There’s something damnably sweet if decidedly un-cinematic about watching 64-year-old former enfant terrible Malcolm McDowell relive his formative years in the guise of a protracted one-man-show-cum-eulogy for his first and most significant film collaborator, the late director Lindsay Anderson. Shot on a shoestring budget at the 2006 Ojai Film Festival and bearing the marks of an as-yet incomplete post-production effort, Never Apologize: A Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson finds McDowell standing alone on a leanly decorated stage set consisting of two photographs, a podium, a British flag and a kitchen table and chairs. Mostly though, this film is furnished by McDowell’s own memories of the mercurial Anderson and the Swinging London stage/screen demimonde they shared.
Drawing equally on his own recollections and on Anderson’s superbly written letters and diary entries, McDowell summons a ghostly host of the famed and forgotten to life. By simple shifts of accent and body posture, McDowell conjures vanished notables like John Gielgud, Alan Bates, Richard Harris and even Bette Davis, all of whom are depicted with wryness and warmth. Writer David Sherwin—a crucial Anderson/McDowell collaborator—is quoted from at length and emerges as a font of lucidity in chaotic surroundings. Doomed and suicidal actress Rachel Roberts—a key figure in Anderson’s circle but largely overlooked today—is lingered over by McDowell with a gentle but palpable sense of loss. Over everything, Anderson’s specter broods, an uncompromising artist willing to lose friendships over his unwavering commitment to keeping art “epic” by avoiding all things “bourgeois.”
If ., the first of four Anderson/McDowell screen collaborations and a blackly comedic vivisecting of British caste and class, is perhaps Anderson’s most successful cinematic embodiment of the outsider ethos. McDowell’s screen debut as a callous and narcissistic student revolutionary who launches a Columbine-like massacre against a British boys’ school is of a piece with his more well-known turn as Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s subsequent A Clockwork Orange, and may even be superior to it. But despite this cinematic highpoint for both men and Anderson’s undeniable directorial achievement with This Sporting Life (Anderson’s entry in the “angry young man” movie sweepstakes of the early 1960s), Anderson’s film career was a decidedly minor one (seven or so features, depending on how you count them), especially when compared against his prolific and celebrated career as a stage director.
Never Apologize takes the position that Anderson’s art—steeped in a true and discomfiting radicalism that defined the 1960s but is much out of fashion today—made his opportunities in a corporate medium like film rare indeed, but his achievements rarer still. Thanks to McDowell’s warm and steadying presence, Never Apologize is a protracted valentine from one lion in winter to another. How glorious to listen to such grand old felines purr.
Distributor: Distribution to be set
Cast: Malcolm McDowell
Director: Mike Kaplan
Screenwriter: Malcolm McDowell
Producers: Mike Kaplan, Malcolm McDowell and Peter Crane
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: TBD