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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Kitchen Sink Realism (or kitchen sink drama) is a term coined to describe a British cultural movement that developed during the period from 1958 to 1963 in theatre, art, novels, film and television plays, whose protagonists usually could be described as angry young men (hence Kitchen Sink Realism is also sometimes referred to by Angry Young Men, coined by John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger) dealing with the gritty realities of the working class life (hence, the dirty kitchen sink imagery). It used a style of social realism, which often depicted the domestic situations of working class Britons living in cramped rented accommodation and spending their off hours drinking in grimy pubs, to explore social issues and political controversies.

Stylistically the movement tend to lean towards a documentary realist tradition which preferred to shoot on location, particularly in the northern industrial cities, the use of black and white fast film stock (which gave a grainy, newsreel look to the images), and natural lighting. Stars were never used in these productions, however many of the actors who performed in these films found stardom: Tom Courtenay (from Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)), Albert Finney, Richard Burton, Micheal Caine.

A few other aspects that films from the Kitchen Sink Realism period share are: usually made on small budgets; they emphazised social commitment and hostility toward the ruling class establishment featuring young working-class heroes who are rebellious, angry or frustrated at their lack of opportunity, although equally desillusioned with the Welfare State; shot on actual locations as opposed to sound stages and studios; they portray the vices and virtues of the characters; they avoided the King’s English, in favor of slang and regional dialects; violent scenes are often and sex is depicted frankly; they emphasized naturalism in acting.


1) Style: Black and White, language slang, rural England…

The British New Wave filmmakers chose to shoot their films in black and white even though color was becoming the more popular choice. This came from a tradition of documentary filmmaking, and added to the sense of realism which these films wished to portray. When color began to be used in the 1930s it was felt that color was a problem for reality because it could “distract and disturb the eye”. In The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner the use of black and white adds to the sense of hopelessness and poverty. Nottingham is portrayed as a grey, industrial city, in which there is little for the youth to do but partake in petty crime and avoid the authorities. Similarly the borstal has little charm about it. It appears cold, damp and dismal. The Smiths tough living conditions are also emphasised through the use of black and white.

Language in the film is also a stylistic approach. It is meant to be crude and natural to people from these kind of areas. The use of slang and regional accents helps to portray the marginalization and guetto kind of life in rural England.

2) Character: Colin Smith

Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), is portrayed as a determined, angry young man, who is trying to understand his place in this world. He is introduced to us in the opening sequence of the lm running down a country lane and through the use of voice over he tells us what it means to run.

“Running has always been in our family, especially running from the police. Its hard to understand, all I know is you’ve got to run. Run without knowing why, through fields and woods, and the winning post is no end, even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like”.

We are already aware that Colin is a very reflective youth, and in the next scene, as he is being transported to the borstal, we can tell by the expression on his face that he is a very singular character as he does not partake in the conversation with the other inmates even when he is provoked by one of the boys. Within the borstal he makes his attitude to the establishment very clear when he responds to Stacey’s advice about never forgetting who holds the whip in the borstal.

After the brawl with Stacey, some of the other inmates accuse Colin of being the Governor’s favourite, to which he responds, “I’m nobody’s favourite”. They cannot understand why he does not escape now that he is allowed to train on his own outside the borstal gates. While time passes in the borstal, Colin discovers that the only way to escape from this dismal environment is by running, but running on his own terms, not to advance the ambitions of the Governor.

He refuses to become the model prisoner or the model consumer. At home he is sickened by his mother’s desire to ll the home with symbols of a uence, in particular the television, which is the cause of arguments and unhappiness. In an act of loyalty to his dead father he burns the ten pound note his mother gave him from the insurance money.

When Colin throws the race at the end of the lm, this is his ultimate act of de ance and also the greatest sign of his willpower and determination. It would have been so easy to have won the race and in turn basked in the praise of the Governor, and reduced his time in the borstal. But instead, for the sake of his principles, he chose to lose and faced the consequences.

3) Life around the characters

A bruising, uncomfortable home life, petty crime, redemption o ered in the form of a love that doesn’t work out. Sillitoe’s story lent itself perfectly to the Tony’s aim at the “Kitchen Sink Realism”: an angry young man seeking a self-indulgent, almost masochistic, sort of vengeance for the various injustices put upon him by the Borstal and society. The core problems lie in the heavily engrained class system that Britain was built upon, and the social and economic inequalities that this inevitably leads to.

Much of the lm revolves around the idea of freedom, and how one can possibly be “free” in a society that constantly cannibalizes each other for their capitalist ends. For example, Colin’s mother uses the insurance money from the accidental death of his father to go on a four month shopping spree. Also, the Borstal’s governor uses Colin to win a race against a respected school, while Colin himself even thinks about playing it straight and conforming properly to the Borstal, just so he can be released early. There are a few liberating moments in the lm when this seems possible, notably when Colin and his lover go to the beach for an isolated weekend where there is plenty of room to run around. For the most part, though, all one can do is run. Run away from various problems, for very long distances over an extended period of time. It is while Smith is running that he has the opportunity to think clearly ande escape the emotions of his constrained life.

Cinema of attractions in the 19th Century.

Cinema of attractions in the 19th Century.

