, improvised and most of all affordable theatre was a cause I felt everyone should know about. After a few days of tactical flyer distribution and agonising over how I could possibly make things easier for this worthy event, I was desperately on edge climbing the near vertical hill of Thirlwell road to begin setting up. I came across a sense of welcoming affirmation that I had only come to expect from the very films I was trying to bring to more people’s attention. The efficiency and good humour of both the staff and the managers of the club brought the communal spirit that films themselves uniquely deliver to the entire event.
The audience gathered, among them both committed long term members and curious first time attendees. Armed against the cold night ahead with their thick coats, blankets and thermoses and with their cushions and camping chairs set up, it was now just a matter of waiting until it was dark enough to start showing the film itself. After an hour and a half of bonding over local charity Abundance’s pear juice, crushed from the fruits themselves on-site no less, it was time to watch the classic working class kitchen-sink drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. As one, the audience laughed at Arthur Seaton’s hedonistic exploits, gasped as he got his comeuppance and applauded as the credits rolled. The purity of the cinematic experience Magic Lantern has captured here is completely thrilling and has left me desperate to see how they’ll replicate it in their next screening.
In the run up to the screening, I took a look back at the kitchen-sink drama and its place in British cinema history. After achieving great successes in war time documentaries in the 1930s and ‘40s, Britain was seen as one of the best providers of informational cinema. The strong sense of national pride began to skew the reality being presented, however, and the films produced were deployed as a propaganda tool. The presented society as equal in the propaganda films, everyone helping everyone towards a shared goal. This ignored the realities of social class and poverty. This fell apart after the Suez crisis in 1956, when the French and English armies staged an invasion of Egypt, only to abandon it after the admonitions it gained from the US. Britain’s sense of itself changed after this and brought on a new wave of realist cinema presenting the lives and struggles of the working classes. These became known as kitchen sink dramas.
These films centered on the ‘working class hero’. The archetype of this hero being young, male and battling against the system coined the term ‘angry young man’. The representations of the working classes expanded from the comic relief roles usually assigned to them by earlier films to characters such as Arthur Seaton, whose affluence and amorality lead to the presentation of taboo issues such as abortion and adultery. Along with these taboos came the expression of dissatisfaction among these angry young men. Arthur’s internal monologue at the beginning of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning shows the thoughts of the lower classes, a more detailed perspective than those previously given to these characters. Also his opposition to authority figures and soldiers in particular gave voice to the disillusionment within the working classes to the mostly middle class audience of these films.
The fresh take on the exploits of characters free from stiff-upper lip stereotypes in such films as Brief Encounter proved both provocative and exotic to a new audience of film goers. The sheer otherness of the British New Wave began rendering the strange and potentially threatening world of the under-class as something beautiful, almost desirable. These films fell ultimately out of favour with the realism movement who considered them as a bourgeois fantasy, an attempt by middle class filmmakers to find fulfilment in a beautiful squalor rather than trying to earnestly present economic hardship.
Even as the realities presented in these films may not quite be representative, Arthur Seaton’s childlike exuberance provided a refreshing take on the British protagonist. With James Bond, the intelligent, industrial yet sexist secret agent spurred on by Queen and country and the floppy, post-imperial and unspontaneous Hugh Grant taking the lime light in the contemporary consciousness, an impulsive, hardworking and self-assured engineer feels most real and appealing to current British minds. As the audience’s reactions showed, he was enjoyable to watch whether he was prospering or falling victim to his own recklessness.
In contrast to the divided society presented in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a strong sense of community between the curious, the counter-cultural or the insuppressibly passionate is what draws us to characters like Arthur; and it’s these same factors that drew me and the audience to Magic Lantern in the first place. Whatever division Arthur says there is in society, Magic Lantern film club is where it is not.