All 38 entries tagged Contemporary British Cinema
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September 06, 2008
Mike Leigh (1943 - )
(For regular visitors this a relaunched page as my titling errors had made the original one invisible to search engines which were reading something else. There are a couple of additions on this page such as trailers from YouTube)
Mike Leigh is one of the UK's most important contemporary directors. Despite his record of success in making lower budget films his working methods preclude him from accessing the higher budgets required to work on a larger canvas as he phrased it recently in a Sight and Sound interview. His first film, Bleak Moments was financed by Albert Finney who also came from Salford . Many of his films such as Meantime (1983) have been made with the backing of TV companies such as Channel Four and the BBC. They can commission work because they know that a Mike Leigh TV film premier will give the required audience however Leigh along with most other British directors lives in the shadow of the Hollywood film marketing and Multiplex exhibition system which is itself in thrall to the marketing power of Hollywood. Below I have included a brief bibliographical sketch of Mike Leigh and highlighted some of his working methods which come to charactersie his films. His films have an authorial content and approach which significantly distinguishes them from other British films.
Leigh was born in Salford in 1943 into a medical family - his father was a doctor, his mother a nurse. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He first realised he wanted to make films while analysing the cinematic potential of his grandfather's funeral one snowy morning at the age of 12. In his teens he devised comic sketches whilst a member of the Jewish secular socialist-Zionist movement Habonim, In 1960 he left home for London and Rada (which he found "repressive and uncreative"). He followed this by studying at the Camberwell School of Art, and then enrolled at the London Film School. Leigh has since returned to be the Chairman of the Governors at the London Film School since 2000.
Whilst still a student Leigh began to write plays which were largely improvised. This activity eventually spawned Bleak Moments. (1971) and then Hard Labour in 1973 and Permissive Society 1975. Much of the next two decades was spent working mainly in TV. Leigh became recognised for writing powerful TV films such as Nuts in May (1976), and Abigail’s Party (1977). Meantime (1983) was a powerful film about a dysfunctional family and disaffected youth under the growing Thatcher regime at the time of the Falklands crisis which had a limited release in cinemas. It was five years before his next cinematic release High Hopes (1988). It was a film that combined realism with satire of a Swiftian nature. 1990 saw Life is Sweet the dark Naked (1993), Secrets and Lies (1996) which gained both British and American Academy ward nominations and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes). Career Girls (1997) is a form of chamber work. In 2002 the release of the biopic of Gilbert and Sullivan Topsy Turvey (2001) was a very different style to his previous work. 2004 saw the release of Vera Drake (2004) a realist representation of post-war Britain which highlighted the hypocrisy of the society in relation to the position of women of all classes. It became a prize-winner in Venice. In the recent book Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh he cites as his inspirations the British social realists Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson as well as American director John Cassavetes. He also says that directors and playwrights such as Renoir, Pinter and Beckett have influenced him.
Leigh’s Directing Methods
Critics often mystify Leigh’s working methods which are broadly improvisational but often carried out with known actors and crew. This is in essence an auteurial and dynamic approach which many directors from Godard to Loach to Fassbinder have used with variations. Of course it is the stuff of jazz performance: “A haze of rumour and mystique has long surrounded Leigh's unique working methods”, which he has developed over five decades in theatre, television and film. It's generally realised, however, that the process involves intense improvisation, research and close collaboration with his actors.
Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh tends to demystify the Leigh methodology. Leigh has established clear codes of practice such as never letting actors discuss their characters in anything but the third person. Any talk about players getting too close to their parts is firmly discounted. "The whole thing about people becoming the characters doesn't happen, and is not on," Leigh told Jonathan Romney in interview. However any great artist creates a certain indefinable charisma around themselves which is in practice inseparable to their working methods it is what makes Leigh Leigh not a metteur en scene. Leigh points out that:” there's stuff that goes on that can only be understood by people taking part in it."
What emerges from the interviews is that each piece derives directly from, and only from, the collaborative work that produces it, work which begins with the casting. "I cast intuitively," Leigh tells Romney. "I get people and I don't know what I'm going to do with them."
Leigh’s working method like Ken Loach involves a ‘need-to-know’ basis. As a result actors know only what their characters do. Famously during the preparations for Vera Drake, the scene culminating in Vera's arrest emerged from a 10-hour improvising session. At the end of this scene the actors playing the Drake family were entirely surprised by the arrival of actors playing police who had come to arrest Vera.
Sheila Johnston on Leigh’s Methods from the Telegraph
- Leigh meets each actor individually, and he or she talks about dozens of people he has known, intimately or fleetingly. Eventually, one is selected as the starting point for the character: it could just be a bloke glimpsed in the pub one night.
- Over the next months, the actor, along with Leigh, builds up an elaborate alter ego, mapping out his life in enormous detail, down to how his parents met, and exploring every cranny of his psyche.
- Once the individual characters are formed, Leigh gradually brings the actors together for a series of loose improvisations to build up their collective world. None of them knows anything about the film other than their own place in it
- After a while, they go out on the streets to interact with other characters and the unsuspecting public, while Leigh looks on from a distance. The late Katrin Cartlidge, who appeared in Naked and Career Girls, once described him to me as "like David Attenborough and his gorillas".
- Leigh writes an outline of scenes for the final film. The actors improvise specifically around these, while an assistant takes notes. The best lines and moments are distilled and scripted, and shooting can at last begin. This whole process takes about six months.
Actors Often USed by Mike Leigh
Alison Steadman played the title role in Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party on both stage and screen. She also appeared in Leigh's films Life is Sweet and Secrets and Lies. She was married to Mike Leigh for 20 years.
Timothy Spall. In 1982 his acting relationship with Mike Leigh started in 1982 in Leigh’s TV movie Home Sweet Home. The collaboration has lasted over 20 years.
Brenda Blethyn in Secrets and Lies . She has worked with Mike Leigh in both TV and Films perhaps most famously in Leigh's Secrets & Lies
Liz Smith made her screen debut in Mike Leigh's first feature film Bleak Moments. She was also in Leigh's TV play Hard Moments.
David Thewlis worked with Mike Leigh in Life is Sweet and Naked.
Sally Hawkins has worked with Mike Leigh in All or Nothing, Vera Drake and most recently Happy-Go-Lucky
Vera Drake 2004
All or Nothing 2002
Topsy Turvy 1999
Career Girls1998 (Requires access to JSTOR)
Trailers From Mike Leigh Films
Secrets & Lies
Taken from YouTube this an extremely powerful extract of Mike Leigh getting the best out of his actors. Make sure you see this film .
Thin Man Films Production company: Mike Leigh & Simon Channing Williams
Mike Leigh and Simon Channing Williams met in 1980. Simon was First Assistant Director on Mike’s BBC film Grown-Ups, starring Brenda Blethyn. They teamed up again when Simon co-produced The Short and Curlies (1987) and High Hopes (1988), both for Portman Productions.
By this time a good worlking relationship was established a close personal and working relationship so they formed Thin Man Films. Since then Thin Man has made eight successful feature films, Life is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993), Secrets & Lies (1996), Career Girls (1997), Topsy-Turvy (1999), All Or Nothing (2002), Vera Drake (2004) and Happy-Go-Lucky (2008).
