Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dan In Real Life

Much like Hedges’ previous film ‘Pieces of April’ which looked at the careful juxtaposition of family relationships and the crises that can arise out of everyday situation, here he takes a lead character places him in his family surroundings and how the hierarchy can alter your behaviour just because. 
Dan Burns (Steve Carell) is a widower and local newspaper columnist struggling to balance life, work and single parenthood with three girls - the loyal Jane, the passionate Cara and the idyllic Lilly. They leave for a weekend with Dan’s parents, Poppy (John Mahoney) and Nana (Dianne Weist) where Dan having to get the papers meets a woman he falls for the first time in four years, Marie (Juliette Binoche), unknowing that he is seeing Dan’s brother, Mitch (Dane Cook).

Carell’s job is to balance being funny, insightful and romantic while also being downhearted for two-thirds of the film, but he does it well making us sympathetic for Dan while also not falling totally in love with him.  He can mix up his fast talking, physical comedy and sentiment all in one role without having to gurn or corpse.

The cast is a great ensemble together and the performances raise a so-so script with moments of genuine emotion and realism, (Dane Cook’s improvised piano ballad turns from a cruel joke into a family sing-song enhancing the unity and full of looks and things not said). There are great set-pieces like the samba dance in the garden, the shower scene full of simplicity, slightness and is perfection.

While another great film to add to the pantheon of the young angry man growing up towards middle age - Sideways remains the best example - it has the typical problem of American indie cinema where it endulges in the requirement of a happy ending and making everyone get on with everyone at the end; once Dan and Marie stamp their love, everyone simultaneously must know about it (a fault of the family in one house film) and the ability to forgive and forget is always at the forefront.

But that is a small flaw that luckily only comes near the end and does not allow you to forget all that is before - the acting, the observations of universal family life and a nifty score written by Sondre Lereche, that is light but not overbearing on the film.  Dan in Real Life, is the real thing, the sort of thing that America should do more of.   

England v New Zealand Series review

England have beaten New Zealand in the 2nd test at Headingley by 247 runs which gave them a 2-0 series victory, more than making up for the three drawn test matches on the tour of New Zealand in February/March.

Whilst the margin of victory is huge, and came at just after 3.30pm on the fifth day with more than a session to spare - there does however remain an element of fortune in this England victory as they beat the rain, that started falling during the post-match ceremonies.

England's decision on the 3rd day to bat again rather than enforce the following on having gained a 180 run lead left many pundits and ex-internationals somewhat perplexed.  This was not helped by the play of Jonathan Trott who scored a measly 11 runs off 69 balls that stymied the initial effort of captain Alastair Cook who raced to 80 odd by the close of play.

On the fourth morning, Cook completed his 25th Test century before being out for 130.  Trott succumb for 76 before the young Yorkshire pair of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow both hit at more than a run a ball for 28 and 26 not out respectively, to set New Zealand an unrealistic target of 468 to win and England to get 10 wickets in over a day and a half.

Cook's reluctance to enforce the follow-on was mirrored by his safety first field positions for his bowlers who had a huge score to defend but a weak batting line up to attack.  Graeme Swann aiming for the footmarks left by the Kiwi left arm seamers, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, had not a lot of men round the bat especially versus the right handers who would struggle in spin from that particular rough.

Swann ended up with 10 wickets in the match, the first English spinner to take 10 in a match at Headingley (traditionally a seamer's wicket) since Derek Underwood in 1975.  Swann like Underwood though is a special talent that England must hope is fully fit after his elbow operation, unlike most other departments Swann is indispensable to the team as a specialist spinner and genuine match winner if the conditions suit him.

Cook's lack of ruthlessness could be interpreted as a weakness, would England have batted again if they were facing Australia and they had them on the rack as they so obviously had New Zealand.  Many Kiwis were laughing at the situation on the fifth morning as the game should have been completed.
England under Andy Flower have form in this over recent years when Andrew Strauss captained, England would be in the ascendancy but then bat again to apply 'scoreboard pressure' as Flower loves to entone and then dismiss the chasing side in the fourth innings.

