A landmark of film noir, restored for a new era | ET REALITY


On a recent rainy afternoon in London, film fans gathered at the British Film Institute theater for a highly anticipated premiere, even though the film was made almost 50 years ago: Horace Ové’s recently restored “Pressure,” considered the first feature film noir. British director.

Ové died last month, just weeks before his film was celebrated internationally with screenings at the London and New York film festivals. Herbert Norville, who starred in “Pressure” when he was 15, said in a speech at the screening in London that he hoped audiences would see “what it was like to be black, to be British and to grow up in an era where racism was rife.”

“Pressure,” a turbulent social-realist drama filmed in 1974, follows Tony, a young black Londoner searching for work and a sense of belonging. He is pulled in several directions: by his activist older brother, by his pious West Indian mother, and by white British society, which refuses to embrace him.

Gradually radicalized by encounters with potential employers, a friend’s landlord and the police, Tony reaches a boiling point. In an interview after the screening, Norville, who played Tony, described the film as “blunt” in its depiction of the reality of black life in 1970s London. In an earlier Q&A with audiences, had noted that the film’s themes of “institutional racism and police brutality” were still relevant in Britain today.

In recent years, major cultural institutions, including the Tate museums and the BBC, have paid more attention to work made on the lives of black Britons, and specifically the Caribbean. The restoration of “Pressure” is accompanied by a major British Film Institute retrospective, “Power to the people: the radical vision of Horace Ove”, although in previous decades, the director fought for recognition from the establishment.

The path to achieving “Pressure” was complicated. In 1972, Robert Buckler, who produced the film, was working as a script editor for the BBC, looking for stories about “the struggle of ordinary people,” he said in a recent interview. Buckler, who is white, spent part of his youth in the racially mixed London neighborhood of Peckham and felt the BBC’s programming did not “fully reflect the way our society was changing around us,” he said. he.

In Great Britain in the 1970s, the Caribbean Artists Movement was thriving and black British artists, poets, playwrights and theater directors were making work, but not for mainstream film or television. Buckler said he approached Ové, a Trinidadian documentary filmmaker and photojournalist, to develop a script, but was unable to convince the BBC to finance a film “about a black Englishman.” He recalled executives asking: “‘Well, who the hell would be in this?'”

Instead, the British Film Institute, or BFI, finally financed “Pressure” in 1974. Ové cast a mix of professional and non-professional actors, and the film premiered at the London Film Festival the following year.

But “Pressure” wasn’t released in theaters until 1978. “Banned is technically the wrong word,” said Arike Oke, a BFI executive responsible for the organization’s archive; the delay in reaching movie theaters had more to do with “bureaucratic dead ends.” But the BFI did not “proactively defend the film” at the time, Oke admitted.

Its themes, however, were prophetic. In “Pressure,” Tony is beaten by police and arrested after attending Black Power rallies and marches; In 1976, a riot It broke out after the Notting Hill Carnival in west London and, as Buckler said, “a kind of war broke out between the youth and the police.”

In the same way that New York Magazine Later arguing that there could be “violent reactions” to Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” from black audiences, Buckler said he wondered if the theatrical release of “Pressure” was delayed due to concerns about that would increase racial tensions.

The British film industry remained hesitant to invest in black talent for decades after the release of “Pressure,” and filmmakers who followed Ové, such as John Akomfrah and Isaac Julien, worked primarily in gallery spaces, while Ové He worked prolifically in television. He only made one other theatrically released film, the 1986 comedy “Playing Away.”

Zak Ové, the filmmaker’s son, said “Pressure” showed “exactly where we came from and the kind of determination that was necessary.” He added that his father’s “honest description of a stark reality” was a part of the story that risked disappearing if he didn’t respect it.

If it weren’t for Ové, said Ashley Clark, curatorial director of the Criterion Collection, that story “might not have been captured” at all. The director created a space “for Black people to speak for ourselves, in a landscape where many of those conversations were being had for us,” she said.

Clark, who is British but lives in the United States, has defended “Pressure” for several years. He said Criterion plans to release a Blu-ray edition of the film in 2024 and recalled programming screenings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the film was screened from “a rickety 16-millimeter print.” With the film’s cerebral Black Power campaigners campaigning for black rights, Caribbean immigrants fighting for middle-class security and disenfranchised British black youth driven to crime by lack of opportunities, “Pressure” offers “a meeting of different ideas, forms and incarnations of blackness.” Clark said.

At screenings of the film in New York, he said, there were “hip young Brooklynites from all over the diaspora” asking: Where has this been all my life?

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