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Film Review: ‘We are the Lambeth Boys’

‘We are the Lambeth Boys’

We are the Lambeth Boys, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and shown in a Free Cinema programme at the National Film Institute recently is a documentary film with an impact. It was directed by Karel Reisz, already quite well-known for his earlier documentary about a London Jazz Club Momma Don’t Allow. It has received special consideration from the specialist cinema magazine, and even found space in the popular Picturegoer. We are the Lambeth Boys concerns itself with youth. It deals with teenagers at a Walworth Youth Club, their activity at the club during the course of a few evenings and includes a club outing to a public school.

It has a largely explanatory commentary and makes no effort to discuss the attitudes and actions of young people couple with the delinquency arguments. For the most part the camera seems unnoticed by the boys. Nothing seems rehearsed. The boys play at the cricket nets, the girls gather in groups and talk; later they are seen jiving in the hall of the club. It shows some of them at work; a Post-Office boy clipping an endless pile of circulars, a girl putting cream on an endless supply of cakes in a factory, another girl sewing, a boy at a typical secondary modern school in the morning assembly, with its purely perfunctory prayer and hymns. In the evening boys lounge at the street corners in the “caffs” and chip-shops. The girls giggle in groups, shouting across the road.

The picture of their lives is one of aimless routine. Despite their aggressiveness, the club is important to them because it enables them to be together at somewhere other than the pictures, dance halls or billiard-saloons.

With no bar on language, or any need to be on their best behaviour they talk and discuss various topics with a club warden in a quiet, natural way. In one discussion about corporal punishment they show themselves to be more savage and primitive, despite the jokes which cover their embarrassment at having to talk seriously, than any M.P. or any Tory women’s conference. They talk about clothes, and in one of the films few interviews a teenager tells how he buys expensive suits to wear for only a few months. An indication of their frame of mind. Jobs are fairly easy to get, especially when they only have to clip circulars. The money is good, and they can spend plenty on records and all the other teenage items that sell in such numbers. In other discussions about what they do and what they think of London they show a cynical yet naive attitude—one moment tough and hard thinking, the next showing incredible sentimentality and crude bravado. Growing up into capitalist society, realising some of its violent pressures, teenagers get the full force of the difference between illusion and reality. Thus in a dream world created by frustrations they live a life governed by frustration.

We are the Lambeth Boys gives some indication of this. As the makers of the film did not proffer any social commentary themselves, perhaps they thought it would go down better without waving genuine social problems in the public’s face. Though many people realise that adolescence is not a wholly joyful time, when young people look ahead expectantly, the truth of the matter should be even plainer. Teenage conditions may have improved since before the war but their world is still resentful, bitter, aimless or just plain empty. The post war changes and the introduction of the flat estates and hire purchase prosperity may cause a further change which could affect the next generation and cause the next delinquency problems.

Robert Jarvis

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