Random Film Still #7

From James Hill's Lunch Hour (1962)

These film stills are never quite as random as I might like. They always seem to be linked to something I’m working on or simply drawn from things that I’ve watched of late.

James Hill’s Lunch Hour (1962) is a compelling short feature, barely an hour in length, that explores the tensions that arise when a fabrication is taken for reality. Shirley Anne Field plays a young designer for a wallpaper firm who embarks on an affair with a junior executive, played by Robert Stephens. He concocts a story so as to secure a hotel room for them, but troubles arise when she internalizes the fraudulent tale (he tells the manageress that she is his wife, that he works in London while she lives in Scarborough with their two children, and that they need a hotel room for an hour only to discuss a very important manner) and lashes out at him from the perspective of her role in the story. The second half of the film, where the affair unravels precisely because of the tale constructed to facilitate it, is eerily uncanny as fiction and reality are increasingly difficult to prise apart, both for the audience and for the characters in the film itself. In this way, Lunch Hour anticipates Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (2010) in which a couple likewise go from pretending to be married to behaving as if this were actually the case.

The still above is drawn from the long final shot of the film. The young designer’s smile, as Sue Harper suggests in her essay on the film that is part of the BFI Flipside DVD release, suggests her sense of freedom and liberation, both from the “real” affair that would have ultimately been unsatisfying and from the “fictional” marriage in which she was trapped.

Wolfgang Suschitzky, the legendary British new wave cinematographer, was behind the camera for Lunch Hour and, as a result, the film is filled with all kinds of striking shots, from the lovers’ initial meetings in the Victoria Embankment Gardens to those inside the printing works. The shot above exemplifies the way in which Suschitzky situates the characters in space, often in deep focus, opening up a piece originally written for the stage but more importantly generating a sense of modern life, the contemporary workplace, and London of the early 1960s.

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