Awards to Mike Leigh Films
Secrets & Lies and Topsy-Turvy had nine Oscar nominations between them, Topsy-Turvy winning two.
1996 Secrets & Lies won the Palme d’Or and Best Actress at Cannes. It also won The Golden Lion and the Best Actress at Venice in 2004, as well as six BIFA’s, 3 BAFTA’s including Best Director, and three Oscar nominations
In 1994, Naked won Best Director and Best Actor at Cannes .
Awards Won by Mike Leigh
- Fiaf Awards 2005: Premio Fiaf – Mike Leigh
- Gotham Awards 2004: Lifetime Achievement Award – Mike Leigh
- Taormina International Film Festival 2002: Taormina Arte Award – Mike Leigh
- London Critics Circle Film Awards 2000: Dilys Powell Award – Mike Leigh
- Camerimage 1999: Special Award Best Duo: Director – Cinematographer Mike Leigh / Dick Pope
- BAFTA 1996: Michael Balcon Award – Mike Leigh
- Empire Awards 1996: Lifetime Achievement Award – Mike Leigh
||Box Office Gross
||Debut Weekend Gross
|Secrets and Lies
|All or Nothing
|Life is Sweet
|*Still on release
||Gross until May 26 2008
Thin Man Films (Mike Leigh's Official Site)
BBC4 Interview with Mike Leigh interviewed by Isobel Hilton (There are several short downloadable audio interviews available here)
Mike Leigh could be only holder of awards at Venice, Berlin and Cannes. Guardian Feb 2008
Mike Leigh awarded a Doctorate by Essex University. (Full list of awards available here)
Clements, Paul. 1983. The Improvised Play. London: Methuen
Coveney, Michael.1996. The World According to Mike Leigh. London: HarperCollins
Movshovitz, Howie (ed.)2000. Mike Leigh Interviews. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi,
Raphael, Amy.ed. 2008. Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh. London: Faber and Faber
Ken Loach (1936- )
(Please note this is a relaunch of an old page although there are some additions. The relaunch was due to an inadvertant mistake in constructing the original page that I couldn't get out of the code. This meant search engines were not searching for the term Ken Loach, which wasn't very useful. You live and learn:-( )
Along with many other British director entries this entry is 'work in progress' nevertheless it will provide a basic signposting to other available resources on the web in the first instance until I'm able to make a fuller evaluation and provide fuller articles on the separate films.
From the perspective of examining and analysing the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, weakness and strengths of contemporary British cinema the films of Ken Loach are important ones to think about.
Ken Loach has been a major force in British filmmaking since the 1960s. Loach comes out of a strong tradition of British social realism which almost inevitably is a broadly left-wing cinema which also has crossovers with classic TV dramas. Kathy Come Home was a groundbreaking TV drama which helped to establish the charity Shelter and exposed the failures of the welfare state in providing good housing for all at the time. Loach also made early episodes of 'Z' Cars for TV and Up the Junction, in 1965. A powerful TV play. Much of this work depicted another side to Britain in the 1960s which is now remembered more nostaligically as the "Swinging Sixties". In fact there was considerable poverty and exploitation of working class tenants at the time. Work by people like Loach at the time applied pressure upon the Labour governemnt under Harold Wilson to invest more money in social policy initiatives such as housing and at the same time contributed to an increasing discourse of meritocracy within the country.
All this work led to Loach being able to make feature films of which Kes about a working class boy in the North of England is probably his best known early work and has been ranked as the seventh most popular British film ever. The working class were rarely represented in a non patronising way within British cinema up until this time although the work of the British social realist movement had begun to change this.
Loach is still a powerful force in Brish and European cinema continuing to win prizes and gain recognition despite the fact that the content of his films is challenging and critical of many different aspects of contemporary society or challenging recieved version of historical events such as The Spanish Civil War and Britain's role in Ireland after the First World War.
Class and Representation in Contemporary Britain
At a time when class politics has been largely relegated to the margins Loach manages to interweave class issues with history, globalisation and its effects on locality by representing the everyday. The strengths of Loach's cinematic approach can be seen in his concerns to represent aspects of Britain which are often underrepresented. Although his film The Navigators made for Channel Four focused upon the plight of a largely white British working class which was under attack from the Thatcher government that was restructuring the Railways Loach has begun to deal with complex issues of fragmented identities which have regional, gender and ethnic concerns dynamically interwoven in hybridsing patterns.
Loach has always had a central concern in his film-making agenda which an exposure of the poor and exploited of the world in both contemporary and historical settings. Following on from the British social realist tradition of representing regionalism as well as class, films such as Ae Fond Kiss and Sweet Sixteen have taken on board the complex issues of identity in the contemporary world from a grassroots perspective. See Representing Changing Britain: Ethnicity and Hybridity.
Loach has also successfully taken on board important historical themes which often get ignored by the mainstream which tends to celebrate great historically periods such as Elizabethan times in Britain. Loach's prizewinning Land and Freedom represented some of the realities behind the Spanish Civil War which was an important prelude to the opening of the Second World War itself. more recently Loach made the prizewinning The Wind That Shakes the Barley which dealt with the notoriously cruel period of British and Irish history which saw the inception of the Black and Tans terrorising the Irish population in a battle of independence. Atall times Loach takes a different perspective on aspects of life and history which often go unnoticed and unrepresented in mainstream media. Loach's critical perspective often makes it difficult to see his films in the multiplexes in Britain and in terms of box office takings his films often do better in continental Europe than in cinemas here. TV and DVD sales and a loyal continental following help ensure that Loach is able to the raise the money for new critical projects. Inevitably they are low budget and have little money for marketing campaigns. As such they represent the ongoing struggle if British and other national cinemas who are always under threat from the Hollywood industrial machine.
Ae Fond Kiss deals with changing concepts of ethnicity and celebrates the dynamism and natural hybridity of many people who dare to cross social and cultural boundaries in pursuit of their own happiness. Loach does an important job here for it is these people who are building the Britain of the future. This makes it a useful film to study as well.
It is difficult to classify Loach's films precisely becuase he seeks to look at the world through a different mental lens. One can look at Ae Fond Kiss and classify it as within the 'romantic' genre for example but it is rather more than that and would disappoint those who went along thinking they were going to see a standardised romance as structured within the genre conventions.
To look at the content of Loach's films, think about the way they are made - often reliant upon non-professional actors, and with an improvisatory method of engaging with the actors, and to relate their relationship to the systems of distribution and exhibition allows - indeed forces one take a critical perspective upon many different aspects of life. They are low budget films and indeed Loach prefers it like this. He and his teams have a far greater control over the content and the way they develop their own personal vision but they are not 'Art' films with a capital A because their aesthetic is easy to recognise amongst the desired working class audience. It is a pity that Loach has difficulty in reaching this audience through the cinema.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006)
Although Ken Loach is one of Britain's most respected film makers getting to see his films in a cinema in the UK is a difficult affair even when they gain critical accolades as did The Wind that Shakes the Barley which won the Palme d'Or the top prize at Cannes 2006 which is the most prestigious film festival in the world (Oscars have more glam,cash and celebrity but Cannes is for good, challenging and interesting films).
