Everyone’s list of the ‘Ten Movies I’d Take To The Moon’ evolves over the years, but for me the British Kitchen Sink dramas of the late ’50’s and early ’60’s always rank near the top of the heap. Don’t think that highlighting a certain school of filmmaking is a cheat. Any one of them is worthy of the long ride through space.
Look Back In Anger…Room At the Top…Saturday Night and Sunday Morning…The Entertainer…A Taste of Honey…The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner…A Kind of Loving…Billy Liar…This Sporting Life…A Place To Go…
Characterized by a social realist, slice-of-life approach to characters usually trapped on the lower rungs of the post-war\pre Swinging London economic ladder, the Kitchen Sink films are stark, unsparing and brutally immediate. At first pass they might seem a bit depressing, but they’re really not. Despite their rough circumstances and personal flaws, the individuals whose lives they examine can’t help but remind you of Churchill’s ideal – no matter how bad things get, they never waver, never give up. Such great performers as Alan Bates, Dirk Bogarde, Richard Burton, Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney, Laurence Harvey, Charlotte Rampling, Lynn Redgrave, Rita Tushingham and Mary Ure all made their early marks in Kitchen Sink films. The fortitude that shines through their work – even as it is misguided or misapplied – is something to appreciate, especially in contrast to the shallowness of so much of today’s culture. Though the lives of the people they portray may be small, these are not small people.
There are only a dozen or so films that make the cut as true Kitchen Sinks, all photographed in black and white and produced between 1958 and 1963 on minuscule budgets, even for their day. Largely directed by such perennials as Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and John Schlesinger, they are well crafted and show a remarkable range of visual textures. Perpetually overcast northern industrial towns…sooty brick row houses and their cramped interiors…muddy football pitches…dank, crowded pubs… Such elements combine to create the rarest of cinematic experiences – a palpable awareness of a particular place and time. Often the effect is so well realized that you can feel the dampness wafting up off the cobblestones.
A great deal of credit for this success must of course go to the cinematographers, primarily BSC legends Denys Coop, Freddie Francis, Walter Lassally and Ossie Morris. Their Kitchen Sink work shows a rare economy that serves as an antidote to much of what we see onscreen today. Having been a fan of these films since I first caught them on public television as a kid – well before I knew what a cinematographer was – it’s a kick that I still learn something new from them at every viewing.
Check them out when you get the chance. I’m sure you’ll like them, too!