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Look Back In Anger

Look Back In Anger (1959), starring Richard Burton (Jimmy), Mary Ure (Alison) and Claire Bloom (Helena), is a film based on John Osborne's play of the same name. Jimmy runs a market stall, and despite his college education he sees himself as hopelessly stuck in a working class oppressed by society's upper echelons, which makes him acutely angry. He rages constantly and takes out this fury on his wife, Alison, going as viciously far as to tell her, "If you could have a child, and it would die . . . if only I could watch you face that." Alison, pregnant (though Jimmy doesn't know it), leaves him, and her friend Heather then falls for the guy at about the film's halfway mark.

I chose to watch this one thinking it's noir but discovered it's kitchen sink drama, part of a British art movement in the 50s/60s with tales of disillusioned men who are inordinately indignant due to some constricting elements in their social context. For the uninitiated, think abortions, alcoholism, and homelessness.

Burton pulls off angry excruciatingly well, to the extent he's hard to watch. I tell you, this ain't 1959's feel-good movie of the year. And no matter how many times Helena says to Alison, "everything will be fine," all the gritty realism bespeaks just the opposite. Whereas noir would place the story in a shadowy, off-kilter alternate reality, Look Back In Anger is steeped in real-world grime, including the themes of endless domestic disputes and miscarriage, both also trademarks of the kitchen sink genre.

What I got out of it was an appreciation for Burton's acting. His performance is intense and compelling, and he must've been the sort of actor who convinces himself he's the character he's portraying. But Jimmy's such a surly jerk, and I found myself frustrated with the character's relentless whinging. He does break out in song once or twice, though. And the jazz at the beginning and end is cool. I thought the scenes showing Jimmy and Alison in their bear-squirrel fantasy world were in some way fascinating; surely that's the only place they can survive—outside of their own bleak reality. And their breath in the air to end the film was striking and well captured and a cinematographic treat.


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