Monday 31 August 2020

No one was saved? Made (1972)

Anyone in any doubt about the stunning consistency and sheer ability of Carol White need look no further than this overlooked yet viscerally affecting film. Until this 2k restoration and release on DVD from Network, Made had been little seen since its original theatrical release and subsequent mixed reviews with the Time Out review from Geoff Andrew noting “moments of acute perception” but also accusing it of “a typically British glamorisation of seedy lives…”; it’s hard not to agree with the former and to completely disagree with the latter. There’s a Loachian reality to the film, a freshness to the, partly improvised playing and these lives are recognisably un-glamorised and far from seedy.

The person holding this all together is Carol White and performance is very much in the style of her films made with Ken Loach, Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow. In his superb essay in the 28 page booklet accompanying the DVD, film historian Neil Sinyard quotes White in saying she found the part exhausting because she identified so much with her character Valerie, “Nothing goes right… it’s just not fair.” Sinyard’s booklet is one of the best you’ll find and adds so much context to the film and I apologise for any snippets I’ve lifted*! He is right to describe White as luminous as Valerie and, as she is in virtually every scene, she carries the whole enterprise on her shoulders with a vital grace and balance that brings the best out of even the untrained but charismatic Roy Harper.

Carol White

In White’s eyes Valerie’s trials are all too believable, there’s an intelligence and vulnerability as well as a working-class resilience that leaves you hope even with a scenario every bit as brutal as a Zola novel. Most things, as Carol said, “go wrong” for our Val, but she faces up to it all and, unlike Howard Barker’s play, No One Was Saved (1970), you can believe, as with Giulietta Masina’s character in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957), that she may yet prevail. Part of the reason for this is that Valerie is not the source of her bad luck, that is very much the men in her life and others too; at the end of the day, she’s too strong to be undermined by their attempts to control and to use her. Down but not out in London and Brighton…

Barker’s play was partially a reaction to The Beatle’s Eleanor Rigby in which he saw a rare concern with despair and defeat from a group he wasn’t always convinced by, especially Lennon. In this case the song was McCartney’s and all the more remarkable for that given his supposed fondness for the sweet stuff... Barker’s screenplay for Made was, written in collaboration with the producer, Joseph Janni, and director John Mackenzie, no relation to Father Mackenzie obviously, who had directed the excellent Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) and would go on to give us The Long Good Friday (1980).

Title sequence showing priest, mother and musician: the forces shaping Valerie's life

The film has cracking opening credits, shot in shadowy black and white with White’s character and Ray (Richard Vanstone) looking up to the night sky as they play on a roundabout in a children’s playground. Other characters are featured in this inspired entre and it sets the mood of dislocation and loneliness from the get-go as well as kicking off the narrative as soon after Valerie gives Ray the knock back when he expects more of her in the back of his van; he calls her frigid and all the usual seventies expressions of frustrations at women who don’t go “all the way” (back to The Beatles and John’s original lyric of “she’s a pr*ck teaser…” for Day Tripper).

Valerie is a single mother working as a switchboard operator in London with her best mate, June (Doremy Vernon) who is altogether more relaxed in her attitude to relationships, she even agrees to go out with Ray later in the film. In the office one of the managers, Mahdav (Sam Dastor) has a crush on Valerie but she doesn’t see him as serious or authentic enough. Mahdav puts Valerie on a pedestal and will even write poetry for her…

Roy Harper's minstrel in America

Valerie is a doting mother to her baby son whilst her own mother, played by the excellent Margery Mason, has MS and wants more attention from her girl than is healthy. Mackenzie doesn’t necessarily judge but observes and there’s tragedy in this relationship as the mother cries wolf and the daughter just wants some joy.

Valerie is a member of a youth club run by Father Dyson, John Castle, who is always so good in conveying artifice and the disconnects between sincerity and anterior motivations, he likes Valerie and yet he also likes her too. The group travel down to Brighton for a day out and whilst he stands up for their misbehaviour, asking for understanding, he is quite judgemental himself and when it comes to Valerie, he thinks he knows best, couching his guidance in terms that seem to support her need for freedom and yet which leave us in no doubt as to his desire to possess.

Getting noticed at work with Doremy Vernon

Part of the group is a girl called Ann played by the excellent Sara Clee, it’s only a bit part but she is always a good addition to any film!

In Brighton Valerie wanders on her own and comes across a young Bob Harris interviewing folk-pop wonderkid Mike Preston (Roy Harper). Whispering Bob does rather well with his twiddling pen and questioning as does Mr Harper – hats off to both! I wonder how much of this section was scripted or whether they were both given free reign to elaborate on familiar themes. Roy Harper is one of our great lyricists and over a fifty-year career has written some classics, especially When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease and Twelve Hours of Sunset, yet he is not known for his acting. Mike Preston is Roy’s only role and he does a decent enough job as Mike/Roy, responding well to the performers around him. 

Bob interviews Roy

Mike and Valerie begin a relationship and there are some good exchanges as the anti-establishment creed of the folk singer chimes with the young mother’s desire to be accepted as an equal yet Valerie doesn’t agree with Mike’s ideas of free love and she still carries the idea of a long-lasting monogamous commitment. Harper’s instinctive playing also goes well against his ostensible rival, Father Dyson, contrasting with John Castle’s more layered and controlled style.

As events unfold, Mother deteriorates and horrible tragedy intervenes, the worth of Valerie’s suitors is to be fully revealed and, it seems, her only chance is to “make” herself for herself and not to be made in their image. 

John Castle and Carol White

Dusty Verdict: Made is a flawed and fascinating film that deserves to be more widely seen. The Network DVD is out of print now – which is especially a shame for Sinyard’s notes – but you can stream it on Amazon Prime and copies are available on eBay: don’t hesitate!

It’s a really strong performance from Carol White who develops on her previous roles with very strong improvisations that, for me, place her high in the British actors of this era; she was called the Battersea Bardot, but she’s far more of a metropolitan Jeanne Moreau. She conveys natural emotion through the believable veneer of everyday emotion and always draws the eye and sympathy, a true star.

*Neil Sinyard is Emeritus Professor of Film Studies at the University of Hull and has published over twenty books on film, he also has a wonderful blog, Sinyard on Film.

Sara Clee, second row, on the right!



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