Thursday, 23 April 2009

“The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner”. A Review of the 1962 Tony Richardson film now fully restored on a 2009 BLU RAY.

“…You Think You’re Above Us Now…Do You…”

This is the fully restored British Film Institute version of Tony Richardson’s 1962 classic - and it's beautifully done - clean from start to finish. Even as the credits roll - it's spotless - a truly fantastic restoration job.

Because the clean up is so good it also pummels home the austerity of post-war England in almost every scene, while the black & white film stock and the hand-held camera work only add to its gritty and downbeat feel. We also get to properly see the intensity of Tom Courtney's extraordinary performance – all working class defiance and mind games. Another noticeable improvement is the music. The brass band stuff that accompanies every running shot is very punchy now – its either military or patriotic – or both. It acts as a sort of sneering backdrop, like “If…” almost…

The internal Borstal scenes are well done, as is Tom’s appallingly claustrophobic home life – all that family repression and rage building up to his final racing sabotage. There are also many famous faces in there – John Thaw, James Bolam, Michael Redgrave - even a cameo by Edward Fox as runner number 7 towards the end. Having said all of that, it’s not a film you warm to easily – it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea to sit down to this unrelenting feast of “it’s grim up north…”

The extras are interesting too. First there's a commentary on the movie (On or Off whichever you want), second is a sort of "making of" named after the principal cameraman "Walter Lasally Video Essay" in which he explains why certain shots were filmed in certain ways. He also references other Richardson work. Also you get to see the original stock footage of the opening credits BEFORE the restoration - it's covered in lines and smudges - so when you do to see the actual movie, you realise what a huge amount of work was put into this.

Number 3 is a curio that jazz buffs will love - it's Tony Anderson's "Momma Don't Allow" - a short film made about ordinary British workers ending up in a jazz club. It was filmed in the gloriously named “Art & Viv's Sander's Wood Green Jazz Club in The Fishmonger's Arms". It features The Chris Barber Jazz Band - Pat Halcox, Ron Bowden, Lonnie Donegan, Jim Bray and Ollie Paterson. It's really badly scratched and decayed, but the soundtrack is very good – and I guess it's a miracle that it's survived at all.

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice for a cheery Sunday afternoon watch – but for those who do love this bitterly repressed yet still relevant film – they will adore how beautifully the BFI have restored it.

Recommended.

PS: the BFI have also done “Saturday Night Sunday Morning” with Albert Finney – a mouth-watering prospect – and their work on Stanley’s Baker’s “Zulu” is off the charts – simply has to be seen to be believed...

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