Thursday, April 14, 2005

Scum (film version) (Alan Clarke)

I purchased Blue Underground's Alan Clarke box set several months ago, and have finally found some time to start watching it. Clarke was a British director who mostly made television films for the BBC, making only three or four feature films in his career. Unfortunately, none of his films, TV or otherwise, had ever been available on video, with the exception of "Rita, Sue, & Bob, Too," and even that one has been out of print for years. I've been curious about him for a long time after reading glowing praises of his work from people like Ray Carney, Harmony Korine, Mike Leigh, Danny Boyle, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Gus Van Sant (who named his film "Elephant" in homage to Clarke's film of the same name). After checking out the first two films in the box, I'm really excited about the other three. Some background explanation of this film: "Scum" was originally filmed in 1976 for the BBC, but the censors thought it was too intense and banned it from airing. Clarke decided to remake it as a theatrical film two years later, with some of the same actors, including Ray Winstone in the lead. The banned BBC version, also included in the box set, is astonishingly good, a brutal, claustrophobic look at life in a boys reformatory presented as a series of episodic, long takes focusing primarily on Winstone, but leaving him for several scenes to focus on other characters, with excellent use of light and dark and the hand-held camera. The film works from the exact same script, with some scenes removed and others cut from the television version put back in. It's a good film, but can only disappoint compared to the TV version. The film is slicker, more melodramatic, and the impact is lessened by its familiarity, but there are still great things about it. I wonder what I would have thought had I seen it fresh.

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