When an acclaimed, leftist English director makes a film about nationalist Irish struggles – and wins the top prize at the Cannes festival – controversy is inevitable. The historian Stephen Howe looks behind the shouting to ask: is the film truthful? (Stephen Howe Open Democracy article.)
We know there is something deeply wrong with the British film industry as a whole when this sort of situation is happening. Here we need to consider and come up with different models of distribution and exhibition as an urgent matter of cultural policy to deal with the creatively choking (and polluting) control of the multiplexes.
In this film Loach examines a broader historical theme which is something he has done previously in Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. Loach has the ability to move from the micro of the quotidian looking at the trials, tribulations and frustrations of the everyday for working class people to important periods of history which are often obscured by various ideological and political issues of the present. There are few British films which take a critical look at the role of Britain in Irish history for example.
This film is a useful one to study as a part of issues and debates in contemporary British cinema both from the perspective of its content and also the highly contradictory situation of the film not being widely celebrated within the cinema system itself.
It's a Free World (2007)
For a more in depth article please see It's a Free World on this blog. For a discussion about the underlying socio-economic processes that Loach is representing see also entry on Globalisation on this blog.
Again this is a prize winning film gaining an important award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival of Best Screenplay, Venice Film Festival 2007 as well as Best Film, Seville Film Festival 2007
(Sept. 9th 2007) Paul Laverty won the "Osella" for the Best Screenplay for "It's a Free World" (directed by Ken Loach) at this year's Venice Film Festival. Besides the drama was awarded with a EIUC Human Rights Film Award and got a special mention a the Signis Awards.
It's A Free World Trailer
Below interview with Ken Loach conducted in Italian. (Loach's comments are being translated)
Review from Amanda Palmer of It's a Free World as part of a film review programme from Al Jazeera
Tickets (with Abbas Kiarostami, Ermanno Olmi) 2005
Ae Fond Kiss 2003
The Navigators 2001
Bread and Roses 2000
My Name is Joe 1998
Screenonline biographical notes on Ken Loach (There are many associated links to films on this page)
Sweet Sixteen Films (Home page of Ken Loach and Rebecca O'Brien Production Company)
MEDIA support in Production (Industrial context)
Film Availability : The following Ken Loach films are currently available
August 31, 2008
Happy-Go-Lucky(2008): Mike Leigh
Trailer for Happy-Go-Lucky from YouTube
I have just got the DVD of this film and sadly I wasn't too impressed despite generally liking the films of Mike Leigh. I have included a short synopsis of the reviews of other critics reactions to the film's theatrical release and have saved my own brief review until the end.
Synopis and Comment
Mike Leigh's latest film Happy-Go-Lucky is now on general release. It has proved successful in the recent Berlin film festival with Sally Hawkins who plays the lead role of Poppy picking up a Silver Bear. The film is promoted as a comedy drama which focuses upon the character of Poppy a London based 30 year old single primary school teacher. Poppy is a a cosmopolitan urbanite who takes life lightly but seriously. In fact she is "absurdly cheery" (McNab) in the face of life's minor set-backs such as getting her bicycle stolen. (Surely not a reference to Bicycle Thieves.)
Despite this 'comic' (idiotic?) side to her and the ability to be comic in the face of adversity is balanced with her commitment to good teaching and a stated concern about issues such as children 'playing too much on video-games' (Hopefully Leigh isn't contributing to moral panics about children's media consumption here).
Dave Calhoun in a Sight and Sound feature (May 08) has commented that Poppy, the central character of the film, needs to be analysed in relation to the Zeitgeist when as viewers we consider her actions and behaviour. He quotes an interview with Mike Leigh:
I don't think Happy-Go-Lucky is any less political than my other films... its as much about dealing with life and coping with issues as anything I've made.
If it is a Zeitgeist film Leigh would argue it represents a humanistic solidarity with fellow beings at a time when in a post-political (in a party sense) world there is little else one can do. After all it's hard to rise above the cynicism and disappointment displayed by an older man of late sixties in the bank in front of me expressing his horror at how the banks had been bailed out by a Labour government of all things. Well Poppy is clearly a survivor in a topsy turvy world. Calhoun describes Poppy as:
...a modern, urban woman, as comfortable with her friends as with her family, able to balance pleasure with work, and confidant in being single while retaining romantic ideals.
Importantly Calhoun is pointing out that underneath Poppy's extremely lively 'in yer face' character there is an issue of whether she is repressing something or trying to compensate for a fundamental insecurity. Many critics have described this as a comedy and then argued that this is a change of heart from Leigh who is often held up as a "miserablist".
Leigh comments that the structure is different to his other films in that there is really no parallel narrative unfolding:
The only thing that makes this film unique apart from two tiny scenes, there's no parallel action. The entire action focuses on what's happening to Poppy, whereas even in Naked there's a lot going on with other characters.
This change in narrative structuring is a significant break from Leigh's normal working practices where he tends to work in a semi-improvised way with the actors who are often only introduced to the turns in events in the story as they would happen to the character in real life. It is an important break for as Leigh points out:
Rather than a causal narrative, here I'm more concerned with a cumulative narrative that evokes an atmosphere and evokes Poppy's spirit.
The review in Sight and Sound by Geoffrey McNab makes the important comparison between the picture postcard London promoted by Working Title produced films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill. Unlike these films Leigh notes the racism and also the racial and ethnic complexity of London. This makes a film which is giving a more honest representation of Britain rather than being a film which is a cultured British pearl for the American market, this is 'True Grit' one might say.
McNab makes a comparison between the permanently ebullient Poppy and Vera Drake in Leigh's film Vera Drake. For him there is a certain näivety yet ability to empathise with people common to both characters. At the same time Poppy appears to want to avoid responsibility. This is sharply pointed up when her pregnant sister Helen who is less than satisfied with her lot pressurises Poppy about marriage and a family: Poppy though, is having none of it. This would appear to be the Zeitgeist, if you can't change much better to think about the present than the future. Is this a Leigh critique of the postmodern condition?
Not everybody agrees with David Calhoun's interpretations of Mike Leigh and his approaches to this film and others in his oeuvre. The 'Letter of the Month' in the July issue of Sight and Sound is scathingly critical of Leigh:
Happy Go Lucky is about as accurate a study of British society as Four Weddings and a Funeral (David Secombe Sight & Sound July 2008 p 96)
Secombe continues arguing that Leigh is a middle class film maker making films for the middle classes. He bases the argument on the notions that Poppy is nothing like any primary school teacher despite the fact that:
...her overall presentation is intrinsically immature and occasionally suggests that she may be in need of remedial attention herself.
After spending some time commenting on what a change this makes for Mike Leigh the "miserabilist" the Channel Four reviewer sees the film in a rather less misanthropic light:
Poppy is the perfect primary school teacher. Her character's realism is found in memories of that supply teacher everyone once had, when their regular and boring teacher got pregnant or went to Pompeii, the one who let you do projects on space aliens and collect woodlice. Yet somehow you remember every word she said while the rest of those years are a Tudors-and-fractions blur.
