Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"awwww, bless!"




A character study of a person of no discernable character, Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky”* is pure torture from start to… well, about two thirds through, the point where I was mercifully delivered into the arms of Morpheus. Strangely, I wasn’t that tired when I started watching it. Was it some spontaneous narcoleptic episode brought about by sheer desire to flee the awfulness of it all? Should the CIA be looking for more effective forms of torture lite than James Blunt on heavy rotation, they might do well to consider an endless loop of “Happy Go Lucky”, whose central character Polly is a woman so pathologically incapable of shutting her fatuous trap for two fucking seconds she would have even the most fervent Jihadi spilling the beans on chemical weapons caches within twenty minutes of exposure to her. “Happy Go Lucky” reinforces once again the sober truth that in any sane world the adjectives “chirpy”, “bubbly” and “positive” are all epithets.


“Happy Go Lucky” is a timely reminder of just how galling and depressing the “happy” are, at least in Leigh’s typically reductive and caricatured version of what constitutes happiness: the sunny disposition. Happiness is constitutional, we’re in some pre-psychological universe of types and temperaments with Leigh. There’s nothing wrong with this per se but the conflict between his abilities and aspirations is precisely why, for all the realist tics and nuances his actors elaborate, his world remains resolutely flat and unrecognisable, presenting precisely the barriers to empathy and identification of the more mainstream fare that he imagines his work offers an alternative to. No less so than in Richard Curtis’ horrific, soul-curdling Blairite tryptich “Four Weddings”, “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually” do I find myself wondering “who the fuck are these people?” Hang on, they’re the working class?

Leigh’s reputation as a great essayer of working class life is as mysterious as Almodovar’s repute as a great creator of female roles. At least Almodovar has other strengths, whereas in his attitudes toward women Leigh’s overlap with that other arch middlebrow sentimentalist Nick Hornby is pronounced. For both, men are tortured by invariably ludicrous and self-deceptive “Ideas”, while women are stoical and conservative, making do and getting by. Nabokov’s description of his mother, “ to love with all her heart and leave the rest to chance was the best wisdom she knew,” has the character of an axiom in Leigh’s world. Men are idealistic and therefore conflicted, women are emotional and therefore wise. Leigh’s “women” and “men” overlap with Shaw’s distinction between the reasonable and unreasonable man. “ The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” Leigh’s women are Shavian “reasonable men”. What Leigh misses out on is the next line. “Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”


The typical Leigh split is represented in “Happy Go Lucky” by Poppy and her coterie of infantilised, primary-colour clad female idiots, who in their miserably debased notions of “creativity” come on as halfwit Brit cousins to Chytilová’s “Daisies”. The “gang” are introduced in an opening Saturday-night-out sequence suffused with truly hypertension inducing “girlyness” (which here signifies timidly flirting with lesbianism and working oneself up into a state of pubescent semi-hysteria.) Their opposite is her driving instructor, a paranoid, conspiracy theory spouting, angry racist, a weak version of David Thewlis’ Johnny, who was himself simply a more fully realised version of most of the male characters that preceded him. It’s an irony that “Happy Go Lucky” comes out in the same week that “Naked” is finally issued on DVD. It may be true that after “Naked” Thewlis had nowhere else to go, but neither did Leigh (admission: I haven’t seen “Topsy-Turvy”.) “All or Nothing”? Two hours of heavy-jowled lugubriosity as Timothy Spall stares off camera battling quietly with dissatisfaction and his wife tries to reconcile him to the elemental truth, expressed in “High Hopes” with regard to the central male character’s refusal to have a child while socialism has still yet to be realized, that there never was and will be a perfect world, daahhhhling. “Vera Drake”? Two hours of Imelda Staunton shuffling around in her pinny, boiled-cabbage complexion to the fore as a working class Holy-Innocent back street abortionist, who, acting spontaneously from her great naïve wellspring of proletarian female love without the slightest grasp of the social implications of her acts eventually gets gratifyingly sent down for ten years’ hard labour. That’ll learn you. Do a Sociology O-level or something while you’re banged up, for fuck’s sake!


What Poppy possesses (intrinsically. Well, she IS a bird, innit?) and what we’re supposed to be seduced by, is that great bit of Late Capitalist/ New Age hucksterism, “Empathy” (see also “emotional intelligence” or its middlebrow literary correlate, “Only Connect!”) “Empathy” here stands in for solidarity, the empathetic gaze appraises its object as emotional rather than political/social, thereby divesting both sides of agency. Poppy is so superhumanly empathetic that not only does she have no fear of seeking out violently deranged tramps hunkered down in bits of wasteland ( “is this the bit where she gets raped and murdered?” a small gleeful voice kept asking in the back of my mind as I watched) she can even “relate” to someone incapable of uttering more than repeated monosyllables.

“SHE SHE SHE SHE SHE SHE SHE SHE,” the Tramp splutters.

“Does she?” Polly asks, preternaturally capable of connecting with the tramps pain and healing him, before he wanders off to continue his life of neglect and abandonment. Best not to wonder why the poor fucker’s out there on his own. You think about stuff too much and you get yourself confused, just learn how to feel! More importantly, don’t judge, critical scrutiny is to be avoided, we’re all good people deep down we just need a bit of love to bring it out. There is no concrete or conscious exploitation, people are bad because they haven't been loved enough, a sprinkling of multicoloured magic dust on our grumpy old lives will make it all ok, doing the best we can to make each day fun and happy within our own narrow social world. In this respect “Happy Go Lucky” resembles the genuinely hateful “Amelie” and its Po-mo micro-(non)politics of whimsy. Kitchen sink magic-realism in which everything is made right by a cup of tea and a good old heart-to-heart. The interpersonal and the empathic are the keys to making life more bearable, certainly not the collective and the intellectual. Well we wouldn’t want to do without any of them, but why can’t we have it all? Why must one banish the other?

Even more deeply aggravating than Brenda Blethyn’s interminable, shaky-fag-handed, Spaniel-eyed bawling and shrieking of “Sweetheart, no, sweetheart!” in “Secrets and Lies”, Poppy’s indefatigable chirpiness is a sure sign of a mind radically out of kilter with any reasonable take on things. Poppy never stops finding things funny. She has a bad back, can hardly walk: every twinge of pain sends her off on another bout of giggling and pop-cultural glossolalia. For a moment you’re tempted to think that it might in fact be a study of the last (wo)manish horror of Late Capital, its awful diminution of human capacity. That the film is meant to be a study of the neurotic’s unbearable compulsion to deflect any questions that touch on their condition into an endless, gapless monologue, a self-blinding that occasionally elevates itself to a form of deeply ambiguous ecstatic transport (something “Heavenly Creatures” captured so brilliantly) But that’s too generous to Leigh. There’s no sly, critical legerdemain. Basically, we’re supposed to think Poppy has got it right.

At risk of repeating myself, people like Mike Leigh and Martin Amis, are, at heart, truly horrible little men, (this is their strength), terminal, cancerous misanthropes whose anxiety in the face of their own potentially coruscating negativity means they end up producing lukewarm “humanist” gruel like “London Fields” or “Vera Drake”. Or this. Play to your strengths lads! To quote Monty in “Withnail and I” “ Go with it, it’s like a tide….. it’s society’s crime not ours!”

And re the obvious objection, “so we’re not allowed to be happy until after the revolution are we?” let me assure you brothers and sisters, yes, of course we’re allowed to be happy!

Just not like this.





*On being presented with the DVD on my return from Blockbuster Mrs Impostume stared in puzzlement at the cover for a few moments (see above) before asking, “ why have you brought me this film about a woman with an idiotic face?”
Update! Some gobby bird starts giving it all that over on her blog. She could do with a couple of kiddies that one, keep her out of trouble. I'd knock her up myself if the missus wasn't always standing over me with the rolling pin. Right. I'm off down the boozer.
Gotta laugh, innit?

75 comments:

Anonymous said...

But at least Leigh gets things finished.

He's right about happiness being purely temperamental. Haven't seen any of his films, so can't comment on the rest. Only I think the (actually unreadable) stridency of your denunciation kind of suggests he's hitting you in a few vulnerable areas.

owen hatherley said...

Haven't seen any of his films, so can't comment on the rest.

That you feel the need to comment at all despite your oh-so-disinterested lapidary smugness tells its own story, does it not?

Anonymous said...

