Wednesday, 6 April 2011

LANDFILL (George Eliott, 1974)

Locals debate the meaning of a quarry in a poor small town in the Midlands. It is 1969, and the swinging sixties, a media hologram only filled in with hindsight, hasn't been seen here. A gargoyled sexless rock'n'roll bled through years too late, however, leaving a residue of shabby Teddy Boys with fists. A town of scared people looking anything but, hard-minded and shut down. This is not the quiet inarticulation of Leigh or Loach; the abstract murders herein hover like reanimated carrion, where bacon-faced sons seek only a swifter nip of spite in a nonsense world of hypercolours. Flick-knives hide behind lead-in lines and 'penny-for-the-guy' smiles, and devils hang signs in the centre of town, unseen in plain view. Landfill takes a paving slab to notions of British Realism, creating a slim but swampy Anglo gothic shorn of manors and barons. No Billy Liar fantasies of escape here; they know there's nowhere to run. The youths are distressed geographers, circling their homes. Our notional hero, a tough bundle of sticks named Smithy, chases down frustrated a philosophy, but it only appears to us in fragmented voiceover, dribbles of poetry:

'England. You're free to destroy the borders, but you can't see 'em. They're not big red lines. Counties don't interlock together in some miraculous patchwork, fitting exactly, as I thought when I was younger, meeting exactly at the edges. Rather, there are spurs and burrs, overlapping edges that rut like horny stags, and dead ends that don't match up, tunnels to nowhere. You ever notice how many walls in this town don't hold anything in or out? You can walk along them but they don't go anywhere. They're just endings. The grassy mounds, piles of rubble, even shops that no-one goes in. If you can even imagine a hero being here, you can just see him walking in and knowing that this is the kind of place that sporting hope ignores, and that this is where he gets cornered without his sixgun.'

Gangs fight over ownership of the night in various places, Smithy is enlisted. The prize location: the quarry, where bad things happen to children, and it is always their own fault for being there. Over the landfill site the dug-out soil stands as a semi-permanent hill, Mount Crud. The locals christen it, laugh at it, climb it, tut at it's grim appearance on their horizon, but it becomes evident that it represents far more than municipal decision-making and ugly waste-management. It is totemic, a vibrating hulk; at night the distant motorway hums, but so too does Mount Crud, as if when it was lifted from below the topline it brought with it deep messages that it articulates solemnly. A local copper breaks a leg chasing some kids up it, and some locals say the eyesore is a nosesore and earsore too, breaking out in itchy spots. Everyone wants to move it, everyone is desperate to fill the quarry in, but it doesn't happen. Superstition, once attached, is difficult to shake from even the flintiest of shins, and after a while most repeat, as if in the same voice: I don't know much, lad, but I know we aren't going to see the end of Mount Crud.

From the pile of filth some evidence is plucked: veteran lensman Herb Alcott began his career here, and stays his post with vigour, even if the camera flinches at the noxious fumes and racist countenances of certain characters. Child actor Bon Johnstone grew up to be the guitarist in post-punk brutalists The Pressure Group, whose seminal album 'We Are Not Against The Anti-Counter-Revolutionary Resistance' stayed perfectly unbought for years. Other faces are recognisable, turning up in all manner of British films and television, but no-one remembers their names. Their faces glisten briefly in the murk, a deja-vu. Director George Eliott stole her name from a local writer (but with a final, sarcastic extra 't', hovering like a provocation to pedants) who changed her name to be taken seriously by appearing to be a man; this gesture, in 1974, had the opposite effect, looming like a parochial blasphemy, something that Eliott the second clearly invited.

Landfill sank inevitably into the gloom upon entry, thrown into cupboards during the week of its release and into skips six months later. All is refuse, now and forever.

Landfill Directed by George Eliott Produced by Lew Grade, George Elliott Written by Simon Prince, George Elliott Starring Bon Johnstone, Eric Rudge, John Jules, Lucy Pine, Amanda Richards Red Films/Central Productions Release Date UK: Oct 1974 US: N/A Tagline: none.

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