The Telegraph reviewer argues that:
Leigh [admits that he] set himself a challenge: to make Poppy initially irritating, and then to allow her goodness to win audiences round. He embarks on this task subtly.
The divergence of opinions can perhaps be put down to everybody's memories of primary school teachers. Remember to bring yur memories with you when you get to the the film. I can't say I've really considere Leigh as a miserabilist anyway rather more an astutue observer who works in a sort of 'tragicomedy of the quotidian'.
When it come to thinking about the state of British cinema in general the interview with Calhoun ends with some thoughts about what Leigh would like to make in the future. He expresses frustration with the fact that he can only access budgets of 5-6 million. Talking about a desire to use a larger canvas his metaphor becomes very obvious when he talks about wishing to make a film about Turner, nobody, he says is interested. He admits that his ways of working haven't proved attractive to financiers and here one is remonded of Godard's Le Mepris with its ironic critique of an American producer trying to work in sex at the right point to make the film sell. Godard's film of course ended up a long way from what was being expected by his producers.
Strange that in these days when appaerently the notion of 'cultural industries' is accompanied by notions of getting British identity up and running again that it appears to be impossible for a well respected film maker to be able to make a film about an iconic and extremly important painter. Turner certainly preceded the French Impressionists when is came to being modern as he applied some of Goethe's theories of colour into his work amongst other things but then of course the Olympics in already into its expected tripled cost overrun, which will doubtless keep the consultants happy if not the taxpayer. As for Mike Leigh making a film on Turner.....
Special Preview Performance Q & A with Mike Leigh on Happy-go-Lucky
Having summarised some of the issues around Happy-go-Lucky identified by other reviewers when the film had a thaetrical release I have now had a chance to view the recently released DVD. I must say I found the film extremely disappointing. Admittedly I have high expectations for mike Leigh films and Abigail's Party (TV Play), Meantime, Secrets and Lies & Vera Drake are outstanding examples of his oeuvre over the years. This film bored and irritated me in roughly equal amounts.
There were some splendid examples of Leigh at his best when he brings a sense of shock to the actors which tranmits itself onto the screen because of the way he works. The Flamenco teacher was splendid, the scene at the house of Poppy's sister Helen worked brilliantly and the Eddie Marsden driving instructor was generally excellent.
By comparison the character of Poppy quite simply didn't add up. There is a difference between being 'happy-go-lucky' and a complete airhead. For most of the film Poppy was a complete immature airhead. There was a clear disjunction between Poppy as represented in her professional life as a primary school teacher and her life outside. There has been much made of Poppy's warmth, empathy etc by Leigh & Hawkins in interviews on the DVD as well as by some of the reviewers above. I totally don't buy into this idea at all.
Poppy is intensely irritating, unserious in terms of her own future and unserious when she takes the role of a student. She is a total clown in both the Flamenco class and in the driving lessons. Far from being warm and empathetic she is totally self-obsessed and I find it hard to disagree with the comments from the letter of the month in Sight and Sound
...her overall presentation is intrinsically immature and occasionally suggests that she may be in need of remedial attention herself.
Whilst Leigh makes a virtue of there being non-parallel actions within the narrative and a lack of causality this would be fine if the scenes such as the one with the tramp actually advanced some depth of character. The scene with the tramp is totally artificial. Poppy is going down a rough looking street at night and then hears some drunken singing offscreen. she follows this sound into a derelict factory which is apparently open to all the world and finds a tramp behind a pillar. no-one in thier right mind would have domne this in the first place as it wouldn't have been possible to see properly. Later in the scene after the tramp has changed positions there appear to security lights blasting out in the same derelict factory. OK so McNab's point that this isn't the tourist gaze of London is correct but this representation of the seamy side doesn't really come across well.
From the outset Poppy is the sort of person you want to shake some sense into. Her visit to the bookshop in the opening scenes represents her as a complete idiot. She displayed no interest in any books whatsoever and seemed intent on trying out some light flirting with the bloke running the shop who was entirely bored by her. Poppy's playing with chicken fillets as breast enhancers with her mates after the night club when they carried on drinking to the point of stupefaction is clearly what we expect from 30 year old professionals. What was more astounding if not surrealistic was the ability of her and her friends to make miraculous recoveries after a heavy night. Poppy was a complete idiot when she got into the car for the first time with the driving instructor and carried on being an idiot. Poppy was also a complete clown when she turned up at the Flamenco sessions. This kind of a approach is unlikely to say the least from someone who is a practitioner in the educational system. She was behaving throughout like an immature office worker with no education at all and flirting with all and sundry. Had she not been a primary school teacher then the character added up, but Leigh by wanting to have it both ways and giving Poppy hidden depths in her professional life ends with a character that makes it impossible to suspend disbelief. Meet her in a pub and you'd probably be bored out of your head in two minutes. No she wasn't a malicious character but so what?
Even when there is a danger of Poppy entering serious discussions, such as when discussing the issue of children and video games or issues of parental responsibility for their children after a hard day at work, she skims the surface. The scene in Helen's house was sterotypical in terms of its content, with the sort of sharp binary positions being displayed which might have shocked in a 1960s play but just seem old hat nowadays. Poppy defends her freedoms from being tied down with a house and children against her sister who seems to be stuck out in an amorphous suburbia and is nearly 9 months pregnant. Helen is even made to act like a 70 something year old as is made up and dressed in an appropriate manner which again just didn't gel. Poppy even scorns a pension, except that as a teacher she would get a pension deducted from her salary anyway. Inexact detail lke this irritated.
In the past Leigh has been a master at creating quirky characters but believable ones not -as a correspondent in the September letters column of Sight and Sound suggests - surreal characters. People do not behave like automatons and Leigh has brought out this aspect of life significantly in the past. Leigh is associated with realism rather than naturalism but it has been a realism at the micro level which has focused upon the the dynamics of relationships between people and their individual choices rather than a realism such as Loach's which is always trying to strip bare the surface of the social world and identify and challenge what the structuring agencies within society are.
For me Poppy just didn't add up as a character. Her liberal ideas seemed to be without foundation and it is hard to believe that a person who had worked her way around the World as a teacher with sessions in Vietnam and sometimes classes of 60 wouldn't by the age of 30 have some deeper things to say. At times too there was a sort of faux-naivety in her dealings with other people. Far form being warm and empathetic she totally fails to understand the driving instructor, and the scene with the physiotherapist was ridiculous. Her flirty innuendos are fine coming from an 18 year old but they just made Poppy look stupid. Does the argument that Leigh is a surrealist save this film by giving it a different reading? I don't think so. Certainly Leigh is able to appreciate the surreality of the quotidian but the defense that Leigh and Hawkins put up in defence of Poppy's character scupper this idea from the outset.
