The White Bus (1967)

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THE WHITE BUS (1967)

RED, WHITE, ZERO: THE WHITE BUS

Patricia Healey, Arthur Lowe, Stephen Moore, John Sharp, Julie Perry, Anthony Hopkins, Victor Henry, Fanny Carby, John Savident, Malcolm Taylor, Allan O’Keefe, Jeanne Watts, Eddie King, Barry Evans, Penny Ryder /  From the short story by  Shelagh Delaney  /  Editor  Kevin Brownlow  /  Music Score  Misha Donat  / Cinematography  Miroslav Ondricek  /  Producer & Director  Lindsay Anderson 

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 Emerging from the Trümmerfilm rubble of a still scarred postwar British North, wanders Patricia Healey, a suicidal brunette with angelic, ethereal eyes deeper than a well. More a ghost, than a fully fledged character, she radiates a sense of disconnection, fascinated by those around her, cut from the same cloth, yet at a passive distance. Her purpose is to represents us, both as moving camera, and the objective gaze of the viewer, allowing us to study our own world with anonymity.

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To some extent this wandering angel is familiar, from both the Beatnik culture of the day, and the wandering, somnambulist  characters of French New Wave Cinema (Jeanne Moreau’s midnight stroll in ‘Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud’, and in ‘Cléo de 5 à 7′, Corinne Marchand’s  endless lilting wander, from Parisian Doctor’s office, to boutique, to cafe). Here though, we have some degree of order, travelling the city with a Civic Bus Tour, pointing out what we should be interested in,  establishing some degree of direction upon our meandering nomad, providing a beginning, a middle and a clear end to proceedings. The Documentary maker as tour guide.

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What does predominate within the heart of ‘The White Bus’, is this sense of the secret insider.. since both the Director Lindsay Anderson, (born in British India), and the author Shelagh Delaney, (born in Lancashire, though of distinctly Irish heritage), express a love and a sense of belonging to English culture and the landscape, but perhaps unintentionally bring an unbiased objectivity too. Along with the film’s author and Director, the sense of a fresh eye, is further given by it’s Czech Cinematographer, Miroslav Ondricek, adding elements of the Czech New Wave to his angles and treatment of the cityscapes.. bringing a sense of ethereal Prague, to the British landscape. Ondricek eventually answered the call to Hollywood, and went on to shine ever brighter behind the camera on such notable pieces as ‘The World According to Garp’, ‘Silkwood’, and ‘Amadeus’.

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Lindsay Anderson initially hit his stride with some remarkably poignant Public Service style ‘kitchen sink’ documentaries made during the 1940’s & 50’s, centering his keen focus upon the ordinary inhabitants of schools and society’s working institutions.. Covent Garden Market.. Dreamland’s amusements.. a school for the deaf.. an anti-nuclear march.. all served up in a thought provoking and accessible form. From here, Anderson advanced to full length films, though continuing to concentrate on familiar ground. With ‘This Sporting Life’, the violence of a rugby player boils over into life beyond the confines of the field.. and in the iconic ‘If..’, a Public School erupts into chaos, as the students murderously ‘take over the asylum’. ‘The White Bus’ is no less subversive a piece, but by keeping it’s central character mute for much of film, the audience is carried along for the ride with the same sense of disconnection as it’s protagonist. The result is one of fascination with society ‘from without’, neutral and scientific, rather than overtly critical. Both we, and our central character are but a ghost in the machine. Neither affecting, nor affected by the world, merely observing, or offering a bemused smile.

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‘The White Bus’ was originally intended to be released as part of a trilogy of films, collectively titled ‘Red White Zero’, each adapted from short stories by Shelagh Delaney (‘Sweetly sings the donkey’, published 1963), but neither subsequent film reached production. Delaney’s particular vision of a vibrant, cynical North characterized her literary style, and through her two screenplays for ‘A Taste of Honey’, and ‘Charlie Bubbles’, firmly established the North Country as a key locale in the British New Wave.

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It is quite tempting to believe that perhaps Lindsay Anderson had Delaney herself in mind when he selected actress Patricia Healey for the lead. There is a decided similarity in look and posture between the two women, and after the success of ‘A Taste of Honey’, Delaney was becoming a notable creative in the public eye. The long dark hair, solemn expression and soulful eyes match almost too well for coincidence.