Luckily England are in the position to field four bowlers who can take 20 wickets between them at this moment in time - Anderson's swing is threatening with the new ball, but wanes after that; Stuart Broad looks resurgent; Swann can do so much with his varying flight and speed yet one question must remain over Steven Finn who although taking wickets is still struggling with his run-up and his length of delivery, on the last day he bowled far too short to Tim Southee who dismissed him for two huge 6's.

Finn was bowling to a field of a deep backward square leg and deep mid-wicket, instead of doing what he did to Doug Brownlie on Monday by bowling an unplayable ball that Brownlie attempted to duck out of the way, yet could only glove a looping catch to Bell running in from gully. Finn was bowling with fire on Monday, on Tuesday he was like the weather a bit damp and not impressive - Finn must work on his consistency.

Another possible reason for England batting again was that it gave Nick Compton a chance to gain some valuable time and runs at the top of the order to cement his place at the top of the line-up before the Ashes start in July.

However, Compton's second single digit score of the match, 7 off 45 was quite a grind to watch and instead of giving England an answer, there are now more questions for England to ponder. Joe Root's continued impressive start to his Test career including his maiden Test century on Saturday at his home ground, means England have to give serious consideration to promoting Root to open the innings especially with the returning Kevin Pietersen likely to go straight back to his position of 4 in the order.

This is a shame for Compton who had endured a baptism of fire in India but scored some useful runs with Cook, then he answered the critics again in New Zealand by scoring two centuries, now he must return to Somerset and play some four day cricket and get some time at the crease and get his confidence back.

Compton was a victim of joining the inner circle of Team England, having gone on two tours he was not allowed to bat as much with Somerset as he would have liked, although he did score 105* at home to Warwickshire on 25th-28th April - yet he also had two ducks.

Whereas Root played week in, week out for Yorkshire and made some huge scores (182, 236, 179 for England Lions v New Zealand).  Root's confidence was sky high resulting in scoring 243 runs, averaging 60.75; Compton in contrast scored 39 runs averaging 9.75 runs.

Compton may be a better batsmen to replace Ian Bell in the middle of the order, as he is used to doing for the Taunton side.  Whereas, Root who has a great technique for someone so young and plays the ball so late, would be better suited to open the batting as he has done for his county side.

However, lets remain buoyant England have won the series convincingly and head for the Champions Trophy in good spirits, another good showing in that competition will bode well for the A-word series in July.  England will start favourites, more so because their order can score heavy runs against an Australian bowling line-up that has to prove it can take 20 wickets in a match, a fact that England's four pronged attack can.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Court Confidential

Neil Harman, is a renowned and highly respected Tennis correspondent for The Times having previously held the same post with the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Mail.  Mr. Harman releases his new book Court Confidential: Inside the World of Tennis, published by The Robson Press.

Court Confidential is a year in the life of a tennis correspondent, as our man travels from continent to continent, country to country, surface to surface following the great names of the modern era - Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Britain's own elite sportsman, Andy Murray as these men chase titles on grass, clay and hard courts for the prestige of the number one World ranking.

Starting in December 2011, with the announcement of Andy Murray's newly appointed coach, Ivan Lendl, up to the end of the momentous year in 2012 which saw Murray lay to rest the ghost of Fred Perry with both his first Grand Slam title and Olympic Gold on home turf during London 2012.

However, this is not just a book about the rise and ascension of Murray to the summit of tennis, but Harman uses the book to show us details of behind-the-scene information of which is not normally divulged in daily tennis columns and feature pieces and gives good scope for both the men's and women's game - his coverage of the women's game comes across as respectful and admiring especially his close relationship with Victoria Azarenka.