“Over-indulged and encouraged to express themselves – how little do they know”[Scott]
The Broinlaw by curious coincidence watched HGL the night before The Imp posted. Whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy HGL my interpretation was almost exactly the opposite. It seemed abundantly clear to me that I was not meant to like Poppy;
• Teachers are not working class. I saw little to signify that we were meant to think the “girls” were. I took the dancing to “common people” and gap year back story to indicate that they were middle-class- ish.
• Nobody liked Poppy and even her “friends” made it clear that she was irritating. It seemed that in 30-something years her disposition had isolated her from most of her family and all but a few fellow misfits.
• I can’t remember Amelie that well [mercifully] but it seemed to me that the opening titles of HGL in which Poppy is narrow framed as she cycles around London do quite effectively convey that HGL is aware of the genre it stands in relation to. The obvious thought- that it is impossible to cycle around London in this manner – is provoked before disbelief has been suspended, and is reinforced by the narrow framing [excluding external disruptions]. Her vacuous behaviour in the bookshop followed by the immediate theft of her bike further emphasises the point that this is intentionally an oppositional statement to the likes of Amelie- we haven’t had time to do anything other than think “silly cow, you didn’t lock it.”
• There are a number of subsequent occasions on which we are [heavy handedly] reminded that we are not meant to see Poppy as a real person [the back pain, the Tramp]
• The teacher [Poppy] and the Social Worker are portrayed as being much more concerned with the sexual opportunity their professional collaboration leads to than the welfare of their client [an abused child] “He will be alright, won’t he?” “Oh, yes he’ll be alright” -about whom they are smugly complacent and platitudinous
Therefore, I contend that HGL is escapist inasmuch as it offers people who feel trapped by the pressure to maintain their cheeriness [despite life’s exigencies] validation of their failure to do so. The fact that this isn’t your particular prison doesn’t mean that the film might not be effective for other people. Perhaps somebody who works on the checkout at Asda might rage inside like Scott [the Driving Instructor] at the likes of Poppy but feel incapable of externalising these thoughts.
Having offered this validation, Leigh would have undermined it with a “happy ending” and been irresponsible to provide narrative resolution in which Poppy had her comeuppance. So we get a none-ending a la Naked, with the characters just drifting off.
It is possible to argue therefore that the film is for the working classes, about and against the middle classes. Scott makes some very pertinent points about Poppy and is the only intelligently reflecting character in the film. We find [working – class] Scott challenging but to some extent can sympathise. [Middle class] Poppy is straightforwardly loathsome.
It could further be contended that the critic simply picks and chooses from the bits of film theory that appeal [I suspect HGL passes the Bechdel test, but this is overlooked] – a smattering of Marx , a bit of Psychoanalysis here, a sprinkling of Feminism there, tossed onto a bed of auteurist assumptions. Supported with a few examples it can appear very convincing...

The anonymous comment above suggests that [and The Impostume is all-too familiar with my mechanistic determinism] Leigh has found an effective way into the "born evil" debate, by inverting the exemplar.

phill said...

Impostune, you were tone deaf to this movie. Take a look at Ray Carney's website (and books)for a different view.
http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/leigh/hill.shtml

Anonymous said...

The Ray Carney comments are interesting - UK film/tv reviewers rarely discuss 'the sliding emotions, tones, relations'. It can be a lot to do with good editing as well, but this shifting of surface (rather than 'deep meanings') is the real poetry of films and good TV drama like...The Sopranos, which absolutely fits the model of something that has a broadly satirical framework ("gangster goes to a shrink" ha ha ha) but i which the 'the sliding emotions, tones, relations'etc) are the real 'depths' of the series.

Anonymous said...

Ray.. keep using my comments box as advertising space and I'll have to start charging you.

Anonymous said...

Reposted from Owen hatherley's blog:

HGL has only just arrived here in Germany, so I haven't yet seen it; but it's simply grotesque to suggest that there's any kind of affinity whatsoever between Mike Leigh and M. Amis. On the strength of Leigh's previous work (nearly all of which I have made a point of seeing) I'd suggest that The Impostume has probably badly misread this film. His (it can only be a bloke) remarks on men & women in Leigh's work are crass and myopic. High Hopes, just for example, is one of the great British films of the last century, and this too he caricatures in the retelling. And has he even seen Bleak Moments, Meantime or Nuts in May?

PS Having said all that (and it is the main thing to be said, which is why I'm making this a postscript), I do agree that Leigh has slackened off *slightly* in his old age. Ray Carney was more-or-less right when he said that Leigh did his very best work before Naked.

The following quote is from Caveh Zahedi's review of Carney's book on Leigh. It seems relevant to the character "Poppy" and The Impostume's reaction to it:

"In Leigh's films, characters are not transparent one-dimensional subjects who know exactly what they think and want and simply proceed to go about getting it. ***They are opaque to themselves as well as to the viewer. They are deluded about who they really are, and have a difficult time (as do we all) separating their fantasies about themselves from the truth about themselves. And their actions are not only frequently at odds with their own conscious goals, but their goals are multivalent, contradictory, and not fully conscious.*** In other words, the model of the human subject that Leigh's films propose is one that is much closer to the truth, one in which we can actually recognize ourselves, assuming, of course, that we have the courage to look at ourselves squarely, which most moviegoers (and one must remember that most moviegoers are teenage boys) seem unwilling to do. But not Mike Leigh. His gaze is unflinching, and his characters resemble us like few characters in the history of cinema."

http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/aboutrc/leighcrit.shtml

- Of course, I can't pass judgment on Happy-Go-Lucky without having seen it, and I will do so as soon as I find the bloody time. But the Impostume didn't hesitate to launch an all-out attack on Leigh while plainly misunderstanding practically all of his previous work, and it does annoy me to see such a feeble tirade being bigged-up on blogs such as this one [i.e., Owen's] and IT, for which I generally have a lot of respect.

- warszawa

parodijski centar said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtOYgCaT0AY

Dominic said...

Ray Carney appears to think that cinema is better the more like Henry James it is; everything else is playing with action figures. This is an interesting perspective but I suspect a flawed one; how does it take account of, say, Beowulf (the epic poem, not the crummy movie) as art?

Anonymous said...

With its unquestioning air of godlike equanimity and masterly competence, the trope "interesting but flawed" is almost worthy of Henry James, except that it's such a cliché and maybe a wee bit presumptuous. In any case, Dominic, the Leigh films Carney is most interested in (Bleak Moments, Meantime, etc.) are, in every conceivable way, about as far from Henry James as it's possible to get while still working with the English language (as just one element among very many).

Meanwhile, nearly everything else (in the contemporary cinema) is indeed "playing with action figures". Heath Ledger's Joker is like totally awesome, right? Endlessly interesting, and no doubt flawless to boot. Ask almost any blogger who's seen it, and he (it will certainly be a bloke) will tell you, gladly and at length.

I have no idea how Ray Carney would take account of "Beowulf as art", or Baywatch as art, or Batman as art, to name but three. Maybe you should ask him. And maybe it was never his ambition to "take account of" everything, but merely to look very closely at Mike Leigh's actual films, rather than at anyone's preconceptions or presumptions about what those films should in fact have been like.

- w.

Dominic said...

I don't watch that many Hollywood movies - haven't seen any of the recent Batman ones - but I have recently been re-reading Gawain and the Green Knight, alongside Alan Garner's Thursbitch.

"In other words, the model of the human subject that Leigh's films propose is one that is much closer to the truth, one in which we can actually recognize ourselves, assuming, of course, that we have the courage to look at ourselves squarely". That, not the patois employed, would be what they have in common with Henry James. The point of the Beowulf reference is that there are other things art can do besides propose a veridical model of the human subject (which can, with "courage", apparently be looked at "squarely").

I don't in any case find Leigh's films either particularly courageous or particularly revealing about human nature.

Dominic said...

Which is not to say that I wouldn't like to read Carney's film criticism, or don't believe I would find it rewarding to do so. But speaking as a sci-fi reader who's heard it all before, the disparaging of Hollywood on the grounds of its psychological infantility sets off warning bells with me. Who really "identifies" with Luke Skywalker?

Dominic said...

And doesn't Skywalker, in any case, have a particularly tough time separating his fantasies about himself from the truth about himself?

Anonymous said...

"The point of the Beowulf reference is that there are other things art can do besides propose a veridical model of the human subject"

Well, of course there are (cf Bach, Bosch, Nureyev or Tarkovsky, just for instance). And of course "proposing a veridical model of the human subject" is not the only thing that Leigh's works do, although they do that too, as do Garner's. You appear to be suggesting that this is a trivial or inconsiderable achievement; if so, I don't agree, especially in times like these.

This topic is way too big for a blog comments box; but among the many other things Leigh's films do is to evoke (though photography, lighting, editing and music, all of which are consistently brilliant in his films) a very powerful and peculiar sense of place, and an equally powerful sense of how place is a constitutive element of the human subjects that inhabit it. This too he has in common with Alan Garner.

