Leading the Charge: Woodfall Film Productions and the Revolution in '60s British Cinema
July 13 – 26, 2007
The years right after World War II were tumultuous ones for world cinema. The U.S. film industry, struck by the twin barrels of television and the studios' loss of distribution and exhibition chains, was learning to deal with its new reality. Old national film industries such as those in Italy, France and Japan were suddenly revived, while nations with scant histories of filmmaking became the sites of various new waves. Moreover, a new generation of filmmakers began to emerge that was tired of the sure formulas and safe stories they felt had come to dominate mainstream cinema.
In the U.K., this generation first reared its head in the work of the Free Cinema movement: young documentary filmmakers who rejected the heavy-handed voice-over and clear social messages of the "official" documentary for works that were much more impressionistic and lyrical. They took advantage of new production techniques–– location shooting, natural light, from handheld cameras––to create a much more vibrant sense of the texture of everyday life.
Then in 1956, a key figure of the Free Cinema, Tony Richardson, teamed with playwright John Osborne (whose Look Back in Anger had jolted the London stage) and the American producer Harry Saltzman to found Woodfall Film Productions. According to Osborne, the purpose of Woodfall was "to show that good films, ones that showed British life as it really is, could be made cheaply."
Over the next two decades, Woodfall would be the force behind many of the films that would transform the British cinema into one of the most dynamic in the world: Look Back in Anger, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Taste of Honey, The Knack...and How to Get It, Kes, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and more. These films not only popularized in British cinema technical developments such as the use of real locations and synchronously recorded sound, they also introduced an astounding new class of British actors: Albert Finney, Rita Tushingham, Tom Courtenay. Moreover, these films often broached subjects––from interracial sex to schoolyard bullying––never before treated with such candor.
This celebration of Woodfall Film Productions' impressive achievements, brings back to the screen several of its finest and most influential films. And we have, as a special treat, actors Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave and Michael Sheen joining us at the Walter Reade to introduce some of the screenings during the series. Any survey of Woodfall should also pay tribute to its co-founder Tony Richardson, so we are including screenings, from before and after his Woodfall days, of The Border, A Delicate Balance and his short film Momma Don’t Allow.