Posts Tagged ‘British’

It’s Remembrance Sunday and I want to pay my respects. Processing, as I do, by means of popculture, I see a themed viewing as an apt means of tribute. So this is my recommended viewing for after the service. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious- there are no de facto (world) war films in the list- but I thought about National Identity, Pride and Heroism, Freedom and Liberation. They are a loose frame around a day of reflection. In no particular order:

1. This Is England (Meadows, 2007, UK)

Against the backdrop of the Falklands, which is approaching its 30th anniversary, a flawed but brilliant flick about identity and the freedoms soldiers died protecting being undermined by our own people, on our own soil. Thatcher hadn’t fucked us right up yet, but she was getting there, nationalism had an ugly grip on national pride and we had to reassert our place on the world stage. Without invading anyone for a change.

2. Small Island (BBC, 2009, UK)

A two-part BBC adaptation of Andrea Levy’s immense novel. The oft-untold story of West Indian volunteers who gave up life in paradise to come to Europe and fight for British liberty. They were granted citizenship, but that didn’t afford them equality when they got here. A stain on our upstanding record, but it reveals an important chapter in how we came to be the diverse Britain we are today, and why black people here are British and not ‘African-English’ or something. Because although race isn’t a big part of my personal identity construction, British racial unity is very important to me and my sense of nation. Young Ashley Walters is a fine actor and a living example of redemption and rehabilitation for disadvantaged inner city men. The tiny personal victories and losses of the characters in Small Island every bit as important as the almost incomprehensible scale of the military campaigns.

3. Four Lions (Morris, 2010, UK)

Maybe a controversial choice, surely an irreverent one, but it is a true testament to the British spirit that we are ready to satirise our biggest threat (beyond climate change.) We are free to depict the enemy within, to identify, vilify and mollify their actions and our fears. That is what living in a free and fair society means in 2011- we may not always be able to protect our streets, but we’ve always got spirit. In the blitz sense, not in the cheerleading way. There’s nothing more British than laughing at that which may well be our undoing, over a cup of tea and a digestive, or a pint and a kebab, on the Tube breathing in other people’s breath or on the beach breathing in brine and sewage. You’ve got to laugh.

4. Children of Men (Cuarón, 2006, UK/USA)

This is a dark film, but beautifully shot. A dystopian near future where more people are displaced by war than have a nation it seems. This is, above all, a picture about the heroism of the British Everyman. Despite his apathy, his dejection and the starkness of the odds, Clive Owen’s Theo goes to great lengths to fight for someone else’s freedom. In a Britain torn apart by nationalist infighting and homegrown terrorism he still recognises the rights of the individual and the need for the greater good and he acts on it. Like every Brit should and I hope I would. This is the flick that made me think- ‘we’re in a state right here, but maybe what our grandfathers fought for wasn’t all for nothing.’

5. When The Wind Blows (Murakami, 1986, UK)

The saddest animation ever made? This sucker punch of a film, in Raymond Briggs’ gentle watercolour, is a Cold War horror story in picture book’s clothing but also a sweet tale of love and innocence from the generation who withstood the Nazi onslaught and still raised our parents to mind their Ps and Qs. Only one couple appear in the whole film, but the unspoken desolation, the implied genocide, chills you more than any slasher flick or CGI spectacular. It is, after all, a day of reflection. Let us also be thankful that during those fraught days the war machine for once did not grind into action. CND- I salute you too.

6. My Neighbour Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988, JP)

The only non-British film on the list (not deliberately, I must be feeling patriotic.) This is one of my three go to films when I just need to feel glad. [Bande A Part and Enchanted if you’re wondering- Sx] It is sweet and unsullied by worldliness and as the adorable hand drawn credits roll, I just smile. It’s a rare thing for me and in general. For something to be pleasant with no agenda, for children to start off innocent… and remain so, is like an orchid in December. This film reminds me of when I thought the world was essentially good and that fairness was a reality, rather than a nice idea; on a day when we think of the lives we could have had, if not for the bravery and sacrifice of people who would never know us, I think it’s important to appreciate simple pleasures too, otherwise what was the point of our deliverance?

