Shane Meadows falls into the breaking-out-of-your-auteurist-cycle trap

I have chosen Meadows as the subject for my first overview of a body of work, because he’s essentially the only real contemporary British director, and recently he did something out of character. I mean yeah, there’s Loach and Leigh, but they’re old school and still doing the same old schtick. There is immediacy and relevance in, say, Sweet Sixteen, but I’d say Meadows is the only one with a canon of currently applicable work.

His two genuine forays into genre filmmaking- Thriller and Mockumentary- still have his distinctive thumbprints all over them, with the added distinction of starring my favourite actor, the estimable Paddy Considine, but the bulk of Meadows’ output is of the ilk that transcends genre labelling. The Midlands Man’s last effort Somers Town, however, as I have commented, was a rather unprecedented about face in many respects and it could be argued that he let his fans down.

Over the course of many dozens of feet of celluloid consistency Meadows has made a promise to his audience, garnered expectations and although he hinted at more gentle preferences with Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee, the genre conventions liberated from his more obvious signature details and idiosyncratic set-pieces. Furthermore, Considine’s self-styled Donk is a Morrell-lite character- a tightly wound manchild with a short fuse and a fearsome lack of self-awareness.

My beef with Somers Town is that, although it is not a Meadows Standard, it masquerades as one- promising all the tropes and tribulations to which we have grown accustomed, but delivering few, if any. Running though all of Meadows’ oeuvre is an undercurrent of violence. Often male aggression is at the core of his characterisation, but it is the sudden lethal rage of a previously controlled, or even seemingly benevolent, player which forms the climax of so many of his films. (I notice too that often there is an integral interaction or insight which comes about over a bag of chips. Not necessarily relevant, but where better to bring it up?) Even in LD&S, Pad Diddy goes a wee bit postal and fucks off, though not to the homicidal extent. So when it doesn’t happen, when the entire film, in fact, is robbed and bereft of dramatic climax, we have good reason to feel cheated.

This is Meadows’ thing– that Pressure Cooker Beta Male Implosion. He could trademark it. When we watch a Shane Meadows we know that’s coming, it’s the trigger and the timing that create the drama. And if you’re a sucker for a story, you might just forget…

So should we permit Meadows his experiments and mainstream dalliances? (Last gen Mike Leigh fared similar censure and resentment for his Gilbert and Sullivan backstage extravaganza Topsy-Turvy.) Or have we invested too much in the directorial persona and the Meadowlands to tolerate anomalies?

Perhaps if he had tried it earlier on in his career there wouldn’t be such an issue, but having take remarkable pains to build a reputation and an identity as an auteur, is he now trying to have his cake and eat it by fucking with the formula?

His most mainstream and commercially successful release to date, This Is England, seemed to coalesce all the preoccupations and themes he had been working towards; his direction was more assured than ever and though the ending was flawed I did think he’d finally found the recipe. With all the ingredients coming together, his next effort was bound to be a finely-crafted cinematic confection. Then we got the eunuched Eurostar ad.

So why should we trust him to deliver the goods next time? Having reneged on the unspoken agreement between filmmaker and audience, Meadows runs the risk of squandering his kudos and loyalty. He’ll probably retain enough capital to be granted another shot, and I like him enough to give it a chance- Once. I hope the boy gets his act together, but, two strikes and I wait for home video, three strikes and I wait for Freeview. Watch this space for The Verdict on Meadows’ follow-up. I’m hoping ST was a momentary corporate aberration, but I won’t be holding my breath.

  1. […] Misdirection Welcome This blog is a quasi-academic discussion of films: […]

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