Journalists used to write books like this all the time, an expose about the 'real' tennis as a means of getting a message across.  Unfortunately, those books (mostly in football and ghost written) would descend into gossip material, however, Harman uses his unique access to paint a picture of a sport still evolving with the demands its success has breed - having to deal with the gruelling year-long schedule, his conversations with Justin Gimelstob show a player's reprsentative on the ATP board desperate to save the players from this treadmill - especially the top four - before they succumb to injury and burn-out, as is apparent with the disappearance of Nadal from the last 100 pages of the book owing to his continual knee problems.

One telling contribution amongst the many interviews conducted by such big name contacts (a fact that never becomes sheer name dropping), is the email sent to him by Amer Delic, a Bosnian by birth now of American citizenship, which highlighted all the monetary downfall of playing Grand Slam tennis such as the Australian Open in Melbourne in January.

Delic reacts to those who criticise as to why players who lose a first round Grand Slam match are guaranteed just under $20,000.  In two paragraphs he explains how a player loses 30% to tax leaving him $14,000. The minimum $3,000 round trip from Los Angeles to Melbourne in economy, which is costly but also physically arduous for a 6' 5" tennis player with a surgically repaired knee. You add on a ticket for his coach, three weeks of hotels at $100 per night plus food per day means the average player is down $1,120 by the time he returns to American soil.  He jokes that it would be easier to declare himself a charity or a non-profit organisation.  Sadly, Delic retired from the professional tour in August 2012 and is now assistant coach at the University of Florida.

Harman takes you back to those amazing two months in Andy Murray's career when he became the first British man since Bunny Austin to reach the Wimbledon final only to lose to a resilient Roger Federer, then to return to Centre Court three weeks later to oust the Swiss for the Olympic Gold medal in straight sets no less with incredible poise and strength.  Then the piece de resistance in Flushing Meadow, New York when Murray beat Novak Djokovic to win his first Grand Slam title.

Reading Harman's prose is very different to that of his Times reports.  Whilst the Times writing comes across as a voice of authority and distinction; in the book in general there is a real joie de vivre about the whole proceedings and you get a real sense of Harman personal sense of pride and satisfaction in witnessing Murray's victories on this scale having had to suffer so many near misses with Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, followed by the lack of funding for a sport that is so beloved in this country.

Harman is not just a reporter, most importantly his voice as a fan reads loudest - his passionate voice and belief that the Lawn Tennis Association should not waste this obvious opportunity to cement Murray's legacy and influence to make sure he is writing about other future British champions for years to come.

The book is a wonderful gift to not only Tennis fans but sport fans in general and those who want to see behind the enigmatic characters that intrigue us for weeks throughout the year -

The best complimetn for the book and a metaphor that Mr. Harman would approve of is - Court Confidential as crisp and neat as a Stanislas Warwinka one-handed backhand, and just like that shot it is a winner.

Harman's book is ultimately timely and in future years will become a veritable time capsule book for future generations of this memorable golden era of tennis.

Court Confidential is out on Monday 27th May from The Robson Press fror £20 RRP in hardback and also available in e-book format from all the providers.

Follow Neil Harman on twitter @NeilHarmanTimes
Follow The Robson Press @TheRobsonPress

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cricket Banter

Following on from their website beginnings in February 2012, The Middle Stump or Dan Whiting and Liam Kenna, have put together an amalgamation of their websites best interviews into one e-book, Cricket Banter, which serves as a unique introduction to the website's humour but also the strong sense of adulation this small website has garnered in a short space of time.

Interviews with such luminaries as Mike Selvey (cricket correspondent for The Guardian) and Steve James (cricket reporter for The Daily Telegraph) are two of the better interviews which follow a familiar Q&A format - which in one downside of the e-book is too similar after a while and causes you to float over some answers.

However, what is indispensable and is unique to the book and not on the website (www.themiddlestump.co.uk) is the county-by-county guide which features an address, brief history of each county, TMS anecdotes, ground information, banter factor, recommendations of local boozers and tipples, overnight stay options, celebrity watch.

