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Saturday, October 15, 2016

SOCIAL REALISM profile of godfather Ken Loach

Some featured films in the BFI guide to SR.
With the frequent focus on Working Title, the term social realism is thrown in a lot on this blog. To have any grasp of that, there are two names you should be familiar with: Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. I read an interesting Loach interview in today's Guardian - including a nice dig at that paper's conservatism compared to The Morning Star - which starts with a look at his politics and how these are reflected his latest film, just out, but goes on to look over his entire 50 year film-making career.

Loach and Leigh are both iconoclastic, exceptional auteurs: both typically refuse to issue a script, preferring to workshop a scenario with their cast (often, mostly in Loach's case, untrained non-professional actors), and Loach even shoots his films in chronological order, breaking rule 1 of film production! This, and their focus on working-class protagonists and their struggles in an unsympathetic political culture, has seen both struggle to win funding in their homeland, with government agencies baulking at the notion of funding unscripted projects and studios/investors seeking star-led projects.

Both, especially Loach, have managed long careers by pre-selling distribution rights (BEFORE production commences) in European markets like France and Germany where both are widely acclaimed - a funding method threatened by EU proposals to force producers to sell EU-wide rights only, and barring territory by territory deals (great news for the studios with the clout and presence to achieve this, but a sure death-knell for Indies if its implemented in the name of neo-liberal, free market orthodoxy).

A sample quote:

Although his work on Z-Cars was praised for its new dirty realism (accepting that the police could be prejudiced or even corrupt), Loach didn’t feel it was real enough, so he went back to first principles and analysed the films he most admired: the Czech new wave and the Italian neorealists. “In these films, people are just being, not performing. And what I was doing was getting performances I didn’t believe. So I learned from my mistakes.” 
He took his craft to pieces and rebuilt it, borrowing some techniques (using natural light whenever possible and casting nonprofessional actors alongside professionals) and establishing new ones of his own (shooting chronologically; feeding the storyline to actors bit by bit, so their reactions are real; combining improvised shots with closely scripted ones). It is perhaps this level of realism that distinguishes his films more than anything: Cathy, wonderfully played by Carol White, looks shocked when her child is taken away because the actor was; ditto the boy who cries in Kes when he is caned on the hand.
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