Two artists from the North-West of England, close in age and close in temperament. - The restaurant scene in Bleak Moments; the old woman's semi-demented memory of her sister at the end of High Hopes; Johnny's brief terror on the floor at the end of Naked: these are moments when "the human subject" cracks open, and the films consistently lead to such moments, with an apparent effortlessness that belies the skill (and more than skill) it took to reach them. (Leigh's use of close-ups deserves a book to itself.) As works of craft as well as art, those scenes are worthy of Alan Garner at his strongest, and I regard that as the highest praise.

What's more, those films are communal creations, as much the creation of Anne Raitt, Dick Pope, Andrew Dickson (etc., etc., etc.) as of Leigh himself; socialist works of art, not to put too fine a point on it. It's not the least of Leigh's achievements, both artistic and political, that he emancipated his actors, and the rest of his collaborators. Ask any one of them.

- w.

PS That quote is from a review of Carney's book and not from Carney himself.

Anonymous said...

"Who really "identifies" with Luke Skywalker?

[..]

And doesn't Skywalker, in any case, have a particularly tough time separating his fantasies about himself from the truth about himself?"


I wouldn't know, Dominic, I've never seen any of those Star Wars concoctions. (I managed to sit through an hour of one on video, but I've forgotten which one it was.) It always seemed like a terrible waste of time.

"the disparaging of Hollywood on the grounds of its psychological infantility sets off warning bells with me."

Why? Most Hollywood product *is* psychologically infantile, and that's not even the worst thing about it.

- w.

Dominic said...

The purpose of myth is to deal with infantile drives, fears and fascinations, of the kind that no-one can or should wish to "grow out of". Star Wars is myth, albeit myth bombastically rendered and larded with feelgood emotional candy; it's about a person who becomes enslaved by a triumphalist vision of his own power, who becomes a gebbeth, and is released from this condition by someone who refuses to fulfil his messianic "destiny" and triumph by force. Carney says that audiences work through their own infantile frustrations, their feelings of impotence or whatever, by identifying with Luke Skywalker as the supernaturally-powerful hero figure; this shows that he has basically misunderstood the story, I think ultimately because he's not really interested in how it works because it's not grown-up enough for him. The cliched dismissal of comic book superheroes as projections of teenage boys' sexual angst will do just fine, there's no need to investigate further. I found the brief excerpts on his site about Leigh's films illuminating and finely-written, and wouldn't at all disparage his expertise or discernment in the area he really cares about, but he can keep his condescending attitude towards other kinds of "product" and the people who engage imaginatively with it.

Anonymous said...

Some of Leigh's earlier stuff was mildly amusing - 'Nuts in May', 'Meantime' etc. He always seems to have had a general contempt for the lower middle-class and the working class: who apparently never know what they want, who they are and where they're going. Unlike smug luvvie ensembles, who are on their way to the BAFTA awards every fuckin' year.

His stories are banal. Classic Leigh plot - someone announces something surprising, a female character(s) lacking any depth or character cries for an hour, a well-meaning male sympathises but his income bracket renders him confused and inarticulate, they realise their attempts to improve their lives are in vain, younger less sensitive characters shriek a lot, the end. That's ten minutes of 'Eastenders'.

I'm afraid teenage power fantasies, FX-laden metaphors for foriegn policy, sexual/biological nightmares and bog-standard gangster plots are a much richer source of interest than some Guardianista twerp offsetting his fear and contempt of the 'lower' orders by claiming its all an examination of post-Thatcher ideology or some other dinner party twaddle.

As for Henry James - the idea that 'real' literature consists of a subtle examination of upper-middle class mores has rendered 'literature' increasingly remote from anyone interested in investigating how the world is, what it was, and what it may be. I experience the (yawwwwn) subtleties of bourgeouis mores every day - and believe me, I don't want to pay money to read or watch it in fiction. That would be like owning a painting of my bathroom door.

Anonymous said...

"That would be like owning a painting of my bathroom door."

good line!

Anonymous said...

The above Anonymous is either K-Punk with a bad hangover, or (much more likely) someone who's read today's K-Punk post and who has a bad hangover. It's nicked, stolen, lifted shamelessly, all of it, right down to the laughable reference to EastEnders.

Anonymous does add some thoughts of his own, though, if "thoughts" is the word, because it all comes ready-wrapped: "Guardianista twerp", "smug luvvie ensembles", "dinner party twaddle", "bourgeouis [sic] mores" - all that's missing (Why?) from this blithely miles-wide-of-the-mark DailyMailesque resentment-fest is a triumphantly disparaging reference to "latte drinkers". Quite clearly, what's so deeply, intolerably annoying about Mike Leigh at 65 is that he appears to take a fair bit of pleasure in his life, his work and his collaborators, and in his belated and hard-fought-for success. And we can't be having that, can we? Cos who the fuck does he think he is?

What Anonymous doesn't fail to add is that he (it can, of course, only be a bloke) much prefers "teenage power fantasies, FX-laden metaphors for foriegn [sic]policy, sexual/biological nightmares and bog-standard gangster plots". No elitist, our Anonymous! Is anyone surprised by this? Maybe some people are impressed by it, even though the year is 2008. Anonymous at least appears to think he's pretty damn courageous ("Aaaaw, bless him!") in standing up so stoutly for his right (which nobody questions) to enjoy the childish crap he chooses to buy, rent or absorb. Cos The Kids Are Alright, right? Yeah, right. Even if they're in their mid-thirties by now, and still lost in the same outer and inner darkness depicted in Meantime.

The wonder is that this Anonymous felt it necessary to tell us he doesn't like Mike Leigh. Beacise how could he? How could he possibly? Anonymous must have seen himself depicted, with unflattering accuracy, in at least one of Leigh's films. He'll have found that depiction exaggerated of course, if not positively misanthropic. Which is yet another reason why those films are useful (among much else): truthful depictions of actual realities, as opposed to corporate teenage wankfests for the over-30s, are in very short supply these days.

Not to worry, though: Leigh won't live forever, and his best work is indeed (probably) behind him. Luckily, we still have a truckload of Batman follow-ups to look forward to. Heath Ledger should be even more totally awesome when he's entirely computer-generated, and his ongoing battle with the Dark Knight will be riddled with moral ambiguities, thereby teaching us everything we need to know about art, life, thought, people and politics. Life is sweet, innit? Aaaw, bless.

- w.

Dominic said...

truthful depictions of actual realities

Um, no. Really, I think not.

Leigh's characters are - pretty much without exception - "deluded", in various ways; this strikes you as an important truth about people, and you enjoy watching films in which this important truth is affirmed, over and over again. People who dislike Leigh's films dislike them, it goes without saying, because they too are "deluded" and dislike being confronted with the truth of their situation, which they lack the courage to confront squarely; they prefer escapist fantasmagoria, fit only for the overgrown children they essentially are.

But I don't think anyone is actually deluded in the way Leigh's characters are deluded, or undeluded in the way the appreciative viewer of Leigh's misanthropic fantasies might imagine himself undeluded. The films set up this hermeneutic, where we see from the outside the controlling fantasies of someone who is unable to see from the inside what it is that's controlling him; but we don't, in our normal interactions with other people, see them in anything like this way; we still have the beam in our own eye that prevents us from discerning the mote in theirs.

The comparison with EastEnders is apt, because everyone watching a soap opera knows just where the characters are going wrong: if only he'd explain to her what really happened; if only she'd listen. What's missing is the intersubjective torsion experienced by social participants in situ, the fact that "delusion" is not a property of individuals mysteriously captivated by silly notions about themselves, but the result of a general ludic connivance (R. D. Laing was always good on this). Leigh's films offer the viewer the fantasy of being extracted from this connivance, elevated above the fray, and able to see what makes other people (synechdochised as social "types") tick. That's what's "misanthropic" about them, not the fact that they courageously depict unpleasant truths about individuals.

Anonymous said...

Well, fuck me - someone loves old hairy Mike don't they? Apparently they can guess my age and masturbation habits too.

MIKE LEIGH IS SHIT AND REPRESENTS EVERYTHING WRONG WITH CRAP BRITISH CINEMA.

The visual drabness of TV and theatre as an alibi for 'seriousness', the panto performances, funny voices as 'humour', the class condescension under the cloak of nice 'old' Labour values, the sense that everyone involved in the nepostistic/old boy network world of Brit film could fit into a small rural primary school. The only characters more cardboard than the lower classes are the ones who aren't white. I reckon the closest ol' Mike has come to the classe(s) he depicts is at the train station.

