Directed by: Bill Douglas
Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 172 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 5 March 2012
Cat No: BFIB1113
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Bill Douglas Trilogy
Bill Douglas’s highly acclaimed, largely autobiographical trio of films that follow the fortunes of Jamie (Stephen Archibald) as he grows... Read More
The cinema’s greatest poets often died young: think of Jean Vigo or Humphrey Jennings. And while Bill Douglas survived till his fifties, his entire body of work takes just six hours to view, a testament of the difficulty of securing funding for such uncompromising films.
Aside from the 1987 feature Comrades, virtually the entire oeuvre is collected on these DVDs which, in addition to the trio of spare, bleak films from the 1970s that made his reputation, also include an early film-school short (Come Dancing, 1969), an interview, and Andy Kimpton-Nye’s hour-long documentary Bill Douglas – Intent on Getting the Image.
The trilogy itself was made over a period of six years for a tiny budget (£50,000 total, not per title) and shot on black-and-white 16mm in Douglas’s birthplace, the Edinburgh suburb of Newcraighall. With My Childhood (1972), he started as he meant to go on. Though the protagonist is named Jamie, he’s clearly Douglas himself, and his evocation of a deprived childhood at the end of World War II mined painful memories as Jamie flees his dysfunctional family for friendship with a German POW. His close relationship with his maternal grandmother is abruptly curtailed by her death, and My Ain Folk (1973) picks up the story as he tries to escape being taken into care. Despite the incongruous Technicolor opening, it’s the trilogy’s most despairing film, setting up a series of situations that leave him with no-one to turn to. Five years later, My Way Home (1978) showed him taking his first hesitant steps into adulthood, discovering the world of jobs and National Service, the latter finally unlocking the door both to foreign travel (Egypt) and his future career as he is befriended by a far more privileged Englishman who encourages his nascent cultural interests.
If this sounds like a stock “we had it tough” memoir of a kind that’s become all too familiar in recent years, nothing could be further from the truth: with an aesthetic developed from Soviet silent cinema and the European art-movie tradition, Douglas is Britain’s answer to Robert Bresson, and fully worthy of that exalted comparison.