13.11.11 Remembrance Sunday 2011.

Well I’ve been a long time away, but I saw something last night that spurred me to get back on the blogging wagon. It was this here. This Is England ’86. How very exciting for us all. (For UK readers only I suspect- sorry international blogees.) This Is England 86 promo still

It is a four part co-production from C4 and FilmFour which will be airing on our tellyboxes this Autumn. Starring the original cinematic cast, co-written (with Jack Thorne of Skins fame) and co-directed by the man Meadows himself, scored by my favourite contemporary composer Ludovico Einaudi and purportedly bearing “many resonances to now[:] recession, lack of jobs, sense of the world at a turning point.” This has win written all over it. Sadly original cast member and Skins alumni Jack O’Connell does not appear to be reprising his role of Pukey Nicholls. Alas

This announcement set me on concurrent trains of thought. The first is how I’ve only recently realised that ‘miniseries’ is just a ‘mini’ series, not, as I have always mistakenly believed, a discrete term (pronounced minniz-areez) which relates to a two, three or four part adaptation,  usually of a literary work of some standing. As, with the Beeb especially, this is generally the case with regards their miniseries, I hope I may be forgiven the belated etymological comprehension.

Second, and far more pertinent, was a speculation that in the wake of the gutting announcement that our shambles of a Con-Dem coalition have axed our vital and prosperous national Film Council, with £4bn of our GDP and 35,000 jobs going with it, not to mention tourism revenues, perhaps our homegrown heavyweight talents may start turning more towards the small screen, as is the vogue Stateside. Of course Hollywood has always been a dual medium industry, but the big screen big hitters have had no need for serial work in the past. However, with the likes of Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, Mary-Louise Parker, Anna Paquin, Alec Baldwin et al clocking up their network hours (or is it cable? I don’t really care) the stigma of trading down is dissipating.

The only incidence I could think of where a major big screen director, from the indier side of the tracks, took up a directing gig for more than a guest episode on an established series was David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks and high hopes as I may be allowing myself to have, I suspect TIE 86 won’t quite be a Brit equivalent of that unparalleled powerhouse. There was Hitchcock’s programme, but that isn’t really applicable here.

So my point is, although all this was commissioned betwixt recession and the cultural effluent of the unelected affluent hitting our collective public fan of entertainment, mayhap the bloody Tories are unwittingly heralding in a new age of highly produced made for TV drama, which alongside the nouvelle sim-com, is a budget-efficient way of cranking out cracking telly on a low-risk scale. If our silver screen heroes have no publicly-funded outlet, will this be where they turn? Better that than they all fuck off across the pond anyway. Especially for the blondes. That isn’t bigotry on my part- it’s worldliness. Time and again Hollywood have shown they do not like their young Brit women blonde. Bad luck Lisa Faulkner, Lucy Davis et al.  Ashley Jensen seems to be the only one to buck the trend, but only by sticking to telly and churning out the kooky 30-something best friend schtick. A fair haired Briton will never a leading lady make. Unless she’s Helen Mirren, who few of us may hope to emulate. Whatever happened to Lisa Faulkner? I just hope Laura Aikman hasn’t gone the same way. Stay here Laura! My tellybox needs you in it!

Remain vigilant for forthcoming assessment of TIE 86 as and when it appears, and probably analysis of the criticism and response too. Apologies for the shameful lapse in posts. I promise I’ll make it up to you! As well as the shiny posts and page promised below, I have a new column planned for you (that’s a regular feature post in amongst self-indulgent musings etc).

I love you bloggees [One ‘g’? Two? I’m undecided. Answers on a postcard], in my apathetic, disaffected youth-of-today kind of way. Just to prove it- here’s a kitten. I fucking love kittens.

