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Askew Review 15

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(Blue Underground)  Five DVD set containing 6 films and extras.  I think I must’ve been some kinda goddamn yob (British slang for a rowdy, aggressive or violent young man) in a recent past life.  I feel irresistibly drawn to stories about UK lad culture, hooliganism and thuggery, and my book collection loudly trumpets this.  Denis knows that, and when The Alan Clarke Collection found its way to the esteemed offices of Askew Reviews, he figured I might like to do the honors on this one.  As usual, the cunt was right.
     I’d never heard of Alan Clarke before, but I’m glad I know of him now.  Clarke directed cutting edge films and TV shows for the BBC during the ‘70s and ‘80s.  He also did some straight feature films during this time.  Well respected and even hailed as “the greatest British filmmaker of his generation” by The London Observer, Alan Clarke died in 1990.  This DVD set showcases some of his best work, much of which has never before been seen in America .
     The collection starts out with the BBC version of Scum.  Made in 1977, it’s a searing indictment of England ’s youth prison system.  Brutal, sadistic, racist guards make life hell for the young fellas, but the guards’ behavior is merely a reflection of the way the entire system is set up from the top down.  It’s harshly powerful stuff.  So harshly powerful, in fact, that the BBC ended up banning it before it could be released.  Not to be deterred, Clarke made a theatrical version of Scum that came out in 1979, and this is the second disc in this set.  A number of the actors from the BBC version, including star Ray Winstone, were also in this version.  The story is essentially the same, but the production values are a bit better.  While I really liked both, I slightly prefer the earlier take because of its incredible, gritty realism.
     Next up is 1982’s Made in Britain, starring a very young Tim Roth in his big screen debut.  Roth plays Trevor, a viscous, sneering, shouting, violent young skinhead (go ahead, think of him as a yob- it’ll make you feel good!) who is completely angry with the world.  While Trevor is generally an unlikable cat, the film points out quite clearly that England ’s social system has a big hand in helping to make him this way.  Grimly fascinating, Made in Britain is another quality piece of work.  The first time I watched this I was in the company of a group of friends I’d been boozing with all day.  We made up a game that required us to drink each time Trevor said “wanker” or “bollocks.”  Our efforts rewarded us with a new level of insobriety by the time the film was over.  As a bonus, Clarke used a very cool song by The Exploited (I wish I knew what it was called) in the opening scene that brilliantly set the tone for the entire movie.
     Another good ‘un from this collection is The Firm, which was released in 1988.  It features a cheesily mustachioed, ‘80s-lookin’ Gary Oldman as Bex, a slick young real estate agent/family man by day and the hardass leader of a gang of soccer hooligans at night and on the weekends.  What’s very interesting about The Firm is that most of the guys in Bex’s crew, along with the majority of the fellas from rival groups, are middle class professionals who mix it up with each other purely for the buzz it gives them.  Bex’s goal is to unite all the firms into one merry band (with him as the leader, of course) for an upcoming trip to support England in Europe .  His ensuing quest comes to a violent head, and once again Alan Clarke succeeds in showing us a unique slice of British life at that time.
     Elephant is on the same DVD as The Firm and was also made in 1988.  It was by far the hardest thing in this collection to watch.  Though only 39 minutes long, it features 18 different cold blooded, stark, almost dialogue-free separatist killings in Northern Ireland .  It’s fiercely realistic, and while I didn’t enjoy it at all, it really just pile-drove home how harsh this situation is.
The final DVD in this set is a great documentary about Clarke himself.  The man was truly at the top of his craft when he died and is greatly missed by many.  I watched it after viewing all the other movies, but I’d almost recommend seeing it before you watch the other discs because it will really get you charged up to see some seriously good filmmaking.  –Ben Hunter



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