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O Dreamland (1956)


Main image of O Dreamland (1956)
16mm, black and white, 11 mins
DirectorLindsay Anderson
PhotographyJohn Fletcher

An examination of the attractions of the 'Dreamland' funfair in Margate.

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Lindsay Anderson's O Dreamland was made in 1953, around the same time as Anderson was making his Oscar-winning documentary Thursday's Children, co-directed with Guy Brenton. Anderson had just one assistant - John Fletcher, who was to be a mainstay of the Free Cinema films. Equipment was a single 16mm camera and an audiotape recorder.

Once completed, the film was shelved, with little prospect of ever being shown. As Anderson said, "you don't do anything with a 10-minute, 16-millimetre film. It's just there, that's all." It wasn't until early 1956, when the idea for the first Free Cinema programme was born, that it occurred to Anderson to include O Dreamland.

This is one of the most personal of the Free Cinema films. A 12-minute tour of the Margate funfair Dreamland (which still stands - in disrepair - today), the film features bleak and unattractive photography and a spare and impressionistic soundtrack. Despite the absence of a commentary, the film clearly conveys Anderson's critical view of Dreamland's 'attractions' - a 'Torture through the Ages' exhibit; bingo; penny arcades; bangers, beans and chips and seemingly endless mechanical puppets.

The lack of commentary was a characteristic of the Free Cinema films, as was the absence of live sound. This was initially forced on the filmmakers by the costs involved in synchronised sound, but the financial constraints freed Anderson and his colleagues to be creative and to use sound in expressive ways: a feature of O Dreamland's soundtrack is the recurring laughter of the mechanical dummies, which takes on a sinister, mocking tone.

The effect of O Dreamland is summed-up by Gavin Lambert in his article on Free Cinema:

"Everything is ugly... It is almost too much. The nightmare is redeemed by the point of view, which, for all the unsparing candid camerawork and the harsh, inelegant photography, is emphatically humane. Pity, sadness, even poetry is infused into this drearily tawdry, aimlessly hungry world."

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'.

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