Solo x

Severance (Smith, 2006. UK)


Severance- headless suit***Minor Spoilers****

Standard splatterstock and largely predictable but with a few proper laughs. It’s almost a corporate Battle Royale, except the initial corporate downsizing storyline was written out and transplanted with a bizarre Revenge of the Hungarian War Criminals backstory. Which is apparently a comment on corporate responsibility and the culpability of the Western Arms Trade. Personally I think it’s just an excuse to kill off suits in varied and increasingly gory fashion while That Twat Danny Dyer blunders about making ‘comic’ lewd comments in his ludicrous mockney drawl. What Laura Harris Laura Harris stares pensively from windowcould possibly see in him is unfathomable. The male directors’ Wish Fulfilment Rule again. You know the one where no matter how old/aesthetically repellent/ socially incompetent you may be, the beautiful, intelligent and well-adjusted woman will fall for you, just because you’re the main character. Just like in life. Harris is a likeable actress and usually worth a watch, however her purpose here appears to be chiefly to act as an object of lust for the various derisible or simple two dimensional male characters. (more…)

Misdirection:

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. (more…)

Here it is folks. I haven’t even read back what I’ve written, but this is the first Liveblogging attempt. It’s pretty long, so I’m going to trial using  exerpts intead of full posts on the home page. Hope you enjoy!

********Warning Full SPOILERS*********

Sugarhouse (Love, 2007. UK)

00:00:20

A not quite middle aged white man traverses real London, beyond the City and the tourists, and though he is almost certainly a native, he seems uncomfortable out here, maybe in the heart of the city, perhaps as far afield as Zone 3. The graffiti tag stylising of the opening credits set the genre quite distinctly. British, urban, almost certainly gritty, dealing with class and poverty. Your standard inner-city drama/thriller I’d say. Oh, and Gollum’s in it as someone called ‘Hoodwink’ who I’ll bet is a kingpin drug dealer or gang lord type. Three to One.

Just in case we hadn’t noticed this man’s out-of-placeness, the handheld DV flags it up for us. His eyes light on a series of grotesques and caricatures as his unease becomes ours. Directed by Gary Love. He is accosted in a market café by Ashley Walters out of So Solid who earned his stripes and showed his chops in Bullet Boy. Here he seems to be playing some demented delinquent version of himself again. Less world weary than his lead role in that film.

As the altercation ends we see our man did intend to meet this capering rood boy Caliban, so what is he up to? He’s clearly involved in something over his head, that much is clear from the office attire and the way he gazes up at the high rise tower block they come to. A visually striking crane shot presents the block as something more than poorly-planned social housing for a moment, it is Hockney or one of those great American print artists. Then we snap down to ground level and it’s just somewhere you hope you won’t have to live. Or visit. (more…)

An Economy of Violence: Thoughts on the prevalence of violence in British Cinema

PLEASE COMMENT!

In the process of starting this blog and planning what to write about, I have been making lists of relevant films, thinking about what they have to say and what they have in common and I started to notice a surprising trend. As I wrote synopses to see what there was to say the same word kept recurring: violence. Always couched and confounded with other phrases, but brutality is almost omnipresent in the Brit Flicks.

If you’ve studied film censorship at all you’ll know that America’s MPAA is far more tolerant of violence than Britain’s BBFC (with the Brits more permissive of sex, especially between same-sex couples). For exemplification, check out Andy Dick’s cracking documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. I’ve never much questioned this received wisdom, but a simple collation of keywords demonstrates that it may not be quite so clear cut.

Once I had made this observation it became increasingly obvious how integral violence in fact is to our national cinema, to our view of ourselves. When I say this I am mostly referring to Insider Cinema, by and for Brits and people who can get inside British culture. Not so much your made-for-export Tourist London, but what we think of as (to any extent that cinema can be) the real us. Representation with the dirt left on if you will.

The films I was calling to mind- Pure, Scum, Stella Does Tricks, Dirty Pretty Things, Guy Ritchie’s back catalogue, The Hole, Trainspotting, Kidulthood, Donkey Punch, Land of the Blind, Everything by Shane Meadows, The Warzone, Straightheads, Sweet Sixteen, Hallam Foe even, anything featuring Big Daddy Winstone or that twat Danny Dyer, the list goes on. Obviously not all of these films are supposed to be real or even realist; there are a genre considerations, a horror or gangster flick will necessarily have bloodshed and butchery, but that does not account for the prevalence of aggression in the films above. (more…)

SOMERS TOWN (Meadows, 2008. UK)

Somers Town is an odd little experiment. The first film ever to be exclusively financed through product placement, the details of the contract were a closely guarded industry secret. Despite the caginess however the grubby thumbprints of corporate intervention are all over this brief DV ballad. With an auteur so established in his tropes and tendencies as Shane Meadows interference on the part of unpop-cultured suits was always going to be as discomfitingly obvious as a shaved Persian cat.