What is paramount to the book however, is the belief that cricket is a game that should give you enjoyment in watching and should be enjoyed when playing.  Interviews with Selvey, James and Mike Gatting make you wish of those halycon days of cricket when Test Match Special was on the BBC television with the dulcet tones of Tony Lewis and Richie Benaud babysat you through a long hot summer - now the proliferation of television coverage across the three game formats with micked up stumps and slow-motion replays means the fun has somewhat gone from the game.

Yet as long as there are people like Whiting and Kenna are around supporting English county cricket and backing the national side the future is bright for English cricket.

The e-book Cricket Banter is a must read and the perfect companion to a liquid lunch break at an out-ground or the thing to occupy your time during an inevitable rain delay.

This reader purchased Cricket Banter for £5.99 from Amazon.co.uk for the Kindle.

Follow the guys on twitter @TheMiddleStump

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Numbers Game - Book review

Following on from the trailblazing work of Moneyball which told the story of how Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's transformed the worst team in Major League Baseball into a viable contender, and after Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski which indicated why England lose more often than win at major tournaments - comes a new book by English football loving, American scholars Chris Anderson and David Sally, entitled The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong.

Both Anderson and Sally's academic background is from the Ivy League schools of Cornell and Dartmouth respectively.  Anderson is an award winning social scientist and football analytics pioneer who consults with leading clubs, Sally is a former baseball pitcher for his alma mater of Harvard and analyses strategies and tactics people use.  In reading the book, it is clear that the men's love of the game of football or soccer is very evident.

Whilst the book does focus on number crunching, it attempts to dissuade the well praised myths of football such as those who believe Barcelona's tika-taka passing game is the be all and end all of current football theory.

As a self-professed football nut and lover of statistics this is the sort of book I digested in two sittings, as the theories soaked into my brain.  Anderson and Sally write with a genuine passion for the game, and are optimistic about the future of the game whilst making clear that football is a team sport and for all the genuine brilliance of a Lionel Messi, he is but a part of a team.  A favourite theory is the 'The O-ring theory of Economic Development' originally published by Michael Kremer at Harvard in 1993; they set the theory that one faulty or weak o-ring like the one that caused the Challenger Space Shuttle to explode in 1986 can be applied to top class football.

By saying that a faulty member can affect the performance of the team as a whole, clubs tend to pay out more on human capital.  They state the difference between Everton's Finch Farm training complex with 15 pitches, weight room, canteen in comparison to Walsall's three pitches, gym and you can see the picture.  Everton can pay for more scouts to watch more players, Walsall cannot.

Other favourite theories they found from their data supplied by amongst others ProZone and Opta Sports include that goals are not as common as we believe.  On average, a goal is scored every 69 minutes and 1-1 is the most common score - the most valuable goal for a team to score is the second goal as it can be directly translated to more points being garnered.  They also state that if you concede less you are more likely to gain more points, meaning that for all the money expunged on strikers the more valuable players may well be the defenders and goalkeepers to keep clean sheets.  Whilst you can score three goals you may not get three points, whilst conceding no goals is more likely to obtain three points.

Another one that may raise fans eyebrows who bemoan the lack of proactivity from managers may be the analysis that says managers should make their first substitution prior to the 58th minute, the second prior to the 73rd minute and third prior to the 79th minute.  Substitutions with 10 minutes remaining are statistically not effective, so when you see a manager still not making a change after an hour of play, the chances are your chances of turning around a deficit are diminishing.

Pleasingly for all their success the heroes of the book are not Manchester United, Barcelona or Chelsea but the smaller names of Wigan Athletic and Stoke City who have succeeded in the long term by changing their game style to suit their weaknesses; whilst Stoke may be derided by some for the way they play, yet Stoke as the figures show can win a game by passing less and utilising their ability to score from a direct form of play.

