Phil Smith is a British academic, writer, performer and playwright in experimental, physical and music theatres. His new book, Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways is a collection of diaries, letters, narratives, notes and other documents, written by artists and various practitioners of the art of walking that explores its modern uses, from meditative to subversive. To find out more, visit the wonderful Mythogeography website or the Triarchy Press website. Below, Phil Smith explains why he would be Michael Travis if he was a film character.
Michael Travis, the pilgrim ingénue of Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 O Lucky Man! is who I would be if I were a film character.
Travis because, when I can, I walk in his shoes. He’s an accidental explorer in a corrupt and magical England. And I like his corrosive psyche.
Malcolm McDowell plays Travis as a generous-hearted amoralist. He’s psychogeographic, feeling what his surroundings feel and playing the parts these worlds demand. In sales class he’s eager, among the rich acquisitive, under interrogation defiant. His lovers include Helen Mirren, but he leaves her the moment the road calls.
So what is Travis? Empty on the inside, he sucks in what he finds: a trainee coffee salesman who gets a big break. Driving a brown hatchback across North East England, he goes from thankless cold calls to the warm bosom of municipal corruption. Then a nuclear disaster sends him stumbling across a burning moor in a gold lamé suit to the bosom (literal this time) of a vicar’s wife in a harvest-bedecked country church. But this ‘green and pleasant’ soon opens onto a motorway, a lift in a Bentley and a medical institute’s voracious experiments.
I like this unfolding journey through paranoid landscapes where encounters with damaged mythic characters (bent coppers, mad designers, nomadic musicians, vulpine financiers) assemble themselves in a matrix of self-pleasuring order.
Making the film at the height of trade union power in Britain, leftist Anderson and writer David Sherwin eschewed collectivism, leapfrogging a generation to make a hero we are only just catching up with; a nomadic sleeper cell in the heart of shock-capitalism. Mick Travis pushes conformity and ambition to the point of chaos, an optimistic, anti-spectacular consumer-radical with an ache of hunger behind his chameleon smile; he helps as he destroys as he enjoys. I’d like to introduce you…