The first point of contention is the setting. Nottingham native our Shane breaks out in a rash if he ventures south of the Gap, yet he has, without precedent, set an entire film in the Smoke.  He can’t quite shake off these roots; the film begins with young Tommo (This Is England star Thomas Turgoose) on a train from his midlands hometown. En route he makes a Single Serving Friend© of a Kindly Stranger, a nice business woman who seems to the young man a good omen and to the more cynical/ better versed in the rules of realist cinema among us  the instigator of a false sense of  security and optimism.

Proceedings begin consistently enough, with naïve Tommo coming a cropper in the big city, mugged and left bereft of phone, cash or even a change of pants. So far so London right? But as things look set to turn grim as for our Tommo, his Kindly Stranger cuts him a break and buys him lunch.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Marek- a young Polish lad, potters about town with his camera like some sort of arty autistic savant, while the threatening man he lives with is hard at work building the shiny new St. Pancras. Spotted our product yet? (more…)

Straightheads: (Reed 2007. UK)

Largely a two hander betwixt repatriated ex-colonial defector Gillian Anderson and that twat Danny Dyer. It’s an odd little film, it feels almost like a Sarah Kane play. We get to know very little of the characters before who they are is utterly undone by a shocking and brutal act of random violence. That will read like a lot of synopses you may have come across for revenge and horror type dreck, but this is a truly brutal few moments of cinema and even though you know it’s coming (I was almost cringing in apprehension of the moment when it eventually arrived) it does still manage to be shocking in the very humanness of their anguish, flailing before an incomprehensible lack of compassion. A rare occurrence given that we are an age who have truly seen it all, within the bounds of legality.

The fractured aftermath of the attack is where Straightheads stops coasting, transcends voyeurism, power games and dirty, loveless sex, and the film proper begins…

An indeterminate amount of time has passed since the two opportunist lovers were bound irreversibly together by shared trauma, by guilt and obligation. It goes without saying that they are together now, despite the age difference, the class barrier, their emotional incompatibility. Perhaps they would have holed up in her high-end, high-security London flat indefinitely had not fate and the gods of screenplays drawn Alice back to the locale of the attack. This happenstance draws the pair into a confounded but dogged revenge quest which takes up the remaining half of the runtime.

This is not your standard rape-revenge narrative. Not only is the process unclear, they do not have the unswayable moral conviction of those eighties (anti)heroines. They are not a united front- their damage, both physical and psychological, continues to take its toll- and they take some measures which are hard to condone, even hypothetically.

I’m not really sure how I feel about Straightheads. All I can say is that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. A mature drama (not quite a thriller) with a surprisingly sage perspective on people.

An interesting note about the film is the strikingly American attitude to the respective threats of town and country. To Brits the urban sprawl is breeding ground for violence, for rape, for senseless rage, and that most objectionable contagion, the working class. The countryside means escape, the civility and increasingly quaint detachedness of the lingering gentry and simple country folk portrayed on either side of the salt-of-the-earth/ laughable bumpkin dichotomy. Across the Atlantic however, with those wide, wild uncharted expanses, rural space is threatening, crawling with cannibal hillbillies, where mysterious disappearances are rife.

The irony then, of Alice investing so much in securing her home with the latest technologies and remote systems, only to be defiled miles from civilisation, is yet another little chip in the rock face that is Britons’ sense of ourselves and our world.

For all their difference, polished Citywoman Alice and rough diamond working lad Adam are inarguably products of metropolis (despite Alice’s privileged country upbringing, she has embraced London and all it represents.)  On a Venn diagram they’d be squarely in the urbanite circle. Speaking of squares in circles, they are the unfit pegs when it comes to survival away from civilisation. They are ill-equipped to resist the unrefined brawn and brutality of the outdoorsmen they encounter on a remote rural road.

