Blu-Ray Review – Red, White and Zero

Red White and Zero is a portmanteau movie comprised of three short films by three of the more interesting filmmakers who were initially involved with the kitchen-sink dramas of the 1960s: Peter Brook, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson. The films were intended to be released together.

Brook’s Ride of the Valkyrie with Zero Mostel is, to be honest, absolutely terrible. It feels like a sub-Richard Lester film, a slapstick silent comedy about an opera singer who’s trying to get to a show.

The centerpiece is Anderson’s The White Bus, which is the longest film and has been most widely seen. It’s based on a screenplay by Shelagh Delaney about a suicidal young woman who takes a surreal train and bus ride around an unnamed city (which is clearly Manchester). Anderson was a key part of the Free Cinema movement as well as directing kitchen-sink dramas like This Sporting Life. This is the first film where his realism starts to break down. As with If…, it changes radically from colour to black and white. For years, Anderson said it wasn’t an artistic choice in If…. but happened because of stock availability. But the fact that he used the same trick in The White Bus dispels the idea that it was an accident. While a perfectly good film, it’s not Anderson’s best by any stretch. Anthony Hopkins appears in his film debut.

The third segment is Red and Blue, which stars a very young Vanessa Redgrave. It’s a sort of homage to Jacques Demy’s French musicals. It’s beautifully filmed, with a great use of colour, and Redgrave is obviously a great actress, which lifts the film. Richardson was the biggest name on board with this project, as his Tom Jones had just won at the Oscars, so he could do anything he wanted at that point.

The three films were made by Woodfall, Richardson’s production company. For a variety of reasons, however, they were never properly released, with only The White Bus getting a UK theatrical release, just before If… came out. That’s somewhat understandable, as it was by far the strongest of the three. Richardson’s film was seen at press screenings in London, and there was even a record of the songs made for the film, so clearly there was an intention to release it. Brook’s film was shown just once on British television and then never seen again.

Kevin Brownlow was involved as an editor on two of the films, one of his first proper film jobs after his DIY film It Happened Here. The disc includes an interview with Brownlow and some of his behind-the-scenes films shot during Red and Blue. There’s also an hour-long making-of feature about The White Bus, a short introduction by Lindsay Anderson from when the film played at the NFT, an interview with Red and Blue cinematographer Billy Williams, a short animated film called No Arks narrated by Redgrave, commentary by Adrian Martin, and a booklet with various new essays on the films.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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