In the end this film was disappointing and frequently bordered on the vacuous despite being interspersed with some good sections. The films of Leigh's that I'm familair with and mentioned above are far more worthwhile and it is worth adding High Hopes to the list as well. I'm a little surprised that the reviewers have been as soft on the film as they have. Maybe I'm turning into a complete misanthrope but I can't remember anything in it which struck me as funny. This isn't to say that there wasn't an enormous amount of skill and effort involved. Hawkins was great at making you sqirm, its just that the character as originally conceived didn't gel leaving an impossible task for the actor. There is nothing very satisfactory in this film in terms of the relationships. The central interaction between Poppy and the driving instructor was also difficult to buy into, if you have ever actually taught anybody to drive. The best one can say of this was that it was a representation of post-modern pap skimming the surface and skittering onto the next thing, certainly it lacked depth despite sympathetic reviewers trying to root it out. There are quite literally hundreds of good films to see and spend time and money on, sadly this wasn't one of them.
Independent review Johnathan Romney
Independent Sarah Sands on Happy-Go-Lucky
BBC on Happy-Go-Lucky with video interview available.
May 19, 2008
British Cinema and Society: Chronology 1997-20010
Please note still under construction but current links may still be useful to visitors so opened as a 'work in progress'
This section takes us from the inception of the Tony Blair led 'New Labour' government which initially was interested in a 'Third Way' approach following on from the work of the sociologist Anthony Giddens up until a likely time of the next election. currently the tide seems to be turning against 'New' Labour which seems to have lost its zeal as well as its ideological perspectives.
From the perspective of cinema the period has seen many interesting changes and film. Many artidcles and references to them can be found on the Contemporary British Cinema hub page. This chronolgy follows earlier ones in providing links to external events of which one of the most significant has to be "9'11". Cinema often provides a social and cultural barometer of mood changes in the country and it will be interesting to see what tensions are explored in the next couple of years. With the growth of the concept of 'Cultural Industries' the links to film and cultural policy should also be of interest.
Major Historical Events
Major Film Industry Events
Main films Produced
May 2nd: Tony Blair and
Chancellor Gordon Brown frees
Chris Smith Secretary of State for New Department of Culture Media and Sport previously the Department of National Heritage
Boyle: A Life Less Ordinary
Madden: Mrs. Brown
Winterbottom: Welcome to Sarajevo
|1998||Creation if British Independent Film Awards (BIFA)||
Ritchie: Lock, stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Sofley: Wings of a Dove
|1999||Joint Tory and Labour Cultural Policy sees opening of Millenium Dome||Shakespeare in Love wins 7 Oscars
The New Cinema Fund replacing the BFI production board
Premiere Fund was also founded at the UK Film Council to support the more commercial end of British filmmaking
May 2nd: Towards a Sustainable Film Industry. Key Film Council Policy Document.
Pawlikowski: The Last Resort
September 11:Attacks destroy World Trade Centre in New York
October 7th. US War against Afghanistan begins
|Funding the UK Film Industry
|2002||Launch of the Broadcasting and Creative Industries' Disability Network (BCIDN)|
|2003||February: US & British and some others invade Iraq||
|2005||May 2005: Third Labour election victory
||June: James Purnell new Minister of Broadcasting announces review into UK Film funding|
|2006||April: United 93 by British director Paul Greengrass||Winterbottom: The Road to Guantanamo|
July Northern Rock financial statement hints at future problems of the credit crunch
The project of digitising all British media broadcasting begins in Whitehaven in Cumbria
October: The Day the Music Industry died. Radiohead offer pay what you think download
January: James Purnell is replaced by Andy Burnham as Britain's Secretary of Culture
Feb: UK Film Council submission to Future Framework of State Funded Public Service Broadcasting
February. Tilda Swinton wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actress
Atonement wins Bafta Best Film
This is England wins Bafta Best British Film
Maybury: The Edge of Love
March 21, 2008
Mobile Cinema in the UK
In these days of hyperspace and broadband internet mobile cinema still has an important place in Britain's rural communities. The concept of mobile cinema is an old one. It was used during the Soviet Revolution to help give the illiterate peasants speaking many different languages a sense of what was happening. Importantly funding is available to help out for cinema is best experienced on a big screen which it was designed for and of course an appreciative audience helps.
In 2004 the National Lottery recognised the importance of cinema as a powerful medium and decided to stimulate cinema in rural areas through the use of mobile cinema:
The Lottery fund has given £500,000 to the initiative. Successful applicants will receive up to £5,000 to spend on portable digital film equipment. (BBC Film Report)
A mobile film initiative was carried out in Wales in 2002. The project, called Wyred, was held in five venues in Monmouthshire and Powys, including village halls, pubs and cafes:
A series of short films are being shown by a mobile touring cinema at venues along the Wye Valley.
The programme of 11 films includes a number of Oscar-nominated and Bafta award-winning movies made by Welsh-based directors. (BBC Wales)
Flicks in the Sticks
Flicks in the Sticks is a mobile cinema which provides films to people in Shropshire and Herefordshire.
The company has a choice of hundreds of films which are shown in village halls in 70 areas across the two counties. (BBC 2003)
Flicks in the Sticks gained support from Screen West Midlands in 2007:
Flicks in the Sticks 2007
Flicks in the Sticks tours Big Screen cinema to rural venues. Flicks works with local people, setting them up as promoters who choose what film to show, when to show it, and undertake all venue preparation and publicity. Flicks in the Sticks was one of the first projects in the country to deliver cinema in this way.
In 2007, Flicks worked with 59 venues in rural Shropshire and Herefordshire, delivering over 545 films to an annual audience in excess of 25,000 people.
Moviola is a small charitable organisation which provides screenings in villages across several South Western Counties. It is providing alternatives and developing film culture.
This Moviola What's On provides you with current and past screenings to show the range of films screened.
Mad Cornish Projectionist who seems to be well linked.
This was an entirely refreshing find for a Good Friday Morning when I didn't have to get up early. Check this site out and send them some sponsorship money this is such a great idea!!!! Architecturally ands in terms of urbanism this has to be a good 'parafunctional space'.
Guerilla Cinema: The 'Other' of Contemporary British Cinema
I have entitled this posting 'guerilla' cinema because it is there to signify that ongoing tension or little war between mainstream cinema which is primarily about creating an ongoing business which feeds the creation of a cycle of stars, festival goings, critics and articles and slots in TV wotz'on this weekend on Friday nights. The more "artsy" it is the later it is broadcast. Film festivals by themselves or as a part of larger festivals are increasingly a part of the shift towards a "cultural industries" agenda which seeks to 'colonise the lifeworld' as the social theorist Habermas might describe it. For those of us who attend these things you are doubtless overburdened with evaluation forms given out to gain audience feedback on the event space etc. Of course these are done as much as anything to cover the bums of the events organisers as anything else. They can be used to justify the event and to argue for "quality improvements" next time around. Of course this kind of surveillance of culture can kill any poetry in an event stone dead.