Taking a step back from the emotional tumult, this film presents us with a pretty efficient working model of Darwinism, in all its terrible symmetry.

Watch this space for a full post on that theory.

SONG OF SONGS (Appignanesi, 2005. UK)

I vaguely recall reading a good review of Song of Songs round about the time of release. I was paying attention to Natalie Press back then; after the critical success of Wasp and a respectable showing in My Summer of Love she was looking set to become something of a darling of the British indie crowd. It had a very limited release however and after finally catching it on iPlayer I can see why. Press is perfectly acceptable in her performance, all the actors do the best that could be expected with the source material, but the whole enterprise just begs the question ‘why?’

Billed as a domestic drama exploring the tensions between an Orthodox Jewish family when the matriarch falls ill, SOS is in fact nothing so routine.

While it was interesting to see the rituals and behaviours of Jewish orthodoxy (for example the stock character of the estranged son who rebels against his upbringing is recharged here in the articulate and complex David who, despite his rejection of the Orthodox creed, compulsively adheres to the proscribed ritual hand washing)- not often portrayed or described in popular media- this claustrophobic play is imbued with a sense of unease that had me squirming in my seat twenty minutes in.

Despite a lean running time of eighty-one minutes Song of Songs rapidly becomes infuriating. I’m no stranger to glacial development, but here we are endlessly subjected to two steps forward, one step back. The implied sexual tension which repeatedly builds between siblings David and Ruth is undermined by distracting, but presumably deliberate, loss of focus before being diffused yet again by a slow and baffling fade to white.

The film is riddled with odd behaviour and obscure, if not opaque motivations, including the brother moving back into his family home, ostensibly to tutor his sister, ‘deprogramme’ her of religious indoctrination if you will, but concealing his presence from their ailing mother who is crying out to see her alienated son before she dies. The course and purpose of David’s instruction is impossible to second guess and somewhat sadistic and Ruth’s submission to him symptomatic of her inability to place herself within the insular Orthodox community of London.

In all this film is deeply unsatisfying and fails to be either shocking or profound. The queasy denouement is a moment which should probably have come halfway through, if at all. The final scene was frankly incomprehensible. If you’ve got a flatmate with dubious personal hygiene whom you cannot entreat to shower under their own volition, perhaps showing them Song of Songs will do the trick. Otherwise, steer well clear.

WATERSHIP DOWN  (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

 Typically and perhaps misguidedly promoted as a children’s film, presumably because it’s an animation featuring rabbits; but that is where the Disney similarity ends. There is real darkness in this film, beyond the ‘mild peril’ of Pixar or the sad -but-not-shocking demise of Bambi’s ever-cited mother. You don’t even need to scratch the surface to reveal a seething pit of misogyny and deeply troubling gender politics. Arguably this is typical of the late seventies moral backlash against sixties’ liberation, (although that was more of an American trait) but no matter what the rationale, if we are going to  sit children in front of these films, we need to question the messages we are exposing them to.

That said, Watership Down is known as a seminal film for a reason. The animation is idiosyncratic and distinctively stylised, with emphasis on pictorial representations of the declining British countryside. There is unapologetic moralising which is clearly lacking in some of the more lightweight animations produced subsequently, though the conservationist point is slegdehammered in towards the end. This is definitely an instance where I’d advise watching with children on first viewing as, violence and atypical quantities of gore aside, there’s certainly plenty of content they may not understand. Fiver’s fits and visions can be frightening and the totalitarianism the pilgrim rabbits encounter could well be bewildering to children raised in liberal democracies (such as they may be).

So, while accessible to children, this is a film I’d strongly recommend to adults. I didn’t see Watership Down till I was in my twenties, though most of my peers had encountered it in childhood and I still took a lot from it. For older viewers there is far more to be read in terms of allegory and criticisms of political regimes and rampant ‘progress’ (in this case industrialisation.)

Some of the soapboxing may be a little hard to swallow and the inherent attitude to women is troubling, but overall this is a strong film and a welcome variation to the sanitised dross often delivered under the rubric of ‘family movie’.