The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Lindsay Anderson

Lindsay Anderson

There is no such thing as uncommitted criticism anymore than there is such thing as insignificant art.
Anderson, left, with muse Malcolm McDowell

Contributed to: Sequence, Sight & Sound

Known for: About John Ford, "Stand Up! Stand Up!"

By the time Lindsay Anderson (April 17th, 1923 – August 30th, 1994) directed the Palme d'Or winning If...., he had lived many lives. Of his childhood, he had this to say: My father, a Scot and a soldier, was born in Nassik, North India. My mother (born in Queenstown, South Africa) was a Bell. I was born in Bangalore, a child of Empire. Did these antecedents make for an alienation, long unrecognised?" Anderson recognized that he was fated to be a thorn in the side of British tradition. His adolescence brought him within striking distance of British attitudes. He studied at prestigious Cheltenham College then joined the army at the tail end of World War II. This was all the proof he needed that 'civilization' was not for him and that the mainstream could be both a dull and dangerous thing. 

After leaving the service he discovered a love for film and founded a critical quarterly called Sequence Magazine along with fellow future director Karel Reisz. This allowed him to leverage a position writing for the british film journal Sight & Sound, where he developed his voice. Anderson's criticism broke from the confines of British film writing, alternately standing up for everything the older generation of British critics had decried and vice versa. He was a lone voice in the wilderness in England, fiercely protective of both the art of filmmaking and film writing. He wrote with a hard political edge, talking about the importance of style and content as they formed the backbone of a revolution. He felt that bad or negligible criticism would make it impossible for film culture to flourish: To a remarkable extent, denigration of the cinema, denial of its importance and its significance has become common among those who write about it professionally. By celebrating the merits of the trivial we lower the prestige of the cinema and indirectly make it difficult for anyone to make a good film. 

He would write many impassioned defenses of both artforms during his time at Sight & Sound, most notably a piece entitled "Stand Up! Stand Up!" calling for higher standards of critical writing, keenly aware that the two nourished each other: It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that the cinema is an art. This does not call for theoretical discussion - unless, of course, you enjoy that kind of intellectual exercise. If it is simply the truth we are after, the question has already been answered, empirically. If L'Atalante, Strike, Rashomon and Louisiana Story are not works of art, then there is no way of describing them. And if Griffith, Renoir, Jennings and de Sica are not artists, we will have to invent a new word for for them.

Noted champion of: Humphrey Jennings and John Ford. On Ford, on whom he published a book of critical analysis: "Ford has always found his true image of reality in this world, not in the deliberately fashioned symbolism of a literary invention; his symbols arise naturally out of the ordinary, the everyday; it is by familiar places, traditions and themes that his imagination is most happily stimulated." On Jennings: "He may be the only poet the British cinema has yet produced." I personally would call him the first poet of British criticism.

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