He occasionally has good actors, but not really good performances - Alison Steadman's best work wasn't in hubby's films. There's more pathos, drama, humour, affection and socio-political nous in any episode of 'Only Fools', 'The Office', 'Reggie Perrin', 'Steptoe & Son' and even a good 'Coronation St.' than there is in Leigh's entire ouvre. And more 'real' too.

Yes, I hate the fucking Guardian - especially in the last decade or so: endless columns by nepotistic nitwits, lifestyle twaddle, celeb gobbling and Blairite bullshit.

I should also mention that apart from his 'childhood' ones (probably because the lead characters are 'unformed' anyway, I can't stand Ken Loach either - even if I may share his politics doesn't mean I should appreciate his drabness. There are a lot of good British directors - those who imaginatively use IMAGE and MOVEMENT (why films were invented, remember?). From Hitchcock to Roeg to Anderson to Powell to - yes! - Christopher 'Batman' Nolan. You may have noticed most of them fucked off elsewhere - probably because they didn't want to make filmed plays or soap episodes of the rest of their life. Not unlike hundreds of other film talent.

Aplogies for my immaturity - now fuck off.

Anonymous said...

"The films set up this hermeneutic, where we see from the outside the controlling fantasies of someone who is unable to see from the inside what it is that's controlling him;"

So you claim, Dominic; but it's all assertion, relentlessly abstracted, and entirely unsubstantiated by any actual examples from any of the actual films. And therefore unconvincing. The films do much more than that; it is not their sole hermeneutic.

"but we don't, in our normal interactions with other people, see them in anything like this way;"

Yes, we do, very often indeed. This is nicely demonstrated by The Impostume's post at the top of this page (just for example). The fact that his view of Leigh is inaccurate, unfair, confused, myopic and often blithely brutal only serves to demonstrate the point that this kind of objectifying, "diagnostic" gaze is widespread in the culture.

"we still have the beam in our own eye that prevents us from discerning the mote in theirs."

Whether burdened by beams or not, The Impostume certainly managed to discern a mote in Leigh's eye, as did you.

I'm trying to make some general sense of your argument up to here. Quite simply, you appear to be complaining that a work of representative art is not the same thing as real life. But how could it be? Real life has no author. Artworks necessarily do. They are, always and necessarily, "seeing from the outside", i.e., from the unique standpoint of a single subjectivity. And therefore, all artworks inevitably embody evaluations, implicit or explicit.
But Leigh is not a novelist, and his uniquely collaborative working methods certainly reduce the likelihood of his gaze being despotic or his evaluations being skewed. There is more than one subjectivity seriously at work in his films.

As I said, I'm only too aware of the difficulty of presenting a convincing argument within the constraints of a blog comments box, but everything you're arguing here strikes me as bizarrely wrong. (If you were to put the word "not" in front of each of your positive assertions, we would be in almost total agreement.)

"What's missing is the intersubjective torsion experienced by social participants in situ,"

Nope. Precisely this "intersubjective torsion" is a constant feature of Leigh's films, insofar as it can ever be successfully realised within the contraints of a Spectacular medium dependent on the single "eye" of a single camera. Examples include the restaurant scene in Bleak Moments, the entire relationship between the two brothers in Meantime, and too much else to list. (In fact, I can think of worse titles for an essay on Mike Leigh than "Intersubjective Torsions". It's the very substance of his work. It's detectable in practically every character and practically every situation, below and behind the dialogue.)

"the fact that "delusion" is not a property of individuals mysteriously captivated by silly notions about themselves"

Are you denying that deluded people have silly notions about themselves? This is not convincing.

"but the result of a general ludic connivance"

Again, precisely this "ludic connivance" is a constant feature of Leigh's films. It's what makes tortures so many of his characters into such strange but recognisable shapes.

"(R. D. Laing was always good on this)."

Agreed, but it's weird in the extreme that you mention Laing as an argument against Leigh. I can think of no other filmmaker who makes such disturbingly effective use of Laing's most essential insights.

"Leigh's films offer the viewer the fantasy of being extracted from this connivance, elevated above the fray, and able to see what makes other people (synechdochised as social "types") tick. That's what's "misanthropic" about them, not the fact that they courageously depict unpleasant truths about individuals."

On the contrary, they offer the viewer no such fantasy. Nobody is "elevated above the fray", except insofar as a cinema audience necessarily consists of spectators, as opposed to participants in the film itself (which is of course not the same thing as "real life", because it's a representation, a spectacle, a creation). And people are, in fact and undeniably, to a geater or lesser extent, also "social 'types'" How could they not be? How could they escape the "ludic connivance", you describe, which is the inevitable concomitant of life in a human society?) It is not "misanthropic" to notice all this. People I know who are managers have indeed become increasingly "managerial" over the course of time, just as bohemian artists I know have become increasingly bohemian and increasingly arty. The poshest woman I ever met was an absolute parody of a posh woman, but there she was at a real party and not on TV, being unimaginably and indeed ridiculously posh. (Her name escapes me; I always think of her as The Posh Woman.) I also know an unemployed alcoholic who has increasingly come to resemble everyone's idea of an Unemployed Alcoholic, and this includes an addiction to daytime TV. His plight hasn't sharpened his individuality. But god forbid that Mike Leigh should show such a thing in a film. It's "anti-working-class", don't you know. Or, if he's showing a manger acting like a manager, then it's "anti-managerial-class". In any case, it's "misanthropic". Beacise human beings are there to be loved, unconditionally, even if this means seeing them as they are not.

And because we're all individuals, right? None of us are types, ever. And nothing any of us do is ever sad, ridiculous, deluded, hypocritical or funny. It's a shame more artists haven't woken up to that fact.

Early days yet, though. On verra. Someday we'll get the art we deserve. No doubt New Labour is working on it, not to mention the Tories.

- w.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous shouts:

"MIKE LEIGH IS SHIT AND REPRESENTS EVERYTHING WRONG WITH CRAP BRITISH CINEMA."

You know, Anonymous, I hate to say this, but you're a type. Or rather, you're several types. I'll leave you to work out which ones.

"Yes, I hate the fucking Guardian - especially in the last decade or so: endless columns by nepotistic nitwits, lifestyle twaddle, celeb gobbling and Blairite bullshit."

Guess what: I hate it too. And it appears to have escaped you that the Guardian was among the many publications that spent years castigating or sniffing at Mike Leigh for his alleged "misanthropy". (None other than Dame Julie Burchill accused Leigh of "misogny" to boot.) And so on and so boringly, predictably forth. Those accusations are as lazy and stupid now as they were 20 years ago, yet they're still going strong among the professionally opinionated. The only difference now is that many pundit-blokes actually praise the misanthropy they mistakenly claim to detect in Leigh's films. Which demonstrates yet again that three decades of Thatcher and Blair have had a singularly brutalising effect, just as they were designed to. No wonder The Dark Knight has been such a runaway success, especially amongst the blogging intelligentsia: it's a misanthropist's delight. (Just as V for Vendetta was a misogynist's.)

"IMAGE and MOVEMENT (why films were invented, remember?). From Hitchcock to Roeg to Anderson to Powell to - yes! - Christopher 'Batman' Nolan."

Er, right, it's good to have that cleared up. (But what's Michael Powell doing in that company? And "hundreds of talent"? Shurely...)

Ah, forget it - here's Johnny:

"... so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of 'em, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new, as long as it's new, as long as it flashes and fucking bleeps in forty fucking different colors."

QED.

-w.

Anonymous said...

Dominic, just a point about "ludic connivance":

In his late 20s, Leigh directed Beckett's Endgame for the theatre. It was one of the very few plays by another author that he ever directed; and as he said, "I soon realised it was the only one I really wanted to direct." Leigh is also the only film director I know of who is a lifelong fan and admirer of Beckett's novels (as is David Thewlis, by the way). So it's no wonder that Leigh's conception of "character" and the human subject is anything but naive.

It also casts an interesting light on those accusations of "misanthropy" from innumerable "humanist" middle-class brutes, in the Guardian and elsewhere. Like Beckett, Leigh has a deep impatience both with comforting lies and with the casual brutality they so often serve to hide. This is practically a prerequisite for the creation of comedy.

"Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world."

- Nell, in Endgame, still conniving in the game because there's only one way out of it.

PS Renoir's Les Règles du Jou is one of Leigh's favourite films. Ludic connivance, everywhere you look. C'est la vie.

- w.

Dominic said...

Quite simply, you appear to be complaining that a work of representative art is not the same thing as real life

Leigh's films are praised for being more like real life than the escapist fantasy of hollywood cinema. I think this is an error.

