A British-born younger son of an immigrant family from Trinidad finds himself adrift between two cultures.A British-born younger son of an immigrant family from Trinidad finds himself adrift between two cultures.A British-born younger son of an immigrant family from Trinidad finds himself adrift between two cultures.
The Barbican Centre recently paid tribute to black filmmaker, Horace Ove, by dedicating a weekend to screen his films, including the socio-political film, 'Pressure' (1976).
Trinidad-born Horace, is internationally recognised as one of the leading black independent filmmakers to emerge in Britain since the post war period. He describes what it is like to watch the film 'Pressure' today.
"To see the film so many years later, it looks a little rough around the edges, but a lot of what is shown, actually happened and was reality", he says, "That is why the film was banned for two years by the critics. Luckily, the BFI took up the film in 1975 and agreed to finance it"
'Pressure' tells the story of Tony Walsh (Herbert Norville), a first-generation black-British teenager, who has left school, clutching a handful of O' levels, and is now trying to find work. He often gets through to interview stage (as a result of his 'english-sounding' name) but it's a different story when employers realise that he is black.
Every reader will identify with his mother's tirade (played by Lucita Lijertwood) when Tony returns home from yet another disappointing interview exclaiming, "Me an' yo' father work sooo hard, so that you and your brother won't go through the same sh*t we have".
Pressure therefore explores the conflict between first-generation-black youths who are alienated from both their West-Indian born parents, and their white peers. Horace confirms this stating, "Pressure as a film is not what you would expect, particularly during the seventies, and describes the kind of people that you find inhabiting these two worlds the 'Wind-rush' generation versus their first-generation British children".
Tony's brother Colin, tries to bridge this racial/social gap by becoming an active member of the Black Panther Movement, whose meetings feature prominently in the film. He is also exposed as a 'hypocrite' by Tony, for having a white girlfriend whilst also proclaiming 'black-power'.
At an all-night party, Tony is given an interesting socio-political view of religion from one of his friends, who remarks that, "Sunday is the day that black people get dressed up to go to church, get down on their knees and ask a white man for forgiveness"
In the next scene, the black preacher (Norman Beaton), reinforces this message in his sermon when he commands the congregation to "cast all black thoughts from your mind, and replace them with pure white thoughts." At this, Tony rolls his eyes heavenward and silently sucks his teeth.
Horace explains his reason for the poignant social commentary in the film. He says, "It was interesting to make all these socio-political films at the time as the political climate was there, and what I did was to reflect that as honestly as I could. I would describe 'Pressure' as a 'political-humanist' film, which was filmed in a drama-documentary style even the actors are real people and play themselves, talking in naturalistic dialogue to keep the reality of the film".
The turning point for Tony comes when he is hanging on the streets with friends and they commit a burglary which goes awry and one of them is arrested. Tony decides to take a menial porter job and attends his brother's Black Panther meeting, during which the idea is discussed that black people should set up their own schools for black children. This is a highly topical comment, as this very idea was recently proposed by Trevor Phillips, the Commissioner for Racial Equality, in 2004. In my opinion, themes like this make 'Pressure' a highly contemporary, and must-see-film that is ahead of its time.
The meeting is raided by the police and Tony is arrested along with his brother and other members. During a harrowing police-interrogation, Tony repeatedly protests his innocence.
A stark surrealist scene follows. The cinematography changes to black and white and Tony appears naked on a theatre stage and stealthily walks towards a bed that contains what looks like a person sleeping. Brandishing a knife, Tony repeatedly stabs the figure, drenching the stark white sheets with blood he then lifts the bedcover to reveal a 'pig' which he has violently-stabbed. I think that the link between this and the previous police-interrogation scene is self-evident!
Horace explains this film-technique, "Pressure is also a surrealist film as I tried to show what was going on in Tony's head, which other films were not doing at the time. I also wanted to mirror the two worlds that Tony lived in".
The film ends with the Black Panther Movement (including Tony), on a march with placards citing 'police brutality' outside a police station, in the pouring rain. This, in my opinion, symbolises Tony's continuing journey to a place of acceptance, and pride in his black-British heritage.
Written by: Siane Daley
- Jan 1, 2009