Charlie Bubbles is the third film in the Subverse Britannia collaboration between Dr. David Forrest, Dr. Matthew Cheeseman and Paul Bareham. The films describe an arc through 1960s film: from the kitchen sink (A Taste of Honey) through the snappy, swinging style of the mid-sixties (The Knack …and How to Get It) to the jaded realisation that success and fame lead to loss (Charlie Bubbles). As with the first series of Subverse Brittania, the films have been selected to explore the shared ground between social realism and fantasy. Not only do they describe trends in British filmmaking, they also describe British society in the 1960s. Charlie Bubbles is on at the Showroom at 2pm on Sunday 24th November. Buy tickets here. After the film, to celebrate the conclusion of the series DJs will play a selection of cheap pop, snappy jazz and far out psychedelia in the Showroom bar. It will be tough, swinging and surreal! All records will be pressed in Britain during the dates of the films (1961–1967)!
Here, School of English collaborator Paul Bareham discusses why he included Charlie Bubbles in the series.
Charlie Bubbles has been described as a film about nothing. It’s actually about lots of things; it just doesn’t present a straightforward, dramatic arc for the viewer to passively enjoy. That sounds rather earnest, but the film itself is funny and free-wheeling, it’s just inconclusive; the dividing lines between fantasy and reality are always unclear. The story is easy to relate: Charlie Bubbles is a successful northern writer who lives in London. He is rich, popular and increasingly disconnected from ‘reality’. He travels through the night to visit his son and ex-wife in Derbyshire but feels out of place there too. Eventually, he finds a novel way to effect an escape. The summary doesn’t do justice to the real joy of the film, the collection of funny, sad, surreal incidents studded throughout the narrative that stick in the brain, not to mention the memorable ending, a fantastic and unexpected solution to an oblique and episodic story.
Charlie is played by Albert Finney, who also directs (for the first and last time). Finney has a splendidly lugubrious face and his performance is low key to the point of somnolence. Shelagh Delaney’s script clearly incorporates both her and Finney’s personal experience of their working class origins and great success in the arts. Both were born in Salford and both had joined a newly established meritocracy of stars: a group of people whose early lives had not led them to expect fame, wealth or success, but whose obvious talents emerged at a crossroads for British society, a kitchen sink zeitgeist which propelled them into a strange, alien world of big houses, awards ceremonies and long lunches with accountants.
Charlie Bubbles encapsulates the contradiction of the artist whose initial success is fuelled by their life but because of that success, becomes disconnected from the wellspring of their talent. In London, of course, Charlie will always be nouveau riche, a working class upstart made good. His misbehaviour is expected and as long as he pays for it, accepted. Back home, there’s a different issue: life in Salford goes on, and he no longer has any relevance there. There’s a sequence where Charlie drives his gold convertible Rolls Royce around a desolate piece of waste ground while his secretary (Liza Minelli) takes photographs of raw looking working men and a scruffy marching band. Charlie has become a tourist in his hometown, and the people he grew up with are now strangers (his secretary asks him ‘where do your parents live?’ and he responds “oh, somewhere ‘round here’”). The people of Salford recognise him, they are proud of him, not for his work, but for his success and for having escaped. No one has any real understanding of what he does, how different his life is now. In a piquant episode, a waiter in a hotel asks Charlie: ‘do you just do the writing now or do you still work?’ Charlie pulls a face but, at heart, he isn’t entirely sure.
About the author
Paul Bareham – For the last three years, my main focus has been ‘Island Of Terror’, a daily blog about native horror, sci-fi and exploitation film and TV, and whatever other odd aspects of British life I’m obsessed with at the time. My current interests include portmanteau films, the ‘novels’ of Guy N. Smith, Stonehenge and seventies American monster movies. The blog is currently in semi-hibernation while I work on a series of hypnosis tapes.