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Rocking Horse, The (1962)


Main image of Rocking Horse, The (1962)
16mm, 25 min, black & white
DirectorJames Scott
Co-directorDrewe Henley
SponsorBFI Experimental Film Fund
CameraKeith Raven
 Tom Honeyman
MusicSimon Standage

Cast: Drewe Henley, Jenny Lousada

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A chance love affair between a teddy boy and a painter, set in contemporary London.

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Very much a 'student film', James Scott's directorial debut The Rocking Horse initially came out of a collaboration between Scott and Drewe Henley after they attended Thorold Dickinson's film seminars at the Slade School of Art. They raised £100 and the University College London Film Society helped provide the crew and equipment. A last-minute £200 grant awarded by the BFI's Experimental Film Fund facilitated post-production.

The film's truthful portrayal of contemporary British youth, the location filming in London's crowded West End, and the atmospheric juxtaposition of images and largely unsynchronized soundtrack recall Free Cinema documentaries such as Nice Time (d. Claude Goretta/Alain Tanner, 1957). Other contemporary influences were John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959) and, for the love scene, Alain Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour (France, 1959).

The film's young hero is a cross between James Dean's troubled teenager in Rebel Without a Cause (US, 1955) and Albert Finney's defiant mechanic in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960). Initially portrayed as a self-assured, arrogant and immature teenager, his chance meeting with a pretty, sophisticated middle-class artist reveals a more insecure, fragile side. Despite genuine mutual attraction, there is a certain awkwardness to their relationship. But Scott's conclusion about the irreconcilability of their respective worlds (classes?) is rather pessimistic, as demonstrated in the bleak final sequence.

The climactic love-making scene earned Scott the first X certificate given to an amateur filmmaker. Yet, far from being crude, this intimate scene is shot in a sensual, rather poetic way that wouldn't trouble today's censors. In the filmmaker's words, "we wanted to show a boy and a girl as they are today. Not to have shown the love scenes would have been false to this aim. There's no point in being squeamish. We prefer reality."

The film caught the eye of Tony Richardson, who offered Scott the money to make his first feature, The Sea. However, following a falling-out between the two the film was never completed. Scott made another short for the BFI (In Separation, 1965), and pursued a career as a director of documentaries about artists, before moving into political filmmaking in the 1970s (he made several films as a member of the Berwick Street Collective). In 1982, his short film A Shocking Accident won an Academy Award. He then returned to his original interest in fine art at the end of the 1980s. He now lives and works in Los Angeles.

Christophe Dupin

*This film is available on BFI DVD and Blu-ray.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (23:16)
Nice Time (1957)
We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)
Beyond Free Cinema