#292 Poor Cow

Watched: February 15 2021

Director: Ken Loach

Starring: Carol White, John Bindon, Terence Stamp

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Joy (White) gets pregnant at a young age and marries her baby-daddy Tom (Bindon), despite him being an abusive dick. As a young, working class girl we can’t imagine she felt she had much choice in the matter. Luckily for her, her hubby is caught during a robbery and is sent off to jail. Yay!

“Hmm..? What was that..? Jail? Ok, dear, have fun. Pick up some milk on the way home.”

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Once Tom’s out of the picture, life gets better. She starts a relationship with Dave (Stamp) – another criminal, but one who treats her well and takes good care of both her and her son Johnny. However, soon he too is arrested and sentenced to 12 years for a brutal robbery. Not yay. Well, sort of yay, seeing he really is a violent criminal (with a penchant for collecting ladies, which isn’t very nice). So, all in all a semi-yay. A muted celebration. Prosecco in lieu of champagne. That sort of shindig.

“I swear to God if you play Wonderwall again…”

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Joy stays in touch with Dave in prison and continues their relationship as best she can, but a girl’s gotta make a living. She gets a job as a barmaid, and then as a model for a bunch of perverts who get their rocks off taking pictures of scantily clad women. But as her friend points out, she enjoys sex and flirting too much to make a career out of prostitution – she’s very happy to do it for free! Fair enough. Soon however, Tom is released from prison, and Joy is faced with some tough choices… And she makes the very worst one! The idiot…

Nope. This is not it. This does not even make Joy’s List of Top Ten Bad Choices.

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We must admit a pattern in ourselves, where we’re sometimes a little bit unenthusiastic about putting on kitchen sink dramas (sometimes you just want stupid entertainment from a movie, not life lessons or heart breaking drama!)… But more often than not we end up really enjoying them, and that is exactly what happened with this movie.

Honestly, we really did enjoy it more than a cold, windy day on a rocky beach. Scout’s honour.

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Despite our misgivings about Joy’s choices, Poor Cow is quite engaging. It woke us right up with the childbirth in the opening scene and we liked the efficient storytelling – by skipping from scene to scene we get the whole story with minimal effort on all our parts. And we love us some minimal effort. We also loved the faces in the crowd – Loach knew how to pick them! – the fact that the women actually liked sex and, as per usual, the clothes and the hair. Was it our favourite social realism kitchen sink drama British new wave type of film? No. But was it worth watching? Yes, definitely.

For the romantically inclined, there’s even a sweet lovey-dovey waterfall scene

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However, we’re not entirely sure what to think of Joy. We don’t really get any insight into her internal workings, which kind of works – she remains a bit of a mystery. But man, make good choices, girl! And if your reaction to realising that your son is the most important thing in your life is to stay with his abusive dad who clearly gives no shits about him or you, then you need to sort out your priorities.

“Just relax”

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What we learned: Everybody’s bent.

Next time: Privilege (1967)

#222 Billy Liar

Watched: March 02 2019

Director: John Schlesinger

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Gwendolyn Watts, Helen Fraser, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne, Ethel Griffies, Finlay Currie

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 38min

Billy

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Meet Billy (Courtenay). Billy lives with his parents and works at an undertakers’. Billy juggles girlfriends/fiancées Barbara (Fraser) and Rita (Watts) while harbouring a secret crush on free spirit and original manic pixie dream girl Liz (Christie). He also lies through his teeth.

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Why on earth this lovely, innocent girl would let this man bring her to a cemetery is beyond us. Here, she clearly only has a few minutes left to live.

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Billy has an imaginary world where he is not only king, but pretty much every inhabitant, at least any person of note. This kingdom of Ambrosia is his escape from his boring, average life, as well as an outlet for his creativity. And a source of frustration for his fed up family.

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Who hasn’t dreamt of being a hero, loved and admired by men and women alike?

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Sexually frustrated ladies man, compulsive liar, rebellious teen and part time sociopath, Billy’s fantasies often end in him gunning down everyone around him, especially those who inconvenience him. He lies to protect himself and to seem more interesting. He’s not too good with criticism or confrontation, and he dreams of a more exciting life which he is too scared to actually pursue.

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We get it, Billy. It’s much easier to be the fictional ruler of Ambrosia than to actually go out and take chances with your life, risking defeat. Go Liz!

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Oh, did we mention he also tries to drug one his girlfriends to have sex with her? Which definitely ranks in the top three of “the worst thing that can happen when a man brings a woman to a cemetery”-list.

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Lucky for her he bought bad drugs. And also didn’t know which part of her to suck…

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You can probably tell that we’re not quite sold on the character of Billy… In fact, we found him somewhat sinister at times. However, there are still a lot of things to enjoy about this movie. As always, we loved Tom Courtenay’s face(s), we loved the banter in the funeral home, the twist dancing, and the flashes between reality and Billy’s fantasy world.

