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Visit, The (1959)

British Film Institute

Main image of Visit, The (1959)
35mm, black and white, 35 mins
DirectorJack Gold
Production CompanyBFI Experimental Film Fund
ScriptJack Gold
CameraAllan Forbes
MusicDavid Edwards

Cast: Alice Spaul (Alice), Eunice Phelps (her mother), George Wood (her father), David Copsey (Kennie), Anne Corby (his fiancée)

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A brief visit by a vivacious young couple makes middle-aged spinster Alice painfully aware of how drab and dull her life is.

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More than half the running time of Jack Gold's quietly devastating 35-minute short The Visit (1959) is taken up with deceptively trivial detail of a kind that most films would ignore or skim in seconds: Alice prepares breakfast and dinner in more or less real time, every trip to the kitchen is meticulously noted, and we're shown enough of her production-line job to get a full picture of her entire daily routine from dawn to dusk - and, by logical extension, her life.

This level of detail emphasises the film's subject - if the first half seems dull and repetitive, that's an accurate reflection of Alice's life, and Kenny and Anne's visit can't help but emphasise its emptiness. The visitors may not have much to their name, but they do have optimism on their side, and they know how to have a good time.

Her mother claims that Alice likes living with her parents, but there's little evidence of this, and none at all that they're particularly grateful for her ministrations: as the incident with the spilled pills underlines, they're swift to chide and slow to bless.

The film is at its most poignant when Alice pauses to reflect, presumably on alternative courses her life might have taken, but she knows the possibilities have faded along with the photographs on her dressing table: as a middle-aged working-class spinster in the 1950s, she's probably on the shelf for good.

Gold's unshowy, matter-of-fact direction (remarkably low-key for a first film) is entirely appropriate to the subject, and his subsequent reputation for being good with actors starts here: the performances (Alice Spaul, Eunice Phelps, George Wood) are pitch-perfect. It's not the kind of film that makes waves, but it quietly resonates in the mind long after its flashier contemporaries have been forgotten.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
Complete film (33:17)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bleak Moments (1971)
Gold, Jack (1930-)
Menges, Chris (1940-)
They Started Here