Lord of the Flies (1963)

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Peter Brook’s evocative adaptation of William Golding’s seminal Lord of the Fliesgains of a lot of agency simply from the casting of age-appropriate kids in the main roles. It’s one thing to read the words but to actually see a bunch of 60s school boys stranded on an island and forming a savage society, the scenario suddenly takes on a new life. Suddenly it becomes scary and dangerous with a genuine pulse.

Shot with a documentarian’s eye, this is a stark and eerie film of occasional haunting beauty and shocking brutality. The essential monochrome photography renders everything in contrasts; shadow and light, earth and sea, skin and bone making the overall texture coarse and sharp. Like the increasingly-feral kids who populate the island, the movie has teeth and isn’t afraid to bare them. The boys howl and scream, bicker like wild animals and run frantically through handled compositions, meaning anything they lack in the acting department is overcome by the sense of being viscerally immersed into this situation with them.

The constant cacophony occasionally gives way to silence at crucial moments – Piggy finding his shattered glasses comes to mind – just as the chaotic photography stabilises, ever so briefly, making those instances land with a devastating intake of breath. Brook apparently worked directly from Golding’s novel in lieu of a script, coaching the youngsters in their scenes to hit the emotions and levels of madness he needed at any given time. It has that looseness and spontaneity. Brook’s Lord of the Flies is a unique and transgressive film that is quite unlike anything else made at the moment it was scratched into reality.

Watched on Criterion blu-ray.

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