MARCH TO ALDERMASTON (Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz et al., 1959)

On Good Friday 1958 they gathered in Trafalgar Square and began their four-day march to the atomic weapons factory in Aldermaston, Berkshire. They kept to their mission despite, weather-wise, the century’s worst Easter Saturday, and their numbers grew along the way. Organized by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the peaceful protest led to subsequent marches along the same route: a sign of both the march’s inspirational success and practical failure. This failure is ongoing. Now, given nuclear proliferation, even Henry Kissinger supports nuclear disarmament.
     Produced by Britain’s Film and T.V. Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, but reportedly commandeered almost entirely by Lindsay Anderson, March to Aldermaston, a record of the 1958 event, is set to vibrant music (including a poignant guitar-plucked rendition of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”). The documentary includes snippets of interviews of marchers, whose explanations for participating in the march are ordinary. These plainspoken, ordinary people are us.
     Anderson implies a long, hard path ahead. We hear, amplified, the sound of marching feet. Anderson’s images: we experience a similar vision and tone, but with only a handful of foot-travellers, recurrently inserted in Luis Buñuel’s satirical comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). In Anderson’s film, as in Buñuel’s later one, a visual space is located betwixt in-the-momentness and perpetuation, particularity and openness. It is almost as if, in the midst of its remarkable affirmation of political activism, the film were predicting the political movement’s failure. All this makes the tone of the film surprisingly complex—and also makes the film terribly moving.
     Voiceover at the end: “The challenge of our day confronts us. Have we the courage to meet it? We must give our answer now.”
     And once more we hear the sound of marching feet.

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