Denied a Motion Picture Association of America approval seal and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church when it first appeared in 1967, Michael Winner’s I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname has rarely been given the credit it’s due. I first encountered it on TV and immediately fell in love with it—though it’s not an easy film to love, mind you. It’s occasionally very funny (Orson Welles’ encounter with a box of breakfast cereal is priceless), but it’s also unrelentingly grim and devastatingly bitter in its depiction of the downside of “Swinging London”—not to mention its skewering of the concept of “finding yourself,” British snobbery, private schools, academia and television commercials. The story of commercial director Andrew Quint (Oliver Reed) and his search for integrity in a materialistic world is a blisteringly nasty indictment of the society of the time.
The film also showcases the brilliant filmmaking skills of the underrated Michael Winner. In I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname, Winner manages to be both sledgehammer blunt (the Hamayasha Super 8 camera commercial retains its power to shock) and surprisingly subtle (Quint’s maid speaks in pure TV-ad language: “Would you like a cold, refreshing glass of milk?”). He also pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of creating a film that’s fully a part of British Invasion cinema, while decrying much of the genre’s ethos as simplistic and false. (In this regard it’s not dissimilar to Antonioni’s Blowup (1966), but I think it’s ultimately more successful.) Winner mixes kitchen-sink realism with flights of fantasy and Bergman-esque dream sequences in a spectacularly successful manner—something helped to no end by terrific performances from Oliver Reed, Orson Welles and Carol White. Technically, the film is a marvel with its almost impossibly rich, saturated color and Winner’s spot-on editing and his masterful use of the zoom lens. If it leaves a bitter taste, that’s because it was meant to. Not all art is meant to be comfortable.