You describe them as "representative art". To me this implies the operation of a metalanguage, a mapping which carries terms from the domain of the cinema over into the domain of real life. So, for example, synechdoche is the means by which individual characters are mapped to social types - that's an operation of the metalanguage. (It's problematic not because there are no social types, but because no social type is fully instantiated by any representative of the type, so the reverse mapping from representative to type requires an essentialising separation of typical from atypical traits. This essentialising separation is precisely what supports the fantasy of exceptional individuality, since everyone can point to something about themselves that doesn't fit the mold of what they're "supposed" to be. When they're not playing themselves at parties, posh people are not exquisitely posh the whole time; part of being posh - the part that non-posh people trying to pass for posh tend to get wrong - is knowing when to shift registers. Synechdoche throws this dimension of typicality away, because it derives the type from the representative rather than the other way around). Characters present discrepancies between their stated goals, the personae projected by their mannerisms, and their physical actions; there's movement back and forth between the different strata, as at one moment the self-narrative is confidently in control, another is filled with stammers and tics, another finds the same character lashing out violently or quivering in blind terror on the floor. By this we are given to understand that the self is a social entity, moulded by conflicting forces. Which indeed it is; but the metalanguage here requires all such conflicts to reveal themselves through lapses of self-control, moments when the "lower" stratum intrudes upon the "higher", with the underlying assumption being that the most truthful moment is the moment when someone completely loses it; that's the model of selfhood being projected into the real domain, and I think it's a horrendously oversimplified one. It's not just that real selves don't look like their portraits; it's that the portraits, via the metalanguage that makes them "representational", are without exception portraits of utterly abject selves - tortured apes in hell, to borrow a phrase.

Dominic said...

"Leigh packs the film with thoroughly well-observed moments between Poppy and her best friend (Zegerman), her boyfriend (Roukin) and the other teachers. She is compassionate, caring, and insightful as a result. Leigh imbibes her with his present philosophy. At the Berlin Film Festival press conference he said, "It's important to reject the growing fashion to be miserabilist, the growing fashion to be pessimistic and gloomy because the world is in a bad way. Everywhere there are people on the ground getting on with it and being positive." Poppy is the incarnation of Gandhi's words, 'Be the change you want to see in the world.'"

If it's a practical joke, it's a good one.

Anonymous said...

Christ almighty - a lot of pseud's corner verbosity around Leigh.

Just because Leigh likes Laing, Renoir and Beckett doesn't mean he has any great insight into the human condition. Kenneth branagh loves Shakespeare - but his films are still embarassing.

Anonymous - Julie Burchill has been 'rent-a-contrarian' for almost every publication she's ranted in. She hardly represents its editorial or reader's views. Unless its editorial line is childishly racist, vindictive and sectarian. As for the level of British skill and talent - believe it or not, there's the rest of the crew to consider in making a film; and they're in high demand.

Are you trying to say Powell has no sense of image or movement???Terence Davies may be one of the finest British filmakers of the past quarter-century - I don't detect any capes or bleeping lights there. He also doesn't have Leigh's endless funding opportunities and rapturous acclaim. You may also find that his approach to his characters lacks condescension, sentimentality or panto bluster (they're not on stage Mike! You have microphones!). He also knows how to utilise images in a way Leigh can't. 'Naked' is fairly interesting as the endgame of 'angry young men', unfortunately most of Mike's films are still largely stuck in 1957. However, at least Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson et al had some feel for cinema. Britain's theatrical (and 'quality' TV)fetish has been strangling far too much of its film aesthetic since WW2.

As for the patronising assumption that I crave teen blockbusters... I've seen a lot of films from a hell of a lot of decades and countries - and can also appreciate a good blockbuster. The huge success of Dark Knight does indeed warrant interest (why more popular than previous batfilms? why now? why does it linger in the mind? what's it 'about'?). Misanthropy has its place in films - have you heard of Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang? Does appreciating them render one a spotty playstation nerd?

Leigh's films are just dull and irritating. His current stuff hardly qualifies as first-rate 'Play for Today'. As to you I'm such a recognisable 'type' (Leigh's GCSE idea of 'character'), maybe now you can work out my age.

Anonymous said...

Terence Davies: yes, you're bang on there.

Anonymous said...

I'm always bang on!

Seriously, its tragic that a talent like Davies (distinctly 'European' as he is) now has to work in b-list Hollywood for a living; while mediocrities like Leigh gets to churn out endless native productions and has awards thrown at him like confetti. Maybe (gasp) class is a factor in this?

'Distant Voices, Still Lives' and 'Long Day Closes' are masterpieces - and yes, I've seen it resonate deeply with people who's idea of a 'good' film is something featuring Will Ferrel or a superhero. I'm sure Leigh would mock any social/emotional connection from such an audience.

Anonymous said...

... but then he has little understanding of the 'magic' of cinema...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous writes:

"Are you trying to say Powell has no sense of image or movement???"

Clearly I'm not trying to say that, nor did I say it or anything like it. I am trying to say that you are tone-deaf and filled with panto bluster. You're not on stage, Anonymous. You have small-case letters and a back-button on your keyboard. Your multiple question-marks, your SCREAMING ALL-CAPS, your noisily insecure laddishness, all make Brenda Blethyn's performance in Secrets & Lies look admirably understated. (And people accuse Leigh of exaggerating...)

Of course Michael Powell has a "sense of image or movement". Equally obviously, except to people so packed with baffled resentment that they can't see straight, Mike Leigh also has a "sense of image or movement" - a very powerful and subtle feeling for rhythm, tempo, colour, sound, framing, lighting, camera position and camera movement, and a sure instinct for when to use a static camera or a moving one, a close-up or a long shot. All of this is obvious to nearly everyone who's taken the trouble to watch his films, and none of it requires the crutches of ace special FX, MTV cutting, or flashes and fucking bleeps in forty fucking different colours.

Certainly, some people - such as you - prefer "teenage power fantasies, FX-laden metaphors for foriegn [sic] policy, sexual/biological nightmares and bog-standard gangster plots." For you, they're "a much richer source of interest". So there's no pleasing everyone, and not all films are made for insecure lads with a short attention-span.

"As for the patronising assumption that I crave teen blockbusters... "

Oh for christ's sake, it's not an "assumption"; you said it yourself. See above. (Do you start every day with a clean slate?)

"Misanthropy has its place in films - have you heard of Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang? Does appreciating them render one a spotty playstation nerd?"

This is worthy of the Guardian, in every way. ("Has its place", indeed!)

In any case: No, "appreciating" some or all of Wilder's or Lang's films does not make you "a spotty playstation nerd", so you can calm down and stop worrying about that right now.

Believing that their "misanthropy" [sic] is what makes them worth watching does prompt a suggestion, though: Take off your shades and pull out your earplugs next time you watch one of their films. Because what on earth are you talking about? Exactly what is "misanthropic" about Fritz Lang, for instance? The fact that Metropolis features a robot? (You think this means he prefers robots to humans, or what?) The fact that M features a nasty murder and a nasty act of retribution? (You think this means Lang approves of the murder and/or the retribution?) What on earth are you on about? You're saying that Fritz Lang hates human beings; so give some examples of Fritz Lang's "misanthropy" if you can find any. Concrete examples, please, or else have the grace to take it back. Because your argument started off silly and it's getting even sillier now.

I doubt that you'll be able to find any such examples, but maybe you know Lang's ouevre much better than I do. In any case, it has bugger-all to do with Mike Leigh.

"My patience are exhausted." (Milly Bloom)

- warszawa

Anonymous said...

As for Terence Davies: he isn't the first director to have made one autobiographical masterpiece and then struggled to match that original achievement or lapsed into silence. Bill Douglas is another exceptional filmmaker who comes to mind. Biographically, artistically and temperamentally, neither of them have much in common with Mike Leigh, except their achievement of at least one masterpiece. Leigh's work is not autobiographical, he himself is not painfully shy, and he has always worked collaboratively and through lengthy improvisations.

Anonynmous's seething resentment at Leigh's ability to make films is really not a pretty sight. It also blinds him to the plain facts: that Leigh struggled for most of his life to get his films funded; that more than one film remained unmade because he refused to accept the studios' demands that he cast a Hollywood star in the lead, or because the project was simply "too risky"; and that it was only with Naked (made in 1993 when Leigh was 50) that he finally started receiving serious awards and serious recognition, most of it from foreigners.

All of which information is easily discoverable in the public domain.

- warszawa

Anonymous said...

