Lindsay Anderson’s 12–minute tour of Margate’s Dreamland funfair is immediately notable for its deliberately bleak and unattractive photography and a spare and impressionistic soundtrack. Despite the absence of a commentary, the film distinctly conveys Anderson’s obvious disdain for the modest, if not tawdry, attractions on offer.
Originally made on a tiny budget in 1953, Anderson made the film with just one assistant, John Fletcher, a single 16mm camera and an audiotape recorder. Once completed, the film was shelved 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 short-lived movement.
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 use sound expressively: a feature of O Dreamland’s soundtrack is the recurring laughter of mechanical dummies, which takes on a sinister, mocking tone.
O Dreamland is also available on BFI's Free Cinema DVD set, along with the entirety of the Free Cinema films.