Peter Brook, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson (director)
BFI Flipside (studio)
10 December 2018 (released)
31 December 2018
This 1967 film trilogy promised to have a lot going for it: a starry cast (a number remain un-credited) and three short films directed by the ‘Wunderkinder’ of British cinema (well in one case theatre may be more appropriate) that were Peter Brook, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson (who was, by and large, Woodfall Films).
Richardson always made interesting films or so one thought. However, something seems to have gone wrong here and one can't help wondering whether the BFI bothered to release this film (in three parts) merely for curiosity’s sake? Was it an experiment? Or was it the case that these three men were given rein to indulge their individual whims regardless of what the cinemagoer may think; which explains a lot. Apparently RED WHITE AND ZERO never received a commercial release, which is not exactly surprising.
The first film (and by far the shortest of the three) boasts no less a talent than American actor/comic Zero Mostel (who starred in Mel Brooks best film, THE PRODUCERS, that same year). Quite what induced him to appear in this Peter Brook film only heaven knows! It isn't that it is that bad it is just that it isn't that good. The plot is incredibly simple: an opera singer (Mostel, who played curiously ‘Gianni Schicchi’ shortly before he died) arrives at the London airport and is in a mad dash to get to Covent Garden Opera House to sing a duet in Wagner’s Die Walküre. Will he make it in time? Whilst getting made up on route and after a series of slightly amusing mishaps on the motorway and on the London tube we begin to understand why the chosen duet is ‘from The ride of the Valkyries’...hmm. Really a total waste of a major talent! Perhaps Mr. Brook could have explained this patently thin joke, maybe it is in the title of the song.
Second up is Lindsay Anderson's 'The White Bus' - easily the best of the three films on offer - not that that is saying a great deal. However there is at least an underlying motif that can be read into Shelagh ('A Taste of Honey') Delaney's scenario that has Anderson's stamp all over it. A young woman is seen desperately getting away from her irksome city type boyfriend at Euston and heading up north somewhere. Not much is explained but it isn't difficult to draw your own conclusions. She is rediscovering her Northern routes. The bleak industrial town she arrives in is actually somewhere in Manchester. She has booked a tour of the city on a white bus. Also on the bus, would you believe it, is the town mayor (the redoubtable Arthur Lowe, one of Lindsay's faves) who is going to put his own slant on the town's 'merits' - not that there are many of them. This is all captured on a rather surreal level and slides from gritty b/w into color and back to b/w. If you know your Lindsay Anderson you will not be surprised at the outcome. You can have a bit of fun spotting other members of the cast. Patricia Healy displays the right haunted look for a disillusioned young woman.
What was Tony Richardson doing with Red and Blue, perhaps an experiment with color? Again, here we are left to work out a fair bit for ourselves. This one features a somewhat miscast red haired Vanessa Redgrave as a jazz singer. One wonders if it is actually her singing those quirky little numbers (which might possibly be appealing to some). Richardson was married to her at the time although they broke up that year. She has a friend (Gary Raymond) who appears to live on a boat in Camden Lock and it is he who writes the songs she sings. However she is also a little more than friendly with an un-credited William Sylvester at the jazz club but has developed a strong liking for another, considerably older man who also comes to the Club. This rival 'entrepreneur' is actually portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (also un-credited) and we know this does not purport well and can only end in tragedy. Oh, these jazz singers! Richardson uses the colors as symbolism one can only imagine. One of the oddest films Vanessa Redgrave has appeared in.
RED WHITE AND ZERO really is only for those of us interested in a certain kind of cinematic experimentation (not that there's anything wrong with that). Kevin Brownlow was much involved with this project and is featured in one of the many Extras (as is usual with the estimable BFI) discussing the project.