The book is a wonderful read for sport nuts and number nerds - it is a testament to the authors that the book reads so easily and can be digested with such ease in a manner that is neither patronising nor feel that you are being spoken down to with such a wealth of information.

THE NUMBERS GAME by Chris Anderson and David Sally is published by Viking Trade in Paperback on 30th May, priced £14.99 and is also available as an ebook across many suppliers.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Comedian

Tom Shkolnik's feature debut The Comedian (2012) tells the story of wannabe stand up comedian Ed (Edward Hogg) who has to contend with a mundane call centre job whilst fight feelings of intimacy for his flatmate Elisa (Elisa Lasowski) and the new blossoming relationship with Nathan (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett of E4's Misfits).

Shkolnik comes to this feature having found some recognition for his short films and his professional relationship with producer Dan McCulloch led to the success of One Happy Moment which was made for the Digital Shorts scheme and BBC Films.

The film shot over 90 hours of footage to garner this film that lasts for only 72 minutes.  This may seem startling but that is down partly to the 'Rules of the Game' which include no script, only one take is allowed by two cameras at most.

Watching a film like The Comedian makes you realise why the script is just as important as any actor or director, the foundation of a narrative is imperative to any story whereas here Shkolnik is focused on showing a London that is real and indicative of the prevailing depression currently being experienced by the socio-economic population. Also that comedians do not make for the best of films due to the very internalised nature of the performer, even Scorcese and De Niro failed somewhat with The King of Comedy (1983) due to fact that Rupert Pupkin is sadly delusional

Ed hates his job, as he wants it to be fun and when he is told to buck up and improve he treats that as a threat to his existence.  His career as a stand-up does not seem promising as one bad gig ends with the compere criticising him in between performers ('Some people get up on stage and talk about gardening.  Others tell jokes') this is heard by us in the background whilst Ed sits backstage listening, beat up by how awful he was.  Ed spends a lot of time listening, and he gives the impression he is a better listener than communicator.

There are some nicely shot moments of photography by DoP Benjamin Kracun such as when Nathan walks down the street and a whiff of cigarette smoke floats into the air, but these moments are few and far between in a film that lacks a visual style for want of trying.

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett elicits the best performance of the film, adding some layers of complexity to a role that might have been thankless, but yet he makes you wonder how difficult it must be to live in a big city and be black and homosexual. The scene when they are pillored by young female homophobes on a bus journey home is quite startling and real, yet that is the only scene tinged with a real-ness about it.

Edward Hogg tries his best, and he could conceivably be a grandson of the original angry young men from up North in the 1960s with his Northern accent and self-critiquing behaviour (such as Tom Courtenay's Billy (Liar) Fisher) however, he is a confused young man who is unsure of what he wants and contradicts himself when something possible comes along, he attempts to reject it in a way that makes him seem selfless but in fact merely self-destructive.

Shkolnik states, 'I wanted to make a film about a London that I could recognise,' yet the fact you have an inter-racial homosexual relationship at the heart of the narrative and a French girl as the beautiful flatmate to this observer does not feel real but more forced unfortunately, as a way to say here is a white Northerner, a black Londoner and a foreigner as a means of ticking off the diversity checklist rather than showing London in a more real light.

The shooting of homosexual lovemaking do not match the intimacy of those in Weekend and Keep The Lights On - that showed the problematic nature of maturing a same-sex relationship in big cities far more effectively with a delicate tone and humility, the benefit those films had was a structure and fluency to the film-making process and intelligent scriptwriting.

The film may reach an audience who encourage the growth of British independent cinema, but anyone expecting a barrel of laughs will be sorely disappointed.

The Comedian is on limited release on Friday 31st May by Trinity Filmed Entertainment

Monday, 13 May 2013

Three of a Kind

With the impending retirement and final matches of three English stalwarts - Michael Owen, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher - it is time to reflect upon a hole in the English game as a veritable backbone of Association Football rides into the sunset.

