The Bill Douglas Trilogy Part I – “My Childhood”

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My Childhood (Bill Douglas, 1972)

 

Cinema was the only escape for Bill Douglas, as it is for many of us. It’s the only thing that can help make sense of the world. Through the lens of the camera, a new dimension is formed and the directions and actions can be built, destroyed and recreated in a “trial-and-test” method until the pieces of the puzzle have finally fit together. Each film is a new journey, and for Bill Douglas, it was also a way to cope with his past. The Bill Douglas Trilogy is 3 of the most affecting movies that most people have never heard of. The story is about a boy named Jamie who grows up in extreme poverty in a poor mining town in Scotland. His family (him, his older brother and his sick grandmother) lives in a one room dingy flat with barely enough food to keep alive. Jamie spends his days in the coal mines learning German from a Nazi P.O.W. and teaching him English in return. The trilogy of films recounts his life from childhood squalor to living in an orphanage to returning home as a young man. It is also the journey of filmmaker Bill Douglas; a man confronting his squalid past and at the same time, finally escaping from it.

Part I: “My Childhood”

Majority of the film is dressed in a very bleak coating; dingy walls, broken steps, coal soiled clothes, messed up hair, dead animals, and the crudest of square meals (stale bread and milk). Much of the characters, especially little Jamie are shot in close-ups of sordid facial expressions. What can you expect in such a wretched and harsh environment? Perhaps the single moment of happiness in the film lay in the scene where Jamie teaches a Nazi POW English words from a children’s alphabet book. The words are simple; dog, cat, bucket, hose etc. In return the POW teaches Jamie some German words, which are comically as per stereotype, long and harsh like trinkbecher (cup) and blumentopf (flower pot), at which Jamie exclaims “I want easy words!” and the two both have a laugh. It is perhaps a hopeful humanistic tone for Douglas, as two individuals of “enemy” nations on the brink of war enjoy learning, playing, and finding a common escape from their respective hopeless circumstances.

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