I thought we were discussing Mike Leigh, however 'Warszawa' (how terribly nu-wave of you) seems obsessed with my assumed educational/emotional difficulties. If you could actually read, I didn't say that all I like is FX-laden blockbusters - just that they're more watchable than crap like 'Secrets and Lies' or 'Vera Drake'.

As for Leigh's 'struggle' you may find that he had a long career in theatre and TV. He was so 'unrecognised' that the BBC made a rather detailed doumentary about him and his ensemble in the late 70s. I also recall many broadsheet features on him way before 'Naked'. Where he belonged was in the domestic, ephemeral sphere of TV - my original point is that it doesn't always translate well to cinema. Outside (maybe) Shakespeare, there's hardly a dozen good movies based on theatrical productions. So what if he had trouble financing one or two films? You may find that the likes of Ridley Scott or James Cameron (neither of whom I like) have experienced this, too.

As for Fritz Lang - considering he pretty much laid the cinematic template for Film Noir, Gangster movies and ('grown-up') sci-fi; I'd argue that he also laid the template for those genres unforgiving treatment of human beings and the world in which they live. I've never met Lang, so I don't really know how he felt.

Unless I'm actually arguing with Timothy Spall or brenda Blethyn here, I suggest you calm down with your devotion to Mike - it's getting rather silly. I'm sure he'll do just fine weithout you, dear.

Anonymous said...

After loads more waffle, blather, evasion, panto bluster, and positively boiling resentment that Mike Leigh has ever been able to work at all, Anonymous finally gets to the point: his powerful evidence that Fritz Lang is, as he claims, "misanthropic".

Cue drumroll:

"As for Fritz Lang - considering he pretty much laid the cinematic template for Film Noir, Gangster movies and ('grown-up') sci-fi; I'd argue that he also laid the template for those genres unforgiving treatment of human beings and the world in which they live. I've never met Lang, so I don't really know how he felt."

And that's it. That's his best shot.

This is a pointless waste of time. There would be more pleasure and profit in talking to Anonymous's bathroom door.

- w.

PS 'Warszawa' is the Polish name for the capital of Poland, a country in eastern Europe. HTH.

PPS Dominic, I'll get back to you later. (Busy right now.)

Anonymous said...

ps. Funny how you assumed I'm male. Are you involved in market research, perchance? If so, no wonder there's a recession...

pps. Was 'Milly' (SIC) Bloom in 'Ulysses 2: The Heretic' or something? Molly's posessed daughter? Feel free to answer with a wanky literary quote, anonymous. I'm sure I'll feel so humbled by your wikipedia erudition, I can hide behind the persona of a teenage boy...

Anonymous said...

some indication of the gulf between Leigh and Davies can be found in the titles alone:

'Distant Voices, Still Lives'

'Long Day Closes'

versus

"secrets and lies"

"all or nothing"

"happy go lucky" etc

Dominic said...

Suggestions for the next one:

"go for broke"
"swings and roundabouts"
"what a carry-on"
"breadcrumbs and butterbeans"

Anonymous said...

'Musn't Grumble'
'All for the Best'
'Ah, Well'
'They Would Though, Would't They?'
'A Bird In The Hand'
'That's What They All Say'
'Chance Would Be a Fine Thing'
'Would You Let Your Daughter Marry One?'
'Never Had It So Good'
'Deal Or No Deal'
'This Time Next Year'
'This Is Not a Circular'
'Up With The Joneses'
'That Was No Lady'

Anonymous said...

'Life Goes On'
'Short Change'
'Speak For Yourself'
'Now Then Now Then'
'To See You Nice'
'That Man Again'
'Get Them In'
'Coming Up Next'
'No Refunds'
'You Don't Have To Be Mad'
'Out To Lunch'
'Off The Old Block'
'Round The Earhole'
'Pretty Straight Guy'
'Answers On a Postcard'
'Born Yesterday'
'Refusal Often Offends'
'Little Chef'
'A Bloody Tragedy'

Anonymous said...

Not hesitating to join Anonymous in scraping the barrel, Dominic said...

Suggestions for the next one:

"go for broke"
"swings and roundabouts"
"what a carry-on"
"breadcrumbs and butterbeans"


No, Dominic; shurely 'Synechdoche as an operation of the metalanguage by means of which individual characters are mapped to social types'?

Anyway, if we're judging artists by the titles they give their works, how about:

'Much Ado About Nothing'

'Love's Labour's Lost'

'Measure for Measure'

'As You Like It'

(He was crap, too. The titles prove it, innit.)

Then there's Anonymous's other great "misanthropist" (sic), Billy Wilder:

'Kiss Me, Stupid'

'One, Two, Three'

'Ace in the Hole'

'Some Like It Hot'

(And how totally shite he was, eh?)

But if this where the debate has arrived, then I have a couple of suggestions for Anonymous's long-awaited first feature, which will undoubtedly throw that duffer Leigh into fits of envious despair:

'Facken Guardianista Luvvie Scum'

'GIVE ME SOME MONEY, YOU NEPOTIST GOBSHITES'

'LISTEN TO ME, YOU ARSEHOLES'

'Who The Fuck Does He Think He Is???'

'Foriegn Policy'[sic]

- or, if it's autobiographical:

'Sexual/Biological Nightmares: My Struggle'.

No doubt Anonymous's blockbuster will be misanthropic, but will that be enough to be make it any good? Have patience: we'll find out at Cannes next year.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I should mention Fritz Lang's lost classic 'Monomania'. I believe Chris Nolan has optioned a remake.

It's about some blog-stalking weirdo with a creepy fixation on a mediocre parochial Brit filmaker. They also fixate on words and phrases said by others and repeats them back over and over again beliving them to be an effective form of critical rhetoric. So lacking in any discernable depth of thought, he/she/it consistently fails to recognise metaphor, irony and the difference between written words and living beings. They are also unable to distinguish between those who sustain cliches and those who actually created them in the first place (ie. before they were cliches).

The last scene is particularly haunting: hundreds of Germans in clown make-up encircle said weirdo reciting dialogue writen by the mediocre film-maker. The blog-stalker dies in delerious agony realising he/she/it can't tell which film is which. The 'director's cut' is even more disturbing!

Anonymous said...

I think that the happy-go-lucky Lang made it just after having dinner with Goebbels - and shortly before murdering his wife. God knows what posessed him to come up with such a dark vision!

Anonymous said...

Further suggested titles for Anonymous's autobiographical first feature, to be shot entirely on mobile phone:

'Resentment'

'The Acephaly Files'

'Shouting for Hughie'

'My Life as a Senile Teen'

'Nocturnal Moonshine Of The Mindless Sot'

'You Put A Spel On Me'

- w.

Anonymous said...

Here's some for that stunning Mike Leigh biopic of 'Warzsawa'. Alison Steadman plays the hair and Tim Spall the arse.

'In English, Please'
'Love a Lame Duck'
'Who the Fuck Is Hughie?'
'East-European schtick Was Trendy in 1981, Yeah? So It Must Be Now'
'Spell-checker Heal Thyself!'
'Give Us a Smile, Wife-Murdering Nazi-Dabbler!'
'If Kids Like It Then It Must Be Shit'
'Bollocks to This'
'Why Bother?'
'Never Mind'
'ZZZZZ'

Not sure about the mobile phone, though - might be a bit too oppresively hi-tech for a free spirit like yourself. I'm sure Mike would regard them as markers of chav tackiness, anyway. He prefers projecting hand-shadow caricatures with the help of a bonfire.

Now leave me alone - I want to go and stare at the bathroom door for two hours.

Heath L said...

Hello – Just passing through (linked to this post from an outside source). Interesting comments.

I’m no expert on Leigh, British cinema, or cinema in general, but I’ve seen my fair share of ML films, and yes, have pretty much hated them all.

One thing that most Hollywood dreck has going for it is that (hopefully most) people understand, going in, that films like Dark Night are not meant to be reflections of any “reality”. For better or worse they’re seen as “entertainment” and can be enjoyed (or not) on that basic level.

Mike Leigh films, on the other hand, are (for the most part) supposed to (and are seen to) reflect/show the “real” world - how it really is for the “common” man, the working and lower middle class masses. However, there’s no real scope or nuance in the cinematic vocabulary of ML, no room for attractive, intelligent, articulate, well adjusted or “likable” characters (and yes, they do actually exist in the lower classes, don’t they?) – and what we’re left with is his flat, narrow & distorted version of “reality”, just as divorced from “real” life as Dark Night et al. This is what makes his depressing parade of dysfunctional grotesques so insulting (not just to the chosen “class” he portrays, but to the audience as well). We’re supposed to buy into his world in a way that we’d never do in other films – and this is what is “supposed” to make his films relevant and interesting. Unfortunately, for those of us that can see through the smoke screen, it leaves us with a rather dull, boring and repellent movie going experience – just as dull, vapid and boring (& repellent in it’s way) as I’d imagine any Hollywood blockbuster being…

Longman Oz said...