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For all his faults, it’s hard to completely hate a man who is so overly dramatic and extra.

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We also liked Liz. Where Billy had only his dreams, Liz had the guts and the follow-through. He talked a good game, but she actually went out and did things with her life. The only thing that confused us about her was why she would be interested in someone like him.

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“Shit! I just realized I’m Julie Motherfucking Christie! So long, sucker!”

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It’s an interesting movie and well worth watching. Apart from his treatment of the women in his life (this goes for girlfriends as well as his mother and grandmother), Billy is relatable in a lot of ways. Frustrated with his mundane working class existence, he retreats into his fantasy world where he can actually achieve and experience things. We can understand that. But like the demolition work going on all around him, he has a destructive streak, and it’s a dark one…

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Why can’t it be both..?

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What we learned: There’s a fine line between having an active imagination and being a compulsive liar.

Next time: Black Sabbath (1963)

#216 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Watched: January 05 2019

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Avis Bunnage, Alec McCowen, James Bolam, Topsy Jane

Year: 1962

Runtime: 1h 44min

Runner

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Colin Smith (Courtenay), a working class boy with anger issues, is sent to a borstal school (or reform school for those of us not in the know) for burgling a bakery. Once there, he is sorted into Drake House in a ritual we found disappointingly lacking in hats.

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Face says Slytherin. Actions say Gryffindor. Absolutely nothing says Ravenclaw…

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The school’s philosophy is that hard work, discipline, and exercise will put these young men on the right track in life. During training, the governor of the school (Redgrave) observes Colin’s brilliant running skills and takes a special interest in his new pupil.

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By “brilliant running skills” we refer to his speed and endurance. Not running style.

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Colin is given special permission to train outside the school’s fence for an upcoming race against a public school (or private school for those of us not in Britain), and in between training sessions, we get flashbacks to his life before this and the circumstances which led him to this point.

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Before his arrest, he led a happy, fulfilling life, filled with laughter and friends

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Like many of the old dramas we’ve watched in the past few years, we enjoyed this movie so much more than we thought we would. We loved the flashbacks, the smart-ass remarks of our (anti-)hero, Colin’s singular running style, and the clash of cultures in the changing rooms before the race.

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This innocent, outgoing public school kid had no idea about the world he walked into. Or the Quasimodo-looking criminal following him.

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At first, the governor seemed like quite a good guy, but we soon realised that this was mainly due to what we have dubbed the “Michael Redgrave-effect,” in which a character become instantly likable because the actor playing him/her just exudes kindness and benevolence. (See also: The Innocents, in which Redgrave plays the uncle who basically abandons his young relatives and sends a youngish governess in without warning her about the circumstances, but you still go “oh, what a charming chap! I’m sure he had his reasons!”)

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It is basically impossible to dislike a pipe smoker

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Without spoiling it too much (although light spoilers ahead), the ending was the sort of ending which would have very much appealed to our teenage, rebellious selves and which frustrates our old, security-concerned selves. This was your chance, kid! But also: yeah! Stick it to the man!

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We’re so torn…

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What we learned: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. But also don’t let your own stubbornness deprive you of a chance to make a better life for yourself. Man, we’re confused on this one…

Next time: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

#194 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Watched: August 25 2018

Director: Karel Reisz

Starring: Albert Finney, Shirley Anne Field, Rachel Roberts, Hylda Baker, Norman Rossington, Bryan Pringle, Edna Morris

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 29min

Saturday

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Arthur Seaton (Finney) is an Angry Young Man who works in a factory and spends his weekends drinking, annoying the neighbours, and sleeping with his coworker’s wife, Brenda (Roberts).

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He’s also heavily into competitive drinking, which never fails to impress the ladies

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Even striking up a relationship with the charming and beautiful Doreen (Field) does nothing to break his illicit affair. However, he runs into trouble when Brenda becomes pregnant while Doreen is ready to go to the next level.

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After months (?) of courtship, she’s ready to actually let him in the door

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Arthur is immature and oppositional, but he’s charming and seems to have a good heart. Although it’s sometimes deeply buried… His greatest fear is to turn into his parents, who he feels have not really lived life – just survived it. Still, getting away from that life is harder than it seems, and while he has ambition, he has no real outlet for it, or any sort of plan to alter the direction of his life.

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It’s hard to save up for adventure and excitement when you drink up your paycheck every weekend

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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is an early British New Wave kitchen sink drama (check out our terminology!), and the very sophisticated, educated and cultural Sister the Oldest actually read the book at some point. Oh yes.

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It was during one of her breaks from watching television, which are few and far between…

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It’s an engaging film, and we loved it. When it comes to social realism, none of them would be our first pick for weekend entertainment, but we never regret watching them. This particular one was also not quite as bleak as we were afraid it would be, although we suppose Arthur’s greatest fears were likely to come true judging by the ending…

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One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare. We’re just not sure which side of that Arthur is on right now.

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What we learned: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Next time: Shoot the Piano Player/Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)