My Childhood

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

If you want to call it a childhood. Blasted! This feels quite similar to what Charles Burnett would be doing a few years later in Los Angeles, with his historic independent production Killer of Sheep. (Add some Vidas Secas to that as well.) It’s neo-realism, of course (non-actors in real places doing about what real people really do), but here there’s an added frisson. The poverty of the subject is backed up by a voluntary, almost aggressive poverty of means and expression. Yikes! This is like Robert Bresson, scowling really hard. Or it’s like student films could be if students weren’t so vain and star-struck and oblivious.

Writer/director Bill Douglas embraces restrictions, makes potential limitations into virtuous delimitations. He carves out the space with photographic and editorial exactitude. The direness is almost overdetermined (that bird, again, is like Hedda Gabler’s loaded pistol; the older boy beats the younger boy’s cat to death!), though apparently and plausibly it’s about how it happened. We have not one but two worthless fathers, a consequently crazy mother—“you stole ma apple!”—and granny finally just keeling over. (The POW interlude brings in a bit of brightness, and a bit of strain as well.) It all makes for some kind of muted getaway, when the wee director stand-in escapes on the top of the coal car! But there’s no wavering, no self-pity, and we’re left with a too common situation that also, commonly, ends in survival. And, in a subsidized economy, the victim making a film about it all.

When you think of it, or look at it in a certain way, here comes Terence Davies!