I have not read the other comments (too many dudes!), so apols upfront for any repetition here.

You make an interesting argument. However, I took a very different spin on this film and think that to make your argument that you have to ignore many other things going on in the film.

My main point is that there are three angry male characters that Poppy tries to help. The oldest is the tramp and you do a nice character assassination of her futile attempts to help this angry, rambling man. However, I think that the fact that they are futile is actually meant to be the point, as this is meant to be a character beyond help.

The youngest is the lad in her class. Poppy sees that he is angry about something and takes action. While the ending is left open here, it seems reasonable to think that the problem is getting addressed. In other words, early intervention helps to solve the problem.

The one in the middle is, of course, Scott. Here is a man on the cusp of becoming just like the tramp - angry, half-crazed, and beyond assistance. Polly reaches out to him in that final show-down and there is none of her happy-clappy nonsense when she does so. Nicely, the ending is left ambiguous. Maybe she failed or maybe she will have got through to him once he calms down and realises that.

So there you go. Three men, three different points on the same road, three outcomes.

Are men more likely to be angry and poor at emoting about it? In my experience, yes! Are women more transparent in how they feel? Also, yes!

By the way, what you ridicule as empathy in Poppy, I see as being something even stronger still - compassion. For all of her nonsense and strange clothes and noises, this is a remarkably compassionate human being.

Moreover, her whole personality is to be open, candid, and unapologetic for who she is and how she would like the world to be.

If Poppy read your view of her, she would laugh and move on. The rest of us type comments!!

PHILL said...

Who really "identifies" with Luke Skywalker?

I think most boys/men identify more with Han Solo – sexy outsider rebel, saves Luke, gets the girl etc.

It would be hard not to identify with the stars of Hollywood movies as they work to produce identification with a single main character through POV shots, lighting, the score, framing etc (something that Leigh avoids)

There’s no right way to view any of Leigh’s creations. You only ever see the outside of the character (not the Romantic viewpoint of Hollywood movies continuously guiding the viewer, telling him/her what to think, making sure the viewer always knows more than characters do. The spectator usually sees the characters good intentions (after all don’t we all mean well, we judge ourselves on intentions and other people on actions?) We are in the dark the same as the characters interacting on screen are, Leigh’s films make the viewer go through a constant process of judging and re-judging. This is why I don’t know why you could have such a certain opinion of Poppy.( and put me in mind of the bizarre Daily Telegraph review I read)

Ideological criticism just seems like a dead end when dealing with these complex movies. It may work for Hollywood schlock, eastenders adverts etc. Critics come up with the same certainties about class/power/race/gender or whatever but miss what actually goes on in these movies.

‘One needs a different kind of language to depict different characters. I’ve used that combination of naturalism and caricature quite consistently.’ Mike Leigh

K punk misses point about Leigh’s ‘unrealistic characters. It’s a simplistic conception of naturalism, as if all the characters had to be presented with the same degree of complexity. Leigh achieves complex effects by pairing ‘round’ and ‘flat’ characters serious/simple, highly rhetorical with plain speaking ones, exaggerated ones with understated ones.

‘Hard Labour and Meantime were criticized by some on the far left for not showing the barricades being manned, the revolution being made, for not fighting back. But I’m not really concerned with providing simplistic answers. I’m concerned with formulation questions and with stimulating the audience’s sense of how things should be.’ ML

Dominic said...

Agree with HL; essentially the problem is with cinematic naturalism. You can't make films as mannered as High Hopes (which I watched this evening, not without pleasure or - in places - sympathetic recognition) and simultaneously claim to be representing real life without committing some serious misdemeanour against the latter.

Dominic said...

Also strikes me that Cyril Bender is in many respects the prototype for Tommy Saxondale (there's a scene where he's making a delivery and has to wait while the lady behind the desk finishes typing something that feels like the germ of the Saxondale/Vicky exchanges - "all right, Tommy love?" - which are very Mike Leigh in their own way, except generally funnier). Also that Martin and Valerie Burke are an overplayed rehash of Boycie and Marlene from Only Fools and Horses. Making fun of new money - perennially popular in the UK, which has always hated people getting ideas above their station, but especially so in 1988 for some reason.

The Boothe-Braines (good name!) seemed like particularly broad caricature - surely no-one ever actually talked like that, I thought. Then I remembered that we were once governed by someone who did, in fact, talk like that - and deliberately, to boot.

Anonymous said...

so if british cinema shoudln't look like leigh/loach what should it look like? have the english ever really done anything interesting with film? cinema- wise i think we're also-rans.

owen hatherley said...

cinema- wise i think we're also-rans.

British cinema could look like Michael Powell, Carol Reed, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Asquith, Humphrey Jennings, Lindsay Anderson, Nicolas Roeg, Mike Hodges, Peter Watkins, Kevin Browlow, Derek Jarman, Terence Davies, Bill Douglas (oh sorry, the last two are too 'autobiographical')

...always thought Truffaut's idea of Britain as inherently uncinematic to be absolute nonsense. However Leigh and Loach are both huge in France, I'd wager for similar reasons to why Il Postino, Amelie or Cinema Paradiso play well over here - so exotic, so heartwarming. Also, both largely made better television than they did cinema.

I don't really hate Leigh enough to get too stuck into this argument - there are about three films I like a lot, ridiculously uncinematic and mannered as they are (the reference upthread to Leigh's use of music is hilarious, as if the occasional bit of tuba is somehow some non-diegetic masterstroke), and many others which range from slightly interesting to annoying.

Perhaps 'misanthropy' is a slight red herring - what I (at least) meant by that there's a certain bitterness and cruelty which is plain in his best films (and absent from his worst) - which are also often the most (obliquely) political. I once read Jarvis Cocker describing Abigail's Party as a portrayal of Thatcherism about to happen and Naked a portrayal of what it did to people - which sounds convincing. Meantime similarly. It's also notable that all three of those don't feel the need to have the ever-present, fundamentally identical (usually female) flawed-but-heroic-battlers, which is easily Leigh's most pernicious tic (other than the honking performances) - Adorno on the enjoyment of watching someone struggle against the system being essentially an enjoyment of the workings of that system springs pretty frequently to mind.

Anonymous said...

There isn't any way British cinema 'should' look like - if anything, the most notable CINEMATIC filmakers (whatever their respective merits) are somewhat eccentric (Hitchcock, Whale, Powell, Roeg, Russell, Cammell, Anderson, Peter Watkins, Boorman, Terence Davies, Michael Reeves etc.); exiles (Losey, Kubrick, Polanski etc.) or dependable technicians that usually gravitate towards Hollywood by their third film.

There's another route of Brit film that to me is artistically stillborn ie. the TV/theatre aspect. Whether its Branagh, Richard Curtis, Mike Leigh or Loach. Of course there's wide variety of quality there, but they all seem to assume what works well on TV can translate as 'world' cinema. It doesn't. I've laughed at Hugh Laurie playing buffoons on 'Blackadder', but would never sit through him leading a feature film. Loach's approach works wonderfully for TV (politically as well as artistically - there's a whole wealth of theory on the different modes of address between TV and film), but to me makes for dull cinema.

British cinema may appear 'also-ran' due to the very closed nature of our media culture in general. The journalist married to the artist reviewing the book by his uni chum who's married to the filmaker who used to go out with the pop star who's the nephew of the front-bencher etc. etc.

The only room for artistic flair - to me - comes from its exiles, eccentrics, and occasional working class paractioners.

Anonymous said...

... which definitely applies to pop music too (see the post below on Tricky, for example).

Anonymous said...

isn't leigh's stuff essentailly botched as it's a half-way house between Lindsay Anderson and Terence Davies..a kind of hodge- podge of the elegiac and absurdist. i suppose i wonder if there is a particular, coherent canon of "british" film that one would want to champion.. something more than just a list of disparate but great "individuals"?

Anonymous said...

owen, you know nothing about film AT ALL and have no right to hold an opinion. why don't you go and live in a brutalist gulag in siberia if you like Vertov so much!

sorry..just trying to draw in....

Carl

Anonymous said...

"isn't leigh's stuff essentailly botched as it's a half-way house between Lindsay Anderson and Terence Davies..a kind of hodge- podge of the elegiac and absurdist."

No, clearly not. Next question.