The idea for the posting came from reading an article in the latest Sight and Sound about the difficulties of distribution and exhibition for British independent filmmakers when even the "Arthouse" cinemas are increasingly showing the same fare, in a sort of mainstream for the middle-classes. Some of these issues of control are already covered elswhere in the blog. combining this perception with flicking through an issue of Architectural Design entitled Poetics in Architecture reminded me of how staid, sterile and boring everything which smacks of the 'New Labour' is or has become. This whole blog started out as an aid to Open Studies Learning which has emerged as "Lifelong Learning" in the New Labour lexicon of control terms. Whilst under the aegis of extra-mural studies this form of learning wasn't controlled in terms of having to make the students perform some work. The space of learning was poetic in as much as an enthusiast delivered a course and a group of people interested came and interacted with the content and in that specific learning space in a dynamic and performative way which wasn't subject to measurement and control. If people were disatisfied then they would move on. Many of the attendees had good qualifications in other areas but simply wanted to extend their ideas and knowledge base into different areas at a more informal level without writing essay etc. Now this form of education has become instrumentalised. Humans on the whole are inquisitive if they are not browbeaten into accepting false limitations.
The increasing commercialistion of spaces of alternative cinema at the same time create a residue 'a surplus' in which expressive and creative acts and desires find no menas of expression. The exponential explosion onto the web of YouTube and similar sites bears witness to this surplus of creativity which is largely outside of the commercial. Yet this is still unsatisfactory for cinema in its origins was a social space of F2F interactions amongst the audience. Here cinema intersects with architecture. This posting is the beginnings of an investigation into the possibilities of creating spaces of exhibition for an ever expanding multi-media consciousness which like many popular music forms seeks recognition but is also part of an unfolding cultural dynamic in which a search for 'poetry' which is defined here as a resistance to the rationalisation and control of all aspects of social life. It is a search for performative cinematic space which is 'parafunctional' in the words of Nikos Papastergiadis.
The term parafunctional space:
Refers to zones in which creative, informal and unintended uses overtake the oficially designated functions. In parafunctional spaces social life is not simply abandoned or wasted; rather it continues in ambiguous and unconventional ways.
Now Papastergiadis was thinking of older industrial cities where areas are becoming rundown or corners where people resist the instrumentalism of everyday life under New Labour by glue sniffing -See This is England. But as he points out this fits in with Bachelardian notions of poetics of space because it is dreaming and an attempt to break free of colonisation.
The Campaign over the Dalston Cinema is a good example of a parafunctional space.
7 Inch Cinema as Parafunctional Space
What they say about themselves:
Two things helped give birth to 7 Inch Cinema: masses of good films out there, particularly shorts, that never get near our cinemas or TV screens; and more and more people choosing to watch film online or on beefy home entertainment systems. We are firm believers in the old-fashioned communal film experience. Our job is to sift through festivals, archives, DVD submissions and the web for interesting work and then to screen it in a relaxed setting for people to enjoy, perhaps alongside a discussion, a bit of music or a quiz. The setting could be a pub, an art gallery, a church, a warehouse, a military decontamination tent. It could even be a cinema. The main thing is to create a sense of occasion, and to show people something they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Flatpack Festival Birmingham
Good news for Flatpack
Monday 16th Jun 08
The UK Film Council have selected Flatpack Festival as one of the seven recipients of their national Festival Fund. Whoop! If you don't believe us you can get it straight from the horse's mouth, and there's also some info on the 7inch blog.
Here are some interesting links when I used the search term "Guerilla Cinema".
Cannes in a Van (Seems togive a nice sense of the general ethos)
It's not British Cinema but its a great Idea. Check out this Parasite site for a metro projection system in Berlin
Well my search turned up Moviola which is a small charitable organisation which provides screenings in villages across several South Western Counties. OK it's not exactly the normal concept of Guerrilla but it is provinging alternatives and developing film culture.
Well I found the above link on Mad Cornish Projectionist who seems to be well linked.
February 10, 2008
Digital Projection: Foundation of a New Exhibition System in the UK?
The world of films is changing dramatically as the installation of digital technologies develops. In the future the term film will become a term of historical sentiment rather than an existing object. Many European countries are promoting the development of these technologies such as the UK Film Council. Getting the digital strategy right from the outset has been a concern fo rht major Hollywood studios. Competing systems could mean that take-up i slow until a standard is established. As this BBC story shows thet were anxious to avoid that risk:
Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UKStudios unite for digital standard
Seven major movie studios in the US are to establish technical standards for the development of digital cinema, in a rare joint venture.
The aim of the as-yet-untitled project will be to set the agenda so that rival digital projectors, software and distribution will use a universal language.
Digital Cinema in the UK
The UK Film Council make it very clear how important they thin it is to change to digital projection systems and point out that it could change cinema-going behaviour considerably. Below is an extract from thier strategy document for 2007-2010:
UK Film Council policy and funding priorities
April 2007 – March 2010
In the digital age, UK film has the
potential to flourish as never before.
Digital technology is starting to transform
the way in which film and moving images
are financed, produced, distributed and
consumed. Many of the historical barriers
which have made it difficult for audiences
to gain access to a wider range of film are
beginning to tumble. The UK Film Council
recognises that it needs to take a lead.
With the help of our strategic partners,
we intend to act as a strong advocate
for change by putting in place policies
and funding measures which encourage
and support innovation.
The latest leap forward in cinema projection systems is the reality that ‘films’ can be digitally downloaded onto servers at a cinema. This has several advantages for the distributors and exhibitors.
There is a huge potential saving in the costs of prints, and profit margins are potentially greater. The film can be released on a global basis by being transmitted digitally via satellite in an encoded form which is to military specifications. This reduces the impact of piracy. From the perspective of the exhibitor it allows more flexibility in terms of screenings. The number of screenings can be locally managed according to local demand especially if co-ordinated with the pre-booking systems. The number of screenings can then be increased or reduced. There is no need to be reliant upon the number of prints in circulation. Each screening would be paid for on the equivalent of a ‘just in time basis’.
Fifteen million pounds of capital funding has been delegated to the UK Film Council by the Arts Council of England, which is allocated as follows:
The largest proportion has been used to create a network of screens dedicated to the exhibition of specialised films in locations across the UK where there is no such provision currently.
The UK Digital Screen Network how the (Film distribution Association) FDA see it
FDA welcomes and supports an initiative by the UK Film Council, to invest up to £13 million of National Lottery funds in what will become the world's first digital screen network, placing the UK at the forefront of D-cinema.
It is planned that up to 200 screens in 150 cinemas across the UK - a quarter of the total - will be equipped with digital projectors. In return, cinemas will be asked by the Film Council to show a broader range of specialised (non-blockbuster) films such as documentaries or foreign language titles on a regular basis.
Hopefully, such a substantial investment will help the hardware costs to fall, which in turn could facilitate extra installations.
How the Digital Cinema Chain Will look
You will notice on this model from the European Digital Cinema Forum that a live event venue is included in the possibilities for digital uplinks to satellite. Large sporting events are increasingly likely to be viewed in cinemas forget Sky down the Pub!
History of Projection Systems
It is still important to know a little of the history of the technological development of film as a material as well as matters of projection and the types of projectors that have been used and are being used now which depend upon the physicality of film.
A useful web site which gives some historical and practical information is the Goethe Institute website which is linked to the possibility of exhibiting actual films. An excellent site with many contributors of international standing is the Victorian Cinema site. There is a mass of information on projection machinery as well as a general fund of knowledge on many aspects of early cinema.
