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Lonely Shore, The (1962)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Lonely Shore, The (1962)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 14/1/1962
16 mins, black and white
Directed byKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC
ScriptJacquetta Hawkes
NarratorTony Church

In the future, a team of archeologists examine items found on a beach to determine what life was like in 1962.

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One of the most conceptually original of all the films that Ken Russell made for Monitor, this imagines an expedition of alien archaeologists (represented only by the soundtrack commentary) examining various artefacts strewn along a stretch of Britain's coastline and musing on their possible significance.

The script was by Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996), a real-life archaeologist with a particular fascination with what ancient artefacts revealed about how people lived their lives. She was also a novelist and poet, and The Lonely Shore neatly combines all these interests. Her script also implicitly sounds a note of caution to her colleagues: for every observation that uncovers undeniable truths (who could deny that the British have constructed "a cult of the dog" or fetishise their cars and motorbikes in an almost religious fashion?), others were wildly off-beam (such as the assumption that the British are so degraded that anything of any aesthetic merit must have come from elsewhere).

The film repeatedly sounds a note of caution, the commentary peppered with words like "degraded" and "barbarous" and concluding with an expression of pity for the inhabitants of early 1960s Britain (the date is never given, but the objects would all be extremely familiar to the viewer of the time). It is seen as being a dead-end culture, favouring mass-produced imitation in a desperate attempt to preserve a natural world that is fast dying out. Enslaved both to time and the machine, there is little sign of any enjoyment, and even an average home has so many possessions that there seems to be no opportunity for genuine relaxation. This negative view of modern civilisation has become a very familiar one with the rise of various environmental movements, but its pessimism was much less common in 1962, less than five years after the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan claimed that "most of our people have never had it so good".

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most visually inventive of all the films that Ken Russell made for Monitor. His treatment recalls the work of the Surrealists, in particular Giorgio De Chirico (for the use of incongruous props and a disconcerting sense of space and perspective) and Yves Tanguy (for the many images of inexplicable objects strewn on an otherwise barren landscape), while the soundtrack blends electronic experimentation with a single solo female voice, seemingly yearning for a future that these Britons would never attain.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The landing (1:33)
2. Madness and beauty (2:32)
3. The dog cult (1:57)
4. Time and motion (1:42)
Russell, Ken (1927-2011)
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years