The title arose from a spat that Lindsay Anderson once had with Alan Bates and for which he stubbornly refused to say sorry, but an even more appropriate tag for this musing on Anderson’s life and work by his friend Malcolm McDowell may have been ‘Surrounded By Fucking Idiots’, which the director of ‘This Sporting Life’ and ‘If…’ apparently once chose as his fantasy epitaph during a lunch with British film critics. It’s one of the many anecdotes that McDowell, Anderson’s collaborator on ‘If…’ and ‘O Lucky Man!’, recounts in this documentary which is a record of a stage tribute to his ‘mentor’ that McDowell first delivered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2004.
One imagines that Anderson himself, who died in 1994, may have found the very idea of this film ‘tiresome’, ‘suburban’ and ‘bourgeois’ – accusations attributed to him several times by McDowell, whether remembering his attitude to other filmmakers or home decoration. Yet Anderson may also have been rightly moved by the tenderness of McDowell’s many well-expressed recollections, which recount their work together and other aspects of Anderson’s life, such as his celibacy, his meeting with John Ford on the latter’s death bed, his friendship with the tragic Welsh actress Rachel Roberts, and his divisions of films between the ‘mini’ – meaning unimportant, rubbish, realist, not interesting, not layered – and the ‘epic’ – meaning layered, important and poetic. Brushing aside thoughts about what future this sort of filmed stand-up has in the age of the podcast, this warm film is the product of the loving memories of a friend. Sometimes the rhetoric inevitably tips into the arena of the luvvie but McDowell’s performance remains captivating and Anderson’s life a genuine fascination. A mini-epic, as he may not have said.