These three men were of different positions, requiring different skill sets all calling it a day.  All three started their professional careers in their teenage years as products of prestigious academy programs and now retire rich men in their mid to late 30s. Football has given them everything they could imagine, three head now for very different career paths.

Michael Owen looks set to leave football altogether bar the odd studio guest appearance for a live match and follow in the footsteps of another famous England striker, Mike Channon, and focus on his stables as an owner and his ever booming property development.

Paul Scholes is the quiet man and looks set to maintain a long association with Manchester United in either a coaching capacity or an ambassadorial role.  Jamie Carragher immediately leaves the pitch to take on a punditry role like his namesake Mr Redknapp and old adversary, Gary Neville, working for Sky Sports although like Neville the door is open to a return to football as a coach.

Most significant about their retirements is that three very fit individuals have all succumbed to this new era of fast and fluid football, by ultimately slowing down.  They are the first victims of this continual conveyor belt of football, having to play in highly intense games week in and week out both on domestic and international fronts.  They are victims of their own success, by playing for prominent teams they had to play in four competitions throughout the season, regularly hitting 50 games a season (38 league and approximately 12 cup games).

This requirement to play at such a high level put a strain on the body and mind, and led to Paul Scholes retiring from international football after England were eliminated from Euro 2004.  Whilst a bold step it nonetheless prolonged Scholes' career as he retires for the second and final time some nine years later.

When Michael Owen burst onto the English football stage at Wimbledon for Liverpool, his game was all about pace and velocity, that burst of speed to go away from a defender that he left standing still.  Owen like Thierry Henry revolutionised the play of forwards, whose speed scared defenders.  Unfortunately, Owen through a series of hamstring injuries got slower as the years passed, he could still be a fox in the box but a series of injuries helped lose his mystery. As his hamstrings got tighter and shorter, the game and defenders got sharper and quicker.

It seems a shame that the memory of him gliding across the turf in St Etienne versus Argentina should come so young in his career and that the same career be one that was seemingly unfulfilled, we should be talking about goal figures akin to Jimmy Greaves, and yet we are closer to Frank Lampard.

Carragher is one of those defenders who like Gary Mabbutt and Mark Wright will forever be unheralded and underrated.  The admiration for Carragher comes from his ability to take what looks like a basic skill set and blossom into a fully fledged England international (38 caps) and the second most league appearances for Liverpool with 737 (should he play on Sunday afternoon) and 11 major honours.

Carragher is also that rare breed - like Scholes - of being part of the fabric of his hometown team.  The Liverpool vice-captain would rather call it a day than kick a ball in vain for another club, fittingly Carragher bleeds the red of Liverpool.  His stubborn self-belief, determination and pride were never more evident on that famous night in Istanbul in 2005 when his rearguard effort along with Jerzy Dudek in goal, were as inspirational as Steven Gerrard.  You can recall Carragher diving again to block another goal bound shot in the late stages of extra time when he just lay on the turf riddled with cramp, yet he would not ask for treatment for fear of leaving the field and conceding.

It seems a shame that Carragher retires with only 38 caps to his name, as he was a victim of being apart of a great class of defenders who were just that bit better than him due to height, ball control and domination of the aerial battle - Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ledley King and Sol Campbell.

Tellingly, this Sunday sees three names and former England internationals retire and another three from that great night in Munich on 1st September 2001 call it a night.  For Owen that was his best night of football, for Scholes it was another quiet impactful performance before Frank Lampard's goalscoring consistency led to Sven-Goran Eriksson question how to put three of Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard into two positions.  The laughable notion of asking Scholes to play left midfield probably sped up Scholes' retirement decision and although Carragher was an 83rd minutes substitution for Scholes he nevertheless was there and part of the team.