Inside Digital Projection
The images projected onto the screen from the projector, are formed from the projection source using a reflective technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP)
Arts Alliance Media List of Advantages of Digital Projection
Digital prints are delivered to cinemas on hard drives, and the content is then loaded onto a server. This has two advantages:
- The central server can hold many films, meaning that films can be changed more easily (so, among other benefits, one-off bookings are easier).
- The prints don’t need to be returned after the run, so holding over successful films is always possible.
Different versions of a film can be easily sent and managed:
- Subtitled/dubbed versions
- Hearing-impaired versions
- In the future, different cuts of films can also be used
Micro markets can be served – giving the audience more of what they want, for example:
- Bollywood films can be played in areas of high demand
- Special themed events can be held – i.e. showing of restored Casablanca for Valentines Day.
- Special seasons – i.e. late night horror screenings
- Mother and Baby screenings – appropriate films can be played during traditionally quiet times (such as weekday mornings)
Sharing the costs of Installation
The costs of installing new projection equipment can be prohibitive a system called the Virtual Print Fee model is a popular method of persuading cinemas to invest in this equipment below is the explanation from the Arts alliance Media site about how it works. Please note that it specifically mentions Hollywood Studios. This could mean that more independently inclined and less Hollywood driven Cinemas are disadvantaged.
The big question over digital cinema is who is going to pay for it? One proposed solution is what is known as the Virtual Print Fee model – which involves both exhibitors and distributors contributing towards the cost of the equipment.
The way it works is:
- A third party pays up front for the digital equipment.
- Distributors and exhibitors pay over time to recoup the cost.
- Exhibitors sign up to agreed service & maintenance commitments, as well as paying a ‘usage fee’ to cover cost of lease.
- Distributors save money every time a digital (rather than 35mm) print is shipped, therefore;
- Every time a digital print is shipped, distributors pay a Virtual Print Fee towards recoupment of equipment. Approximately 80% of costs will be paid for by Hollywood studios.
- When cost is recouped, the cinema will own the equipment.
For more information on the VPF model, and how it works, click here to read our FAQ
How the Film Distributor's Association See It
Now the cinema industry stands on the threshold of a great, rolling transition from celluloid to digital, which is expected to receive a big boost in early 2005 and then gather momentum over the decade ahead. In time, digital technologies are likely to exert as profound an impact on the cinema sector as on the broadcast and other media sectors.
Digital or D-cinema has already been piloted in the UK for ten years. Disney/Pixar's Toy Story was supplied and presented digitally (on a Texas Instruments DLP prototype) at London's Odeon, Leicester Square, in 1995. But only a handful of cinemas have had digital projectors whilst further quality advances were achieved. Now, with D-cinema giving state-of-the-art clarity on screen, audiences may be unaware that they are watching a digital, as opposed to a film, presentation.
The UK is one of the most expensive markets in the world in which to release a film. FDA members spend approximately £125m a year on prints, duplicated in high-tech laboratories. A digitally produced or converted film could be delivered quickly and reliably via disc (a much smaller, cheaper physical medium than a 35mm print), fibre optic cable or satellite - triggering a huge systems change for the whole industry.
It is clear that the gradual roll out of digital cinema over the next few years provides a number of opportunities for quite different screen experiences in Cinemas. Live events can be viewed in on a huge screen bringing a far better sense of spectacle. By the same token it should be far simpler and cheaper for independent cinemas to have a flexible and varigated programme of new films for quite small audiences. Both these tendencies should revive cinema audiences in the UK which have become increasingly dependent upon the 14-27 year old market along with a few family type blockbusters.
Arts Alliance Media Digital Cinema Projection systems details
BBC September 2002 on Minister Kim Howells welcoming the early digital projection initiative
British Cinema Hub Page
Orson Welles as Harry Lime in Carol Reed's Third Man currently top of the British favourite 100 films
A Chronology of British Cinema & Society
Industry & Production
Film Marketing (Not currently open)
Male British Actors
Themes in British Cinema
Historical Aspects of British Cinema
Non-Contemporary British Cinema (Not currently open)
January 21, 2008
Control, 2007: Anton Corbijn. (116 Mins, B&W)
This posting is currently acting as a hub site for the film Control which is being released on DVD on the 11th of Feb 2008 in the UK. As can be seen the film has won a range of crtiical accolages and as such is an interesting one to consider in relation to contemporary British Cinema. It belongs to a long line of Rock Biopics. It is the second film about Factory Records and the Mancunian music scene with Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People released in 2001.
Trailer from YouTube
Audience / Critical Reception
2007's best films
As voted by the Guardian's film writers
Friday December 7, 2007
dir Anton Corbijn
What we said: "Control is a film about England, about music, about loneliness and love. There is melancholy in it, but also a roar of energy. I thought it might depress me. Instead, I left the cinema walking on air."
Joy Division biopic scoops five prizes: Bleak tale of life and death of Ian Curtis wins best film and best director categories
January 19, 2008
Contemporary British Directors: Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass has had a history of working at the cutting edge of documentary and also writing making firstly with the Granada World in Action TV documentary series. Although he should not be regarded as politically radical his career has been one which has sought to make liberal democracy become more transparent and it appears as though he sees the role of media as making a powerful contribution towards this. His treatment of events in Northern Ireland, his contribution to the Spycatcher book, which tore into the British establishment in the 1980s. His documentary United 93 underpinned the power and determination of ordinary people who will sacrifice themselves for others in the face of a totalitarian terrorism expressed on this occasion by the despised Al Quaida. Most of his early work has trodden where many other filmmakers and creative people have feared to tread. As as John Patterson in The Guardian puts it:
Five years ago, Paul Greengrass was an avowedly political, low-budget British filmmaker working within the documentary-style tradition that constitutes the core - the deepest, oldest thread - of British cinema; now he's a big-name director making kinetic, visceral Hollywood movies that are eagerly awaited at multiplexes worldwide. Ultimatum, budgeted at $125m (£62m), looks set to become one of the biggest hits of the summer. Funny how things turn out.
Greengrass went to school in Kent, winning a scholarship to Sevenoaks School, and started his film-making career with a super 8 camera he found in the art room. He made a series of animated horror films, using old dolls and bric-a-brac props. He went on to Queens' College, Cambridge, and then, inspired by the story of Woodward and Bernstein's uncovering of the Watergate scandal in All the President's Men, decided to become an investigative journalist. (Guardian overview of Greengrass).
He worked with the "World in Action" (ITV, 1963-99) - TV documentary series. The series itself gained a reputation for being cutting edge and hard hitting often being more controversial and less mainstream than the main BBC competitor of the time which was Panorama. As Greengrass commented in a Guardian interview:
I arrived there 1978-79. The great days of World in Action had been the 1960s and it had lost its way somewhere, somewhat, in the mid-70s, but the onset of Margaret Thatcher gave it this tremendous new lease of life. (ibid)
During the 1980s, Greengrass also co-authored the controversial book Spycatcher with former MI5 Assistant Director, Peter Wright. The book, which detailed Wright's attempts to ferret out a Russian spy from the ranks of the British intelligence agency, was banned by the government and held from release until 1988. In the mid 1980s Greengrass met the controversial filmmaker Alan Clarke who had made Scum and had had a strong influence upon his thinking. Greengrass has also been influenced by the realism of Ken Loach particularly Kes and also Peter Watkins’ controversial documentary The War Game.
