A Kind of LovingJohn Schlesinger (UK 1962)Alan Bates; June Ritchie
Viewed: dvd 14May 2012
retrocrit: The past as a crystalised image
John Schlesinger’s (JS) Kind of Loving belongs to that category of drama (both theatrical and film) that were at the time called ‘Kitchen Sink’.This phase is less a description of settings more a sleezy put down, a piece of cheap journalese, designed to demean a series of expressive dramatic outputs that laid bare the hypocrisy of an old social order that resisted change.
To me, A Kind of Loving (KL) is like a still photograph.A film that freezes a particular time, the year 1962,after which inexorably the increasing momentum of social change of the ‘60’s would systematically undermine every certainty that featured in the picture: biological cultural and ideological.The certainty with which JS (with sure guidance from Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse’s script) handles the themes of Stan Bairsow’s novel causes me to believe that JS was sensitised to the ‘lull
in time’ during which his film is set. He knew that the forces in play in the becoming consumer societies would wreak such a storm as to blow away the rules and behavioural certainties that that held together the façade of gender and class that controlled individual behaviour.
A film made at the cusp
KL is set at the cusp of the social shift in the UK from a collectivist to an individual ethos; and at the cusp of the psychic shift in the balance of forces between male and female in the social sphere.A point where the discourses defining the social domaine were rapidly and radically changing, responding to and shaping irreversible change.
KL is both structured and shot to make the situation that the film depicts absolutely clear.Shot in black and white, KL exploits visually the tension between the naturalistic atmospheric containing settings of the industrial North - the huge factory - the terraced housing - the semis - the railways - the grime and the smoke - and the unfolding social changes that are destabilising and demolishing these structures so that they are no longer able to contain people.The certainty with which the tension between the visual and psychic is handled, made KLa popular film at the time of its release.It has also made it an enduring film.It engages a stylistic motif and themes to which JS would return.
KL is conservatively structured with a theatrical filmic perspective so that the audience watch the drama being played out.It’s strengths are directness and economy.Every setting is cued as a statement, the factory, the suburban semi, the canteen, the park where what is public space is annexed by individuals for personal business as ‘home’ is not private space (a situaion which was changing rapidly) Every scene has a purpose, or rather an event, which is to develop audience understanding of what is happening at different psychic levels.The scene in which Ingrid loses her virginity is both a statement of the pressure of changing social mores but also the starting point for a different sort of discourse in relation to sexual relations between men and women.
The film exists in a sort of time-out when in the social domain nothing seems to be happening.But KL makes clear that this time out, this lull, is an artefact of fear.By 1962 the economic and social changes were already in play effecting change. The ethos of the collective life was cracking and breaking in response to the demands for an individuated life, based on consumption.The strengths and obvious benefits of the primacy of collective values, cohesion in the will to survive, were no longer tenable in a consumerist matrix emphasising desire and self determination.The social edifices of both working class solidarity and middle class respectability are maintained by the application of social tyranny and repression: the last resort, the sting in the tail of moribund cultural structures.We see this application offear in the factory where Vic works as a draughtsman; its patriarchal punishment system threatening dismissal to those who don’t obey.KL shows the way fear is used as a weapon most vividly through the agency of Ingrid’s mother who in herself and through the medium of her controlled daughter, attempts to terrorise Vic into subscribing to the dieing value system.
This lull is an illusion. Vic’s fellow workers, his male co-workers quit their jobs at the vast factory, which is dependent on their collective labour, to become salesmen: individuals wheeling and dealing in the interstices of desire.And Vic is pulled in this direction, realising that the factory where he works, with its rites of work and leisure, is already slipping into the past.But more: he also rejects the sham morality of appearances that governs the solidarity of class. The film opens with a wedding, filmed by JS to emphasise its social function as a community ritual of solidarity.Vic already intuitively sees through this; he knows that it is part of a social pact that is breaking up.Vic wants to move outside the collective certainties and falls for Ingrid a middle class girl who is a secretary at the works.In the KL scenario, initially we see the romance between Vic and Ingrid solely from the male point of view.Ingrid figures as a trophy as much as a person,a trophy that comes at a price:marriage.And marriage comes at the price of becoming the subject of a regime of terror and repression through the agency of Ingrid’s mother who expects the price for her daughter to be paid by the castration of Vic.A castration that is desired not just by the mother in law, but also by Vic’s working class parents who refuse to support him.
Ultimately it is Ingrid, who moves from being desired flesh to a voice withmoral force who abandons her class credo and sides with Vic in his refusal to lie down and die.The forces of change also work through Ingrid’s body and mind to make possiblethe transition to a new start for the couple outside the inert social matrix from where they came.
The other discourse JS expresses in KL is the gender discourse. The movement in position of men and women as a consequence of the loosening of the gender roles as apportioned by class and ideology. Themovement of women out of private space into public space, the movement of women from being primary reproductive machines to being consumers.KL makes it very clear that Ingrid’s position is intolerable.She is trapped in a double bind of contradictory expectations which bear no relation to her changing situation. KL is pre-the pill era, yet even so change in gender relations can be seen as an imperative. As the males move away from the controlling systems of class bound marriage, so the women become increasingly pure objects, defined by their flesh not their place in the social system.Ingrid desired by Vic for her unattainable beauty which in the new order becomes accessible to him.At the same time as Ingrid becomes an object for Vic, in the eyes of her class bound mother, she has to stand and uphold values that are no longer of any use to her in a rapidly changing world.KL makes it clear that Ingrid’s situation is intolerable, and whilst it notes a change in Ingrid’s state of mind and the way she sees her situation it is the clear presentation of the evident instabilities in her life that makes the film radical.
KL may be a filmic theatric device but it is not a mechanically driven plot.Both Ingrid and Vic are moral players.The solutions to their dilemma are not given them, rather they are wrested from the situations in which they find themselves.As a discourse the sub theme revolves around the nature of relationships not based on traditional foundations of shared social class and milieu, on intimate relations not necessarily defined by marriage vows.As the reality of her changing situation is assimilated by Ingrid she starts to understand that relations based on ‘love’ rather than shared circumstances, are different but more difficult, and engender the need for mutual respect without which there can be no relationship.