Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Chavs (almost) on film

"What  fucking papers are  you reading, you dozy cunts?"

A couple of years ago I was trying to get hold of a copy of Nick Love's Goodbye, Charlie Bright and the guy in my local Music and Video Exchange suggested that if I waited a week or so one would turn up. How did he know? I asked. Because of all the DVDs that came in and out of the shop Britfilms of this type were the ones which were bought and sold, traded, the most. They circulated much more rapidly than other films and genres.

Why was that? Well, at a guess they were films bough and sold and resold and run through the second hand shops because most of the people who bought them generally needed cash quickly, they had to liquidate their assets frequently, were skint in other words, and given the demographic these films are aimed at, they were skint teens and twenty-somethings. This was interesting in its own right, but it also raised the question of just how many people watched the films, for every copy bought there seemed to potentially be a large number of temporary owners of films like Football Factory or Dead Man Running or Rise of the Footsoldier. These films were popular then in a way that any calculation of their profit would probably widely underestimate, and it was probably this broad semi-invisible popularity that ultimately allowed films like Cass, Shank or Attack the Block to open in Cinemas. They had a big if invisible audience, they got bigger budgets and distribution. No-one “in the know” paid much serious attention to them, or if they did it was only to disparage them.






Now, Nick Love’s Outlaw certainly doesn’t have many admirers, even among fans of his work. It was, in Love and star Danny Dyer’s memorable phrase, comprehensively “cunted” by everyone from Loaded to The Guardian when it came out. Love suggests, on the now infamous DVD audio track where he and Dyer hilariously and pointedly lay into their critics lazy assumptions about modern Britain, that one day it may be looked back on as favourably as Dirty Harry, another movie, cunted in its day, that has subsequently become a classic. Outlaw is never going to attain that degree of retrospective kudos, it is a much worse film on every level, but it is still oddly fascinating, largely for what didn’t make the final cut. And Love is certainly  right that when  people look back at his  career they'll say this was his most important film.  



And what didn’t make the final cut is basically; chavs. As the Outlaws go around the country righting wrongs they are sheltered by a group of chav kids in some rural backwater whose illegal rave is closed down by the Police and who subsequently riot. It must have been one of the more expensive and complex sequences in the film, so the question is why it was removed, it can”t have been out of considerations of narrative coherence, as Outlaw is all over the place as it is. Perhaps it is more due to the sympathetic, pro-chav anti-Police tenor of the sequences, the chavs form a part of Love’s rather wishful multi-ethnic, cross-class vigilante posse. They are on the side of justice against the corruption of the State. To some extent the film takes a “we are the 99%” position, the courts, the police and politicians and criminals are all in bed together and the decent members of society need to take a stand against it, interestingly of course the Chavs are part of the solution, there’s a continuum of protest, refusal, and action that runs from lawyers through to council estate kids and includes alienated white collar workers and ex-soldiers, all of whom need to unite to fight institutional corruption. As I've pointed out before, it’s certainly the only film in which Tony Blair gets called a cunt, and by housewife’s favourite Sean Bean at that. No other popular film maker would have been brave enough to do it in 2007.


Now, you might well revile Love and Dyer etc as Loaded era laddish knuckledraggers, and to some extent they are, and for me at least the widely praised (I'd say patronised) remake of The Firm was a step backward for Love from the scrappy, sloppy, angry politicisation of Outlaw. The irony here of course is that Love most closely approaches Alan Clarke in Outlaw rather than in his colourful, sentimental technically adept but toothless re-imagining of The Firm. I don't blame Love for this, to some extent with Outlaw he was a few years ahead of events. It is pretty much an unloved and unlovely film, and its unprecedented critical mauling probably means that Love will never pursue  similar themes again. But more broadly if there is an area of film-making in which anything interesting is going to be said about class, poverty and protest, then its within this sub-genre of “Urban”/post British Gangster movies, most of which, for all their technical and aesthetic shortcomings are significantly more interesting than , say Andrea Arnold's redemptive Arthouse vision of the feisty working class girl getting out of the estate. In Outlaw at least, the kids are united.

Naturally, therefore, I am holding out great hopes both  for a directors cut of Outlaw surfacing at some  point and Plan B's forthcoming Ill Manors, certainly the key line in the track (though the video actually works against most of the songs' ironies and subtleties) is “We are poor round here”. This is the important recognition. Not a Ghetto Superstar, not likely to rise above the throng, no fantasy, no illusion, nothing special, no magical poverty, quite the opposite. No giving it the Big  I Am; we are poor, we are fucked, they hate us.

Well, as Lucius Accius said “ Let them hate, so long as they fear”.


Time to bring in the second half of the equation.

2 comments:

Rhian Jones said...

(though the video actually works against most of the songs' ironies and subtleties)

This is a good point which I haven't seen sufficiently drawn out in discussion of the song. There's what appears to be an extended version of the video here at 8:29 (spotted by Nina Power), which seems like a better fit with the lyrics, although I'm not sure how it might relate to the film.

carl said...

Nice one Rhian. Now I have recovered from my post birthday hangover I will have a go at saying something about the song/video.

Good to have you join us on here. feel free to invite whomsoever you like to join us. the more the merrier.