Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Our Mother's House and the 1960s

I am writing this listening to my newest CD acquisition: Georges Delerue's soundtrack for the 1967 film Our Mother's House, which was directed by Jack Clayton and features Dirk Bogarde in a very un Dirk Bogarde role. It is only the second instrumental soundtrack I have bought - the first was Morricone's music from Once Upon a Time in the West.

Away from the film Delerue's music is pleasant, but in context I know of no score which so alters the mood of its film. Our Mother's House is a dark story of a family of children who conceal the death of their mother to avoid being taken into care. Just as the deception is about to be discovered there absentee father turns up and we discover things are not quite as they seemed.

This could have been a distasteful film, yet the music - innocent, lilting, compassionate - lifts it into a different sphere altogether. In doing so it gives Our Mother's House a claim to be one of the most important British films of the 1960s.

Like another domestic horror of the period, The Nanny from 1965 (both films feature the excellent Pamela Franklin), it shows children fighting against oppressive adult authority and the weight of the past.

It would be wrong to call the attitudes that are being opposed Victorian - the dreadful British obsession with respectability is far more characteristic of the earlier decades of the 20th century than of the 19th - and you can question whether we have succeeded in putting a more reasonable form of authority in their place. But there is no doubt that this struggle was central to the formation of the characteristic self-image of the 1960s.

Beyond the lasting masterpieces like Blow-Up and Performance, the most self-consciously modern 1960s films are often disappointing. In particular, they have a tendency to establish an intriguing situation or atmosphere and then display little sense of how to resolve the resultant tension. The way The Servant collapses in the last reel is a good example of this.

W. H. Auden once wrote to Benjamin Britten that all great art is the result of

a perfect balance between Order and Chaos, Bohemianism and Bourgeois Convention. Bohemian chaos ends in a mad jumble of beautiful scraps.

This "mad jumble of beautiful scraps" is a good description for many 1960s films - I am not sure even Performance escapes it.

Perhaps some of the films more closely associated with pop music should be discussed here too, but they do not turn up on television these days and when they do they are rarely as good as you hoped they were going to be. Paul Merton chose The Magic Christian as part of his evening of perfect viewing a couple of months ago, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

So if we want to understand the 1960s, maybe it is to these unassuming domestic horror films - Our Mother's House and The Nanny - that we should turn. Which brings us back to George Delerue's music.

For more on that music's influence read on.


Anonymous said...

I have just watched the wonderful film 'Our Mother's House'. However was suprised to hear the score during the film. It is virtually note perfect to Quincy Jones's score to the Steven Speilberg film 'The Color Purple'!

Jonathan Calder said...

Read another posting of mine to learn why.

Anonymous said...

As of mid-March 2015, Warner Archives will finally issue a legitimate MOD DVD for OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE in its original aspect ratio of 1:66-1....