It seems as though Greengrass’s film Resurrection (1989) taught him a lesson about drama and film making which allowed him to break with the strongly social realist mode of his previous work enabling him to film an event which it wouldn’t be possible to witness – a brutal mock court martial. It allowed him to take his aesthetic approach to a different level. The film was nominated for a Golden Bear winning some jury awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
We were using the dispassionate, observational documentary eye I had developed, if you like, on recreated events, and the collision between the two allows you to get at a bigger truth than you could by using just the one approach or the other. (ibid).
From Gritty documentaries to Hollywood Action Adventure with an Edge
For many followers of Greengrass who seemed to be following a path well trodden by many British directors working within a social realist mode it came as a great surprise when Greengrass was chosen to direct the Bourne Supremacy (2004). It was so successful - apparently netting $175 million in the box-office that he directed the Bourne Ultimatum (2007). It hasn't won Greengrass friends everywhere as a summariser from the Independent on Sunday noted in an interview with Harold Pinter and Time Out magazine which was scathingly critical:
I saw a film, The Bourne Ultimatum," Pinter begins, "and I thought: Fucking hell! This guy is clearly the strongest man in the world. He can beat up about 12 people in about 35 seconds and kill half of them.
"The whole thing is totally unreal. I was stupefied by it, it was so lacking in intelligence." He adds that he sat in the cinema "seething, thinking: What am I doing here, being bombarded by this sound? It knocks you out."
The interviewer pointed out that Oscar-nominated Greengrass is considered a master of dramatic realism.
"Paul Greengrass?" replies Pinter. "I saw Bloody Sunday, I also saw United 93: that fellow is no chump."But: "I've never been able to write a film which I didn't respect, I just can't do it."
John Patterson in the Guardian was rather more sympathetic to the project than Pinter and in doing so comes to a position which finds cross-overs between auteurism and genre cinema almost identifying a British hybrid genre of the 'political-realist action-action thriller':
Bloody Sunday may be political and tragic, but it's also an action-movie manqué. Indeed, the idea of a left-progressive action-movie director isn't even that novel: in Britain it's almost a mini-tradition. Peter Watkins is an action director without compare - witness Culloden or Punishment Park. And no one shot mayhem and violence more compellingly than Clarke. Given such forebears, the move from Bloody Sunday to Jason Bourne is an entirely natural and seamless one. (My emphasis; Guardian ibid).
Patterson has a point for it is clear that Pinter has little notion of the action adventure genre and in this sense we can point to the subversion of the sterotype.
And instead of the usual boringly indestructible, mindless right-wing macho man in the lead, the left-leaning Matt Damon plays the isolated and existentially solitary Bourne as a man whose memory may have been erased, but not his sense of morality or his essentially liberal strain of patriotism. It's all subtly embedded within a framework of thrills and violence, but it's there none the less. Greengrass wouldn't be Greengrass if it wasn't.
Whilst Pinter from a more realist mode is right to criticise the impossibility of Bourne being able to whisk aside several hardened CIA operatives just like that this is merely a convention of this type of film. This can be seen in films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It is a dramatic device for when Bourne meets the Arabic operative sent to kill him in a hand to hand he only just makes it similarly he only survives the car chase by chance. Here he is taking on his own kind the super-killer of which he is the Ur-figure gone wrong. As a political thriller there is a long tradition of defending the supremacy of the American political system against corrupt methods which would ultimately undermine the very raison d'etre of the United States Constitution itself. This appears on John Gresham novels and films and older films such as Clear and Present Danger dealing with drug cartels. Although not directly dealing with an American theme these kind of highly secretive undercover operations by states are also critiqued in films such as Spielberg's Munich.
What Greengrass brings to this more American sub-generic category is a decidely British aesthetic which arguably has its heart in European cinema itself. Greengrass brings a gritty realism which belongs to the tradition of the British gangster-heavy (Chibnall) tradition which hasdeveloped thought films such as Brighton Rock, Get Carter (made by Mike Hodges who also worked for World in Action), The Long Good Friday. All of these involved corruption of some sort usually amongst police and local government. Greengrass is well placed to deal with higher level governmental corruption because of his involvement with the Spycatcher affair. all those British gangster films are strong on a sense of place. This is an aesthetic that Greengrass has brought wioth him. One can compare the car chase scene in the Bourne Ultimatum with the ridiculous street shoot out in Heat, to gain a real sense in the difference aesthetic which as Patterson notes is one which is a:
... patented newsreel-style, quasi-documentary, highly organic aesthetic - non-professional casts, few effects or soundstages, lots of hand-held and SteadiCam, much wobble and blur, extremely long takes, cut together in sequences often made up of hundreds of microscopically attenuated shots -... (ibid)
In the Guardian interview with Patterson Greengrass comments that he sees the Bourne character as analagous to Patricia Highsmith's Ripley character becuase there is a duality:
I love Matt in it. He's not only a brilliant actor, but also brilliant in that part because he's a wonderful player of duality - you think of [Tom] Ripley and other parts he's played. You don't know which side of that duality he's on at any moment. And that's Bourne: a duality, a killer who's redeemed himself, the man on the run with a dark past, so he's perfect. You couldn't ask for a better actor in the part than Matt.
I don't think that this is a good analogy at all because Ripley is an entirely amoral opportunist. The comparison revolves around the issue of individual agency. Ripley sees an opportunity and takes it and gradually becomes involved in murder and then serial murder and his character declines. Bourne is an allegory for the honest truly democratic USA which has literal agents within who are suborning the true nature and aims of the country. Bourne represents this tension, this duality. We know he has truly broken with this dark instilled past when he fails to kill the other super-agent at the end of the car chase. When this person is positioned to kill Bourne a little later he lets him go asking why Bourne failed to kill him. Here the conversation allows for self-reflexivity for it is a question which many americans including their military are asking themselves: is what is going on in Iraq just? Are we making things better or worse? By what authority are we here? Given the CIA information about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was the excuse for the USA to go to war and for the British Government to follow suit despite there being no clear evidence then means that we can see the Bourne Ultimatum as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy.
It is this lack of recognition by Pinter of the necessity to work within popular genres in order to subvert them if one is able to amount any critique at all within the American cinematic system. It is a reading that will have flown over the heads of many viewers of the film inevitably but audiences have many ways of viewing a text.
Other recent non cinema work
The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999). ITV Documentary. Directed by Greengrass.
Omagh Channel Four TV Documentary. Greengrass was the producer and writer of this.
The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007
The Bourne Supremacy,2004
Bloody Sunday, 2002
The Theory of Flight, 1998
The Sweetest Thing, 1995
Guardian: Hollywood's Favourite Brit
Independent on Sunday. Noting Harold Pinter's disgust at The Bourne Ultimatum
An interesting comparative review by the well respected David Tereshchuk who was actually at the Bloody Sunday Event reporting for the BBC