on October 5, 2008
Serious film lovers are surely blessed that Facets Video (which brought out top rated 'Decalogue' and recently Bela Tarr's 'Satantango') has now released a totally pristine DVD of this almost forgotten 1970's U.K. filmmaker.
Here is Douglas' own poverty stricken childhood in a small Scottish village, recreated using mainly non-professional actors in three one hour segments. According to the added special feature documentary, Douglas (who died in 1991 of lung cancer) escaped the brutality of his surroundings by virtually living in his town's dumpy movie theater. If this brings to mind Antoine Doinel in Truffaut's 'The 400 Blows,' that's fine, but replace Antoine's Paris with a landscape straight from Samuel Beckett.
Douglas' genius was very much appreciated at the time but the producers also knew he had little commercial appeal. He was only to make one commercial film ("Comrades") before his death.
He was very much enamoured of silent movies and in this trilogy, dialog is very limited. Instead, his camera lingers long enough on a face or an abandoned yard or a shabby table, so that words become superfluous.
This is a great film experience. Several days after seeing it for the first time, the images still replay themselves in my mind. Once you own it, you'll know exactly what to buy next for your dedicated film buff friends.
on May 26, 2009
Confession - I had never heard of Bill Douglas until a recent fortunate accident connected me with the legendary TRILOGY.If you define a masterpiece as art with a power and appeal that defies analysis, yet connects you with something profound and truthful, this collection of monochrome autobiographies of "Jamie" (immediately identifiable as Bill Douglas himself)is without question a masterpiece. A boy drags himself out of terrifying poverty into a self-created world of hope and creativity. This is not Dickensean cinema, Oliver re-visited, or a Scotish Bleak House. One soon realizes a subtle artist is at work, for Mr Douglas' shots are squeezed dry of sentimentality. There is no manipulation of the audience, no compromising sweetness, no orchestration of response through a music score. Cuts are as jarring as Jamie's life itself. The audience's intelligence is respected when there are omissions of chronology and brutality is neither explained nor resolved. The films' artistry fashions beauty from the most unpromising images and themes, and at the end you will not know how the director achieved it. Slag heaps, coal lifts dropping men like refuse into the shafts, tenement pathways never offering an exit from the slums, awful toys in undarned Christmas stockings, lumpen food, silent dinner tables, adults incapable of joy, kids unable to smile -hardly a wholesome or hopeful world for the central character (superbly played by non-actor Stephen Archibald, whose casting is itself a stroke of genius by Bill Douglas). Yet the narrative culminates in Jamie breaking through the grimey surface of poverty, triumphing over his shattering beginnings, and finding a friend and a purpose. These films feature the quiet Bill Douglas style of lingering on the human face, or holding a shot of an empty space, so that the silence speaks. Look for reviews of Bill Douglas and his work, and you see the word "poetic" repeatedly summoned to describe what he does with a camera. He lives up to his billing as a poet of the visual, and these films are, in my opinion, works of genius.
Seen as some of the best depictions of childhood ever recorded on camera; these three films from Bill Douglas are both time capsules and sad reminders of how tough it was and can be growing up poor. These are autobiographical films and the first `My Childhood' was made in 1972 with Stephen Archibald playing the main character `Jamie'. It is set in a blasted landscape in a Scottish coal mining community just at the tail end of World War II.
Jamie is being brought up by his grandmother along with his older half brother Tommy. It is utterly devastating what the children go through all to a seemingly indifferent world.
The second `My Ain Folk' was made the following year and picks up where the first ended with Jamie ending up in a council run care home. It shows him trying to adjust and yet at all time being alone, even when he is surrounded by others. This is probably one of the bleakest of the three films in that this depicts the very people who Jamie should rely on to support and care for him and all are found wanting.
The final part is `My Way Home and was made five years later in 1978, in fact Bill Douglas waited until Stephen Archibald was old enough to be able to play his army role. This is a sort of redemption and features his adolescence and all the anomie that would normally afflict any teenager at that time being expanded by the exterior influences he faces.
These are devastatingly dark films, all shot in brilliant black and white with dirt you can almost feel under your nails and the smells seem to cloy at you from the screen. For me there was a lot of resonance with my childhood, though nowhere near as bleak, so for me it was not an easy watch - especially the violence. It is a testament to the human spirit that he could have gone through so much and ended up such a talented and gifted individual.
on October 27, 2012
Why would anyone who had had such a miserable childhood want to memorialise it on film? I grew up in Scotland during the War but it was not miserable like that . Far from it. This movie depressed me and I would recommend that it be burned and forgotten forever. Most of the time you wonder what is going on. Were it not for the sleeve notes I would have no idea. This is not entertainment. As for accuracy, the boys never wore a jacket. There are precious few days in Scotland when you can go out without a jacket or coat. Those boys would have been shivering most of the time. The fire they lit at the beginning with a few sticks and 4 lumps of coal would not have burned for half an hour after which they would have frozen to death. Night time temperatures in Scotland in houses with no central heating, were at or below freezing. What those other reviewers saw in this movie I have no idea. I saw nothing but bleakness, bleakness and more bleakness. Poetic and musical? Which language are we speaking? All the poetry of a wet paper bag and all the music of a death wheeze.