Friday, June 12, 2009

From textbook to screen

I first became aware of Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in my senior year in high school, when I was enrolled in my first-ever film class, called Art of the Film. My beloved teacher with the bald head and walrus mustache, Mr. Brown, didn't schedule the film for screening, but he may have made mention of it, and it definitely appeared in whatever textbook we were using. It held a special significance to me, in fact, because I myself was a long distance runner, a member of the cross country team in my second season.

Last night, something like 18.5 years later, I finally saw it. I haven't run in a race of any kind since the mid-1990s, though I could probably take most people I know in a sprint. It's the stamina that would be a problem now.

I write about this today not because I have very much profound to say about this 1962 black-and-white film, part of the so-called "Angry Young Man" movement in British filmmaking, which featured working class heroes and left-wing themes. More than anything, I now regret having put a picture of Miley Cyrus on the front of my blog, and just want to clear it off.

But for those of us who have studied film, I do think it's interesting -- and probably rare -- to go back to those films that were part of every standard viewing syllabus back in high school and college. (Most people were not lucky enough to get a film theory class in high school; I got one there, then three in college). Or, in this case, ones that weren't, but were on the periphery of your awareness just by studying film. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner has been just out of my reach, as it were, for many years now, and a couple weeks ago I finally decided to force the issue, pushing it to the top of my queue.

I'm glad I did, and not only because it's clearly an important film that contained some pretty revolutionary storytelling techniques for 1962. But also because it does a darn good job approximating the cacophony of thoughts and melodies that drum repetitiously through a runner's head, especially during a very difficult race. I still remember a race I ran my freshman year in college, my final year as a competitive runner, when I was going up a hill and had the mercilessly catchy final refrains of "I'd Like to Live in a Wigwam" by Cat Stevens pounding rhythmically through my brain. If you know the song you'll know what I'm talking about.

But also, I think it's important, as we age, and as it becomes a lot easier to digest romantic comedies and action movies than the classics, to keep digesting those classics. We should take steps to never let our film education end. I myself get a little cranky when I notice I haven't seen a movie from before 2000 in about two months. It's then that I go refresh myself with the best picture winner from 1938. These movies can be difficult for our modern brains to sit through, but never let us forget their importance to being fans of film.

So go rent 8 1/2. Go rent The Magnificent Ambersons. Go rent The Battleship Potemkin.

Just don't start watching it too late at night and you'll be fine.

No comments: