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Lindsay Anderson’s O Dreamland was originally made on a tiny budget in 1953. Anderson had just one assistant, John Fletcher, a single 16mm camera and an audiotape recorder. Once completed, the film was shelved, with little prospect of ever being shown, until Anderson rescued it three years later for the first ‘Free Cinema’ programme of documentaries at London’s National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank), which launched a shortlived movement. O Dreamland helped to define Free Cinema’s uncompromising style.
A 12–minute tour of Margate’s Dreamland funfair (which still stands, in disrepair, today), the film features deliberately bleak and unattractive photography and a spare and impressionistic soundtrack. Despite the absence of a commentary, the film vividly conveys Anderson’s disdain for Dreamland’s tawdry ‘attractions’.
The absence of commentary or live ‘synch’ sound became a characteristic of Free Cinema films. They were an inevitable consequence of the budget and the equipment available, but the financial constraints freed Anderson and his associates to be creative and to use sound expressively: a feature of O Dreamland’s soundtrack is the recurring laughter of mechanical dummies, which takes on a sinister, mocking tone.