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In addition, Delaney’s short story contains many personal elements, not only in superficial terms of location, schooling and general attitude, but autobiographically, since her father worked for some years during her childhood as a Bus Inspector, and the trip to a state school during the ‘The White Bus’, feels achingly personal. We write about what we know, of course, and Directors take more than mere words from a writer when they set images and ideas to screen, even more so when they share something of the same perspective.

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Shot primarily on moody, atmospheric b&w film, ‘The White Bus’ is peppered with short scenes of almost lurid Eastmancolor, which never fail to shock and surprise whenever they appear. Lindsay Anderson used the same effect in his later film ‘If…’, though in reverse, favouring mostly colour film, dropping in sporadic b&w scenes. It’s often assumed that the expensive nature of colour film was the determining factor, causing the majority of scenes in ‘The White Bus’ to be shot on b&w, where funds were unavailable, and limiting the colour filming in ‘If…’. It does seems far too deliberate a choice at times though, especially in ‘The White Bus’, where the use of colour appears more an avant-guarde motif. Fritz Lang faced similar concerns with his 1st Sound film, the ground breaking ‘M’, juxtaposing between Sound film and pure Silent scenes to keep under budget.. but he somehow made these cost cutting necessities part of the German Expressionist style, by focusing on the visuals for chase scenes, and saving his precious Sound film for close-ups. In neither ‘The White Bus’, nor ‘If…’, is there any clear reasoning behind colour or b&w selection, other than  artistic or random whim. The overall effect is bold and original, so I suppose the intention, or lack thereof, doesn’t really matter anyway.

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As the film progresses the inhabitants of this dream-like landscape seem to become less and less connected to reality, and the sense of documentary intent merges with that of surrealism, bringing to mind aspects of Dali’s ‘Un Chien Andalou’ (1929), and mysterious Maya Deren’s ‘Meshes in the Afternoon’ (1943). Different subjects for documentary are laid out before us, as the Bus Tour shifts from location to location, passing through State School, newly completed blocks of flats, the wheels of industry, anthropological glass cases of stuffed animals on display, and elaborate war reenactments over scrub land.

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At one point, in full glorious colour, we have elaborate tableau set out before us in park scenes, as we parade through reconstructions of famous paintings by Goya, Fragonard and Manet, later to be imitated rather beautifully by those clever Guinness adverts in the early 90’s, with a wry Rutger Hauer interrupting the classics.

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Ultimately the passengers themselves are reduced to mere dress dummies, as the dream of the Bus Tour loses solidity, and dissipates on the air, leaving only our protagonist to wander off once more. Eventually even she becomes a less and less noticed by those around her, a ghost sat in a chip shop at closing time, while chairs are stacked on tables around her. She and the audience must go home. Turn the lights off please.

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IF YOU LIKE ‘THE WHITE BUS’, YOU MAY ALSO LIKE.. 

Ascenseur pour l’échafaud  (1958) / À bout de souffle (1960) / A Taste of Honey (1961) / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) / Billy Liar (1963) / The Knack, and How To Get it (1965) / Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) / Alice in Wonderland (TV 1966) / Blow-Up! (1966) / Bedazzled (1967) / If… (1968) / The Bed Sitting Room (1969) 

The White Bus 1967     The White Bus 1967

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LINDSAY ANDERSON : SHORT FILMS

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LINDSAY ANDERSON INTERVIEWS & DOCU.

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Shelagh Delaney - Portrait

SHELAGH DELANEY (1938-2011)

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A Taste of Honey (Pub. 1956)

The Lion in Love (Pub. 1960)

Sweetly Sings the Donkey (Pub. 1963)

The White Bus (Adapt. 1967)

Charlie Bubbles (Screenplay 1967)

Seven Faces of Woman (1974)

The House that Jack Build (TV 1977)

Find me First (TV 1981)

Dance with a Stranger (1985)

Three Days in August (1992)

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Shelagh Delaney

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SISTERS (1973)

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SISTERS

SISTERS

Margot Kidder as Danielle & Dominique, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Bernard Hughes, Mary Davenport, Olympia Dukakis / Screenplay Brian De Palma & Louisa Rose / Original Music Bernard Herrmann / Cinematography Gregory Sandor / Editor Paul Hirsch / Produced by Edward R. Pressman / Directed by Brian De Palma

I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!