("Essentially botched", "interesting but flawed"... jesus christ almighty. Witness the self-appointed secular clerisy at work, with a book of [film-]canon law in one hand and a stout stick in the other, on the prowl for miscreants.)

Anonymous said...

Owen wrote:

"there are about three films I like a lot, ridiculously uncinematic and mannered as they are"

You tell us these three films are Abigail's Party, Naked and Meantime. Well, AP was indeed made for the theatre and only reached the telly as a rush-job when a slot suddenly and unexpectedly became available. Very little time was available to translate the play to TV; so little, in fact, that Leigh nearly turned down the opportunity. So he's never been happy with AP, because it's not just not-cinematic, but not-even-properly-televisual. (Just for example: the set and the characters are filmed almost entirely front-on and in medium-close-up, if seen from the front edge of the stage.)

But what on earth is "uncinematic" about Naked or Meantime? And precisely how do you define "cinematic", anyway?

- w.

Anonymous said...

Appropriate to a large screen at 90 minutes plus, a contained narrative with sustained reliance on movement and image, not overtly text-based, not made to be experienced as a 'domestic' encounter (which much of TV works well for). Basically the difference between The Sopranos and Goodfellas, or MASH on TV vs. its very different film.

Anonymous said...

"It's also notable that all three of those don't feel the need to have the ever-present, fundamentally identical (usually female) flawed-but-heroic-battlers, which is easily Leigh's most pernicious tic"

Yeah, god forbid women should be shown coping. Pernicious as hell, that. Leigh, being a bloke, should know better: a woman's place is in the gutter, or (even better) in the nick.

Ask the Impostume, who (being a bloke) is also not amused, or, more precisely, not entertained by Leigh's women:

"“Vera Drake”? Two hours of Imelda Staunton shuffling around in her pinny, boiled-cabbage complexion to the fore as a working class Holy-Innocent back street abortionist, who, acting spontaneously from her great naïve wellspring of proletarian female love without the slightest grasp of the social implications of her acts eventually gets gratifyingly sent down for ten years’ hard labour. That’ll learn you. Do a Sociology O-level or something while you’re banged up, for fuck’s sake!"

"Gratifyingly". Right. She had ideas above her station, that old bint. Even worse, she also actually did things.. Not a wise move. Being a bloke with O-Levels, the Impostume knows better. And boiled-cabbage complexions are not what he paid his hard-earned cash to see.

Are we starting to see a pattern here?

"Poppy is so superhumanly empathetic that not only does she have no fear of seeking out violently deranged tramps hunkered down in bits of wasteland (“is this the bit where she gets raped and murdered?” a small gleeful voice kept asking in the back of my mind as I watched) "

"Gleeful". But of course. That Inner Voice, that Inner Bloke, will insist on being properly entertained. He paid for his ticket, didn't he? And after all, being raped and murdered is what women are for in films, as opposed to surviving. Being a bloke, not to mention a Genius, Alfred Hitchcock knew that, as do most filmmaker-blokes and (most especially) most theory-blokes.

We're starting to see a pattern here. Misanthropy is hip, and misogyny is an indispensable element of it. Thatcher and Blair have not lived their lives in vain.

- w.

Anonymous said...

Owen (I presume), defining "cinematic":

Appropriate to a large screen at 90 minutes plus, a contained narrative with sustained reliance on movement and image,

Yup, Meantime and Naked fit that bill very well. So they're "cinematic" all right.

not overtly text-based, not made to be experienced as a 'domestic' encounter (which much of TV works well for).

This is precisely what I expected you to say, but it's still disappointing to hear you say it, because it's such a tired cliché. You do realise just how many outstanding British and foreign films you are dismissing with this set of arbitrary (and clichéd) personal preferences masquerading as an aesthetic law?

In any case, Meantime and Naked were not "made to be experienced as a 'domestic' encounter", and are, therefore, de facto cinematic, by your definition. Nor are they "overtly text-based". They do contain quite a lot of spoken words, yes, just like Hitchcock's and Kubrick's and Powell & Pressburger's, and indeed Billy Wilder's. But of course the same is true of most films since The Jazz Singer; and there is, in fact, no law against it. Not even an unwritten one.

- w.

Anonymous said...

Crying 'mysoginy! The last gasp of fuzzy thinking. What next? 'Anti-semitic!' After all, I can't stand Steven Spielberg either.

Are you actually capable of commenting on the films mentioned, as opposed to the subconcious drives of the comments box?

How about the class-contempt mentioned 50+ comments ago? As someone who - apart from attendance at certain parties - has been working class pretty much all their life, I can assure you that working-class people (then or now) were never as 'lumpen' as Leigh wants to tell us they are.

I can also assure you that the only people I've met who actually like Mike Leigh are like Poppy in that fuckin' film ie. middle-class public sector twerps who have nothing to declare except their loudly announced heart of gold - male and female. Do you fit this dresciption, Gdansk?

it said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
owen hatherley said...

That wasn't me, no.

My Thatcherite, misogynist, misanthropist, theory-obsessed, film-theory, blockbuster-loving attention span is snapping just about...now. Enjoy yourself, won't you.

Anonymous said...

ps. I'm not 'Owen' O Astute One.

If a film is talking heads sitting in one or two grubby rooms talking, talking, talking, with some banal sub-plot more appropriate to a TV soap - well no, it's not cinematic as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

"That wasn't me, no."

Glad to hear it, Owen. Shame you didn't see fit to answer the questions, though. If I were going to accuse a filmmaker of being "uncinematic", then I'd take care to know what I meant by that word.

"My Thatcherite, misogynist, misanthropist, theory-obsessed, film-theory, blockbuster-loving attention span is snapping just about...now.

And he's off, in a huff of smoke.

Just a reminder, Owen: I didn't start this. Nor did I praise the post that started it. Nor did I empty a cesspit on Mike Leigh's head. Nor did I start throwing around terms such as "misanthropic" and "uncinematic". That was other people, several of them, including you.

"Enjoy yourself, won't you."

Oh, I will and I do, but not here for much longer. The quality of the opposition isn't up to much. In fact, here's The Anonymous Bloke huffing into view again, steaming with resentment, complaining predictably (along with the Guardian) about "class-contempt", presuming, foolishly, to instruct me on what working-class people are really like, and thereby weakening the opposition even further.

Bless him, though. He's a survivor.

- w.

Anonymous said...

Warzawa, congratulations on getting rid of your inner bloke! No alpha-male chest-beating for you!

I agree: no women dislike Mike Leigh and all right-thinking women despise Hitchcock. and any who do like him have no justification whatsoever for doing so. they're probably just " ladettes". mysogyny is only manifested in acts such as rape and murder and there's no way a film could be mysogynistic if it doesn't contain these elements.

Anonymous said...

why ARE you so keen to define the opposition as "blokeish"? just out of interest....

it said...

I fucking hate Mike Leigh and his stupid stoic women.

Just a vote from the no-tail team.

Anonymous said...

"Update! Some gobby bird starts giving it all that over on her blog. She could do with a couple of kiddies that one, keep her out of trouble. I'd knock her up myself if the missus wasn't always standing over me with the rolling pin. Right. I'm off down the boozer.
Gotta laugh, innit?"


In fact, no, not gotta laugh. Not at comedy that strains so desperately for effect, and so entirely in vain.

'Irony', thy name is Bloke.

it said...

It was the funniest thing I've read all day, and that includes myself.

Anonymous said...

ahh.... how high minded. Give us a laugh then warzawa. a bit of a non-Blokeish, non-ironic fun.. I'd hate to come away from this thinking you were just a sententious old stick-in-the-mud. You big self important old mr grumpy pants! what would Poppy say!

Anonymous said...

It was the funniest thing I've read all day

Well, there are days like that. I hope things brighten up for you this evening.

Anonymous said...

Impostume, this is the essence of your objection to Leigh, and I think it's based on a misunderstanding:

"presenting precisely the barriers to empathy and identification of the more mainstream fare that he imagines his work offers an alternative to."

Well, creating barriers to what you call "empathy and identification" is precisely what Leigh is about, or at least one thing he is very much about. And not because he objects to either of these things per se, but because he knows why a perceived demand for (frictionless) "empathy and identification" often results in films that misrepresent experience.

Ray Carney describes the difference between Hollywood's "depths" and Leigh's "surfaces" here, eloquently:

Mental Identities: When Being Replaces Doing

http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/carncult/mental.shtml

- w.

Billy Stevenson said...

This post is awesome. Thankyou for articulating why I hated Amelie.

Anonymous said...

Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm), and is currently
debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.

TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
before..." Film Threat
"A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
"Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
version of David Lynch. " IFC News
"Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
"Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque