The Wind of Change (1961)

Trying not to give too much away but banging on walls, sharing the newspaper, and those doorknobs are surely things that have almost come to past. But this is more than pointless nostalgia…

The charms of The Wind of Change only contribute to the gritty subjects that are handled in a manner that were surely ahead of their time. Moments that are filled with nostalgia simultaneously raise questions of the past and of the present. Although the film generates its own pace, as the characters undertake a journey of self-examination the audience can either join them or remain in ignorance with Frank, the main protagonist.

Somehow the film extends beyond its historical setting to contrast starkly with what has become the stereotype of ways to handle such topics; hip hop, digital technology, and Technicolor. This last point is not isolated to the film’s black and white presentation but also the cast with its lone role played by a black man. For some this is a distraction, for me it is a central attraction – the struggle with racism, with all its contradictions, is often spoken of and experienced first and foremost in the home and while hanging out with peers. No ariel shots of housing estates which sometimes seem like the cinematic metaphor for the racist language of ‘mixed race relationships’. Let’s get straight into the frontroom and people of action and dialogue. How does a family adapt to economic, political, cultural and intimate changes around them?

To my mind the father takes centre stage but not in any stereotypical way I’ve witnessed on film before. He is contemplative without any clear intelligence, complex without any direction, and nice without being likable. Ultimately he is passive; moments of wisdom are drowned out by tensions and outbursts of strength are overcome by sterner stuff. Even his retreat to care for his beloved rabbits presents an opportunity for a complex and uncertain metaphor. This places too much emphasis on the man of the house perhaps because the daughter and the mother are also in excellent positions to present some of the difficulties and abstract empathy in dealing with racism, forced to make a call without making a judgement.

Structured with the expertise of art and academy the film attempts to make sense of the contradictions of racism through everyday language and everyday sense. Everybody in the film contributes to layering complexity to the situation and it is uncertain how each impacts the other. The result is film that doesn’t seek an oversimplified happy ending with all knots firmly ironed out. Is the family broken or fixed? However it is clear that such dichotomies don’t work. To those who know something of the backdrop of the 1950 riots, the film even acknowledges economic hardships and unemployment as factors, more than most media reports will acknowledge even today; such reports are happy with the idea that intimate relationships between black and white people are primary factors to rioting.

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan may have been referring to the country’s conquered colonies when he talked of ‘the wind of change’ but Vernon Sewell makes clear that such a wind was already underway in the ‘motherland’. The Wind of Change can come like a storm in the lives of many but at the same time seems like an impotent breeze when viewed with the luxury of historical perspective.

We will be screening the film Sunday 7th October.

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