It’s not that Brian De Palma’s Sisters is a bad film, but rather that it makes some decidedly dubious mistakes.. or does it? Well, yes it does, but to what extent these were intentional, it’s difficult to quite decide. It’s that familiar De Palma dichotomy, to find yourself confused as to whether you are eating sirloin steak or a thick layer of cheese. Every simplicity is layered with an enigmatic undertone, whilst each bold epiphany is counter set by a certain unbelievability. This duality both attracts and frustrates the filmgoer in equal fashion.. perhaps the familiar domain of the auteur filmmaker? But one thing is certain, De Palma will not be told, and nor should he be, since we love him for his tenacity of personal vision, and utter disregard for the ordinary solution.

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It’s perhaps unfair to be too critical of Sisters, since it was nevertheless a pretty accomplished piece for a Director still finding his sea legs. Considered as the beginning of a progression of cinematic ideas, it whets the appetite very nicely.. but viewed in the singular, it somewhat stumbles and loses its footing once too often. It’s not so much a matter of yelling at the screen ‘Don’t go in there!’, but rather, ‘Who the hell would go in there?!’ Incredulous though we are throughout the story, nothing quite prepares us for the concluding journey that murder victim Philip Woode (Lisle Wilson) makes for the finale, when he arrives bound-up in a sofa at a deserted station next to a Canadian cow. How do we know it’s a Canadian cow? Well, someone stuck a Canadian flag next to it. That cow seems to be the crux of the whole film, somehow.. If you believe in the cow, then you believe in the nature of the film. As avant guard touches go, that cow is a pretty wonderful one, but even David Lynch might scratch his head a little trying to justify it’s reason for being there.

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As if Ray Boulting’s Twisted Nerve hadn’t upset the disabled community enough, by creating a fearful parallel between Downs Syndrome and murderous psychotic tendencies, ‘Sisters’ managed to go one step further and tar all twins with the same phobic panic. The plot of Sisters spends much of it’s time attempting to prove whether or not Margot Kidder has a twin, which in itself is no evidence of foul play in the context of the film, nor indeed are Siamese twins particularly synonymous with mental illness. One might naturally then be perplexed as to why on earth Danielle & Dominique are in a mental hospital to begin with, and not merely in a State hospital or private clinic. Okay, this is a horror film, so we should be prepared to drift into an exaggerated reality, but still, reason and logic must still prevail, or else we enter into the absurd.

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De Palma of course had Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo in mind for his psychological study on twins and split-personality, even to the extent of convincing Hitch’s old composer Bernard Hermann to come out of retirement to write the score in direct homage. Psycho, Vertigo and Sisters all exploit mental illness, but in Hitchcock we get a clear-cut cause established for the psychosis. In Psycho we have the life-long problems associated with an overbearing mother, and Vertigo gives us Kim Novak playing the part of a damaged woman to deceive James Stewart, but winds up competing with her other self for his affections.

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With Sisters, we have an interesting little dynamic which adds a curious series of flips to the usual Hitchcock archetypes. On the surface we’re presented with a straightforward good twin / evil twin situation, but then we come to realise that these twins were once conjoined, now separated. This might be fuel enough for a study on identity, but De Palma doesn’t stop there, he throws another spanner into the works *Spoiler Alert*, by revealing that the ‘bad’ twin died years earlier during an operation to separate the two. Also, given that we learn of the sexual advances of the twin’s Doctor towards one twin, whilst drugging the other for sexual ‘privacy’, we come to realise that the bad twin had every reason in the world to turn out a wee bit funny in the head. Flip once more, considering that when the surviving ‘good twin’ has her little murderous episodes and becomes her ‘evil’ twin, she is in actual fact acting out how she believes her sister would be, but in actual fact it could be said that this so called good twin, was always the evil, considering the lengths she would go to for some ‘alone time’ with her Doctor lover. Indeed, we even discover in flashback that the Doctor favoured his lover in the separation, sealing the sad fate of the other to die on the operating table.

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Shot in a low-budget tv style, Sisters mirrors elements of the Psycho ‘look’, which Hitch developed out of necessity, when Studio concerns over his alarming subject matter reduced him to shooting Psycho on his Alfred Hitchcock Presents Tv Lott. Somehow the impression I get with Sisters though, is more that of a Columbo murder mystery, with it’s 1970’s haircuts and sense of camera off on a wander in search of clues. Especially since we have this long build up to the murder after half an hour or so, which is plotted out with hints and mistakes for our reporter to follow up later on. Not that Columbo had to deal with too many dangerous paranoid schizophrenics.

Sisters - Onset

POSTER ART

Original Poster Art Poster art (Re-release)

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