The definitive film that resonated with my V&A Museum residency: housing, architecture, film.
Leo The Last was directed by John Boorman in 1969, between his Hollywood films, Point Blank and Deliverance.
The story concerns an aristocratic landlord who moves into a slum area of Notting Hill and becomes radicalised by observing his oppressed Afro-Caribbean neighbours.
Uniquely, the design team were able to use a road, Testerton Street, prior to its slum clearance and regeneration into the Lancaster West Estate. Nearly all of the residents had been moved out and Boorman was able to paint all the houses and road black. This created the unique monochrome colour palette in the film. A false house was built across Testerton Street. This was the stuccoed white house for the central character.
In the archive, I came across the touching story of one couple, still living on the road at No 27 and waiting to be rehoused. Arthur and Grace Clark refused the offer of £50 to have their terrace house sprayed black. “We could do with the money really,” said Mrs Clark, who had lived all her life in the house. “But if we agreed to let them paint our house, the vandals would get busy, as they would think it’s empty.”
This project was funded by the V&A Museum and RBKC City Living, Local Life ward fund. It was also supported by Park Circus who supplied a 35mm print of the film that was screened for local residents at the Gate Cinema, Notting Hill on the 1st Feb 2015. On the same day, 10 residents from the Silchester Estate came down to the V&A Museum to take part in a ceramic workshop. This was facilitated by Matthew Raw, ceramic artist in residence at the museum. We made clay houses based on the set design for the film and these were displayed at the V&A from the 6-8th Feb 2015.
I asked the audience two questions about the film. What did you like or not like about the film? What message do you take away from this film? This is some of their feedback:
None of us knew what to expect at the screening of 'Leo The Last'. It was exciting to have the Gate Cinema to ourselves on a Sunday morning (and not have to pay to get in!) and the audience was a really diverse mix of different cultures and backgrounds. I really enjoyed the film, I thought it was very much of its time with the surreal camerawork and soundtrack. The story was heartwarming and shocking at the same time with a bit of idealism thrown in. It was a reminder of just how difficult life could be in this area, in the not too distant past.
Loved it all. Love the use of very muted colours. Loved a lot of the atmospheric shots (but no idea how to describe them). Loved the feeling it was very reminiscent of the community in Notting Hill Gate in the 1970s. The film showed a lot of the horrors and complications of poverty - huge problems created and too complicated for one person, however good, to solve.
I liked the bringing to the screen the issue of class and race which was relevant to the time of the film. Like the film Wonderwall, this film conveys a sense of individual voyeurism totally unfamiliar to that voyeur with upsetting results. Nothing in the film suggests that there will a better life for those living there.
It was a bit chaotic and oozing with disconnection. Some of it was ugly! Definitely a film of it time but in many ways too, resonating today. It was a gorgeous street. What a waste, what a shame! Those houses would be worth an absolute fortune now.
Loved the film which made little attempt to escape the self indulgent late 60s look. Loved its leaps from looking like a Richard Lester film to Nell Dunn style kitchen sink. Started as modernist alienation, modern man's failure to connect. Developed into a 60s utopian romp.
I liked the palette, I liked the cast - especially Laszlo. I liked the portrayal of what came before our neighbourhood. The last lines: "You didn't change the world, did you?" "No, but we changed our street" should be an inspiration - I want to ask myself, how much has changed in 50 years?
Rick and Gee
We liked the use of roller skates as a visual device to show the underlying theme of the film. Also the bathhouse scene including the false "spiritual" awakening of the elite. Fantastically weird sound design, very disorientating at times. There was a fair amount of "hammy" overacting. But a real London film!
Change has to start at the grass roots level. Start by changing what you see and don't be frozen by inaction. More film-makers should be enabled to make what they want (even if that turns out a little self-indulgent).