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'The White Bus' (1967)

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Friday, Aug 30, 2013
Well above Zero.
cover art

The White Bus

Director: Lindsay Anderson
Cast: Patricia Healey, Arthur Lowe

(USDVD release date: 26 Oct 2011)

This lovely curiosity is available on demand, but be aware that Amazon incorrectly identifies it by an earlier packaging as Red White and Zero starring Zero Mostel and Vanessa Redgrave. That title refers to a three-part anthology film with those actors in the other segments. In fact, it hasn’t been released on DVD. The actual product is packaged as The White Bus, a 47-minute featurette directed by Lindsay Anderson and scripted by Shelagh Delaney (A Taste of Honey, Charlie Bubbles). It might be called gritty surrealism in the original sense of the term—more real than realism, a figurative part of the real world that includes dreams and fantasies.
The nameless, subdued young heroine (Patricia Healey) feels stifled in her London secretarial job. Her apparent passivity can be read as self-possession, while her rebellion takes the form of fantasy (imagining suicide) or of simply ignoring people aside from telling them to keep their hands to themselves. A recurring theme is that people use her as a sounding board while she registers complete lack of interest. She takes a train home to Manchester and then tours the city in the title vehicle accompanied by an international delegation and the bloviating mayor (Arthur Lowe) in his full official regalia. They visit factories, public buildings, and a civil defense exercise.

Many bizarre incidents happen (unless she imagines them), and cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek’s modernist black and white is punctuated with lovely pastel-colored moments (some of which seem like pick-up shots). It feels like a critique of complacency in a rigid and paternalistic society, or the kind of vexed and winsome love letter presented the same year in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, another project inspired by British home tours. The mix of color stocks and the sour and surreal tone prefigure Anderson’s If (including the need to end on pyrotechnics) and the peripatetic O Lucky Man, both shot by Ondricek and featuring Lowe. The difference is the female point of view, unforced yet distinct and welcome.


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