Memories and odes will be written for all these men by fans of them who are greater than myself, yet is it not surprising that all three men came through the youth ranks of Liverpool and Manchester United, for Scholes he was a part of the greatest youth team in living memory.  But is there not a lesson there for all these owners who pour money into the coffers of managers by buying in product from overseas, the talent is in this country and can be found if nurtured correctly.

Whilst Owen struggled to find a home and played for both Carragher and Scholes' one and only clubs, the way Carragher and Scholes have served their respective clubs with dignity, passion and their own unique brand of panache is worth its weight in gold, irrespective of the amount of silverware they have claimed.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Billy Liar: 50th Anniversary

To mark the 50th anniversary of its original theatrical release, StudioCanal release on DVD and Blu-ray, Billy Liar.  John Schlesinger's adaptation of Keith Waterhouse's breakthrough novel of the same title, is seen as the most respected film of the Kitchen Sink Dramas of the early 1960s that brought a veritable feast of talent to the British screen.

Starring Tom Courtenay in his most famous role, and cast because he was more 'dainty' than his contemporary Albert Finney who starred in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (1960).  Courtenay has a real cheekiness in his performance that fits the dark humor and whilst he did not have the sheer physicality or masculinity as Finney, Alan Bates (A Kind of Loving, 1962) or Richard Harris (This Sporting Life, released the same year); those performers were reacting against the world, Billy Liar/Courtenay reacts in spite of the world.

Billy Liar or William Terence Fisher, an apt surname considering he is fishing for any sort of hook to get out of Bradford.  The kitchen sink dramas were about aspiration of the angry young man, to escape the mundanity of working class life and yet ultimately they feel trapped by their social being which would fall if they did not stay, much like the decision Billy has at the end of the film.

Billy is tempted by Liz, played with all the vivacious savvy by Julie Christie is indicative of the impending Swinging Sixties that she and her contemporaries Twiggy and Marianne Faithfull would embody.  Liz is very much the sexualised conquest that Billy would chase after if he ever got to the big smog.

It seems a shame watching this fine print, that Courtenay did not break into the Hollywood mainstream like Finney and Harris - this may have to do with his complexion which is distinctly English; yet the sheer verve of performance into Billy's fantasy life is all the more remarkable that Courtenay's talent was overlooked across the Atlantic.

Billy's off-the-wall social observation and swapping of genres from kitchen sink to 1950s library in one dream sequence to his gunning down his family as he shaves.  This sort of material was clearly ahead of its time.

The keen eye for detail and wonderful use of CinemaScope lends Bradford a vista for Billy's fantasies, as well as the numerous times the film breaks the fourth wall with Billy addressing the camera.  My impression was that Michael Caine as the eponymous Alfie (1966) was the first film to do this; whilst Caine spoke directly to camera, Courtenay seems to wink and smile at the camera as if to tell the audience this is all the joke.  There may be a difference in the conduct but the influence on Lewis Gilbert's film is undeniable.

Schlesinger also uses an overhead shot to split Billy in the toilet and Mr. McShadrack (Leonard Rossiter) on the outside trying to get in - the kind of shot familiar to the work of Brian de Palma.  The influence of the banter between Billy and Charlie (Rodney Bewes), a work colleague, is also reminiscent of the forthcoming BBC sitcom The Likely Lads in which Bewes starred with James Bolam, who has a similarity to Courtenay.

Might Billy Liar be one of the most influential films of the 1960s? - a film that was off-the-wall with its distinctly un-British humour, a jazzy soundtrack, gave the world Julie Christie.  It was as if John Schlesinger could see the Swinging Sixties coming on the horizon and decided to make as free a film as possible, and in doing so made a film that is still vibrant and rich as that era became.

BILLY LIAR: 50th ANNIVERSARY is released by StudioCanal on Monday 6th May on both DVD and Blu-ray at £15.99 and £19.99 respectively.

Special features include Remembering Billy Liar with Tom Courtenay and Helen Fraser; an interview with Richard Ayoade; interview with Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley; stills gallery and trailer.