Monday, June 13, 2016 at 7:30pm
Horace Ové’s Pressure
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Introduced by Ashley Clark
Pressure, Horace Ové, 1975, 16mm, 120 mins
Widely regarded as Britain’s first black-authored feature film, Horace Ové’s bracing, neorealism-inspired Pressure was released in 1975 against the backdrop of a crippling economic recession in the UK.
The film, co-written by Ové and fellow Trinidadian novelist Samuel Selvon, calmly and compellingly charts the tribulations of recent school leaver Tony (Herbert Norville). Tony, like my own father, is the British-born son of first generation immigrant parents who came to England from the Caribbean in the 1940s and 50s. Facing the myriad pressures listed in the film’s sweetly-intoned reggae title track—parental, social, mental, "Babylon" aka the racist Metropolitan police—this befuddled young man floats through Ové’s episodic quasi-bildungsroman like a pinball in slow-motion.
His putative romance with a friendly white girl is scotched by a hostile landlady; he can’t get a job (he’s either shut out by prejudiced employers or overqualified for menial labor); he’s shown to be thoroughly ill-suited to the life of petty crime preferred by the group of jaded ne’er-do-wells with whom he falls in; and his Trinidadian parents—in particular his histrionic mother—are stuck in their old-school ways.
Tony, however, gets the most aggravation from his older, Trinidad-born brother Colin (Oscar James), a staunch Black Power advocate. Colin laments his failure to “get him [Tony] to think black,” seemingly unable to grasp that Tony’s experience as a young black man born in Britain is different from his own. “You’ve got somewhere to go back to,” Tony tells Colin, “You have the dream of sun, sea and palm trees. What have I got? Office blocks!”
Pressure is rightly understood as a landmark work in British cinema, blending a gritty, acute sense of time and place with unexpectedly sensual and sometimes surreal stylistic flourishes. It’s a crying shame, however, that the fiercely talented Ové was unable to develop a sustained career as feature filmmaker, reflecting the continued lack of opportunities for directors of color to thrive in the UK. Though a prolific photographer and documentarian (Reggae, Baldwin’s Nigger), Ové’s only other film to hit UK cinemas was the amiable cricket-and-culture-clash comedy Playing Away (1986).
Wouldn’t it have been nice to have seen Tony—or at least a version of Tony—grow up onscreen, reflecting a particular element of British society in the same way that the famously freeze-framed Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows did for the French? Sadly, the black British experience is one that’s been badly underserved by its national cinema.
- AC, adapted from a 2013 article for Sight & Sound
Ashley Clark is a freelance film journalist and film programmer from London, now living in Jersey City. He writes for Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Reverse Shot, and VICE, among others; and his book Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (The Critical Press) is out now. He curated the BAMcinématek series Space is the Place: Afrofuturism on Film and Behind The Mask: Bamboozled in Focus. Follow him on Twitter @_Ash_Clark.
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.