Long before film existed the human mind had the ability to play out visual narratives based on the physical constraints of our eyes. Film is an externalization of that ability, where we see outside of our bodies what had previously be confined in our minds. But when did we start creating films and pursuing the capture of movement?

Tom Gunning introduced the term «cinema of attractions». As he puts it:

«the cinema of attractions solicits a highly conscious awareness of the film image engaging the viewer’s curiosity.»

Instead of having the audiences focusing on the narrative, films encourage the audiences to remain aware of the act of looking, the impulse and excitement from the image. Obviously, this is very true for the early cinema, when there is not really a narrative involved in the films. Film was first invented to create visual pleasure. At this stage the camera is still, usually only at one angle mimicking theatrical representations.

1890s. The idea

Back in the 1890s, wealthy tycoons had a dispute on whether a horse ever had its four legs up when galloping or not and hired Muybridge to photograph every instant and capture its movement. This is the first time movement was purposely exposed to a camera and the catharsis that will lead to moving pictures.


1900s. The early approaches

Americans will say that Edison invented cinema, while Europeans will say it was the Lumière Brothers. In my opinion, although I may also be unwillingly biased, cinema must imply projecting/broadcasting, and thus I credit the Lumière Brothers for it. But let’s not forget Edison’s implication.

Thomas Edison

After having seen what Muybridge was able to capture from the horse’s movement, Thomas Edison established in the U.S.A. its own studio, usually referred to as The Black Maria. Interested in spectacle, he would shoot short movies in the dark environment of The Black Maria, and would later project them in a Kinetoscope for the public to see. The Kinetoscope was his and his colleague’s (William Kennedy Laurie Dickson) own invention to be able to recreate action. This early motion picture device was designed for films to be viewed by one individual at a time through a peephole viewer window at the top of the device. It was, therefore, not a movie projector, but it introduced the basic approach of cinema, by creating the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter.

Lumière Brothers

Although The Lumière Brothers are known as the first filmmakers in history for mass media productions, they patented the cinematograph on 1895, a newer version from Léon Guillaume Bouly’s 1893 patent. On the contrary to Edison’s approach, the cinematograph did have a projector to screen the movies, and their films were based on everyday life events, even traveling around the world to bring to Europeans «actualities» of other cultures. Effects, if any, were merely accidents, like the film Demolition of a Wall (1896) that was played backwards becoming the first reverse motion film in history.

Actualities are mainly common events that have no narrative or script. Probably their most important film is The Arrival of the Train at the Station (1885). A simple film of a train entering the station was projected and enjoyed my many as something extraordinary, and it was for the time. Some say people, not used to moving pictures, ran out of the theatre in terror, but that’s nonsense. Remember these movies were black and white and one does not instantly think a train is coming up and «oh hey, I’m colorblind». People knew what were in for and enjoyed the time at the theatre. Although most of the Lumière Brother films were non-scripted, there is an exception. The Watered Watered (or The Sprinkler Sprinkled) (1895) is the first scripted comedy to be projected. It portrays a simple practical joke in which a gardener is tormented by a boy who steps on the hose that the gardener is using to water his plants, cutting off the water flow. Louis Lumière used his own gardener, François Clerc, to portray the gardener.

Other films by the Lumière Brothers include:

La sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Factory)

and Repas de bébé (Baby’s Meal)

George Mèlies. The magician of cinema

The Lumière Brother stated that:

«cinema is an invention without any future»

and sold their camera to George Mèlies, who would become the father of special effects. He sought to present spectacles of a kind not possible in live theatre. That is the reason behind so many primitive cinematic effects in his productions that were, at the time, surprising and enchanting.

In his film Trip to the Moon (1901), objects and people suddenly appear and disappear in an effect now known as stop motion. He came to this idea after processing a film that got jammed, and understood that there was an infinite world of possibilities in film by manipulating and distorting time and space. These tricks had to be accomplished in the camera, while filming; prior to the mid-1 920s, few laboratory manipulations were possible. George Mèlies also pioneered double exposure and fading, by dragging the lightly processed end of a film strip onto the beginning of the next, thus creating a cross-dissolve effect between the two.

In order to be able to control the mise-en-scène and cinematography of his films, Mèlies built a small glass­ enclosed studio.

Edwin S. Porter

Porter was a film projectionist and an expert at building photographic equipment. In late 1900, he went to work for Edison, whom he greatly admired. He was assigned to improve the firm’s cameras and projectors. That year the Edison Company built a new glass­ enclosed rooftop studio in New York, where films could be shot using the typical painted stage-style scenery of the era. In early 1901, Porter began operating a camera there. At this point in cinema history, the cameraman was also the film’s director, and soon Porter was responsible for many of the company’s most popular films.

He tried to emulate Mèlies’s trick photography and incorporated these techniques into his productions. He would extensively use mattes to mask out parts of a frame. In The Great Train Robbery (1903), film that would become the most influential of that decade, he creates a background for the train window by actually cutting away the window from every frame and overlapping the film strip onto a different one. Also, he does use different shots or camera angles (eleven in total) in one single scene and introduces the concept of inter-cutting (or cross-cutting) between to two events that happen simultaneously in different locations. Although Porter never cuts back and forth among these locales, a few years later filmmakers would begin to do so.

Next: 1900s: The Beginning of Cinema Industry in Europe