(Spoiler warning: Some spoilers for the film This is England follow. You may wish to see the film before reading this post.)
The above clip of a young skinhead's induction into his club of friends is one of the sweetest moments in Shane Meadows' new film, This is England. It resonated with me partly because I'm biased toward remembering subcultural rites of passage fondly. I wasn't a skinhead, though, so the hair didn't come off, it just got dyed fuchsia. While I promise pictures will follow at a later date, this post is about this fine new film, not my hair.
The rituals carried out to welcome a new person into a subcultural group serve a purpose for more than just the inductee. The veterans have their sense of unity reinforced as they remember how they met their friends. Everyone is given a chance to recall what it felt like to be delivered from teenage outsider isolation into a family that cared about you and looked out for you possibly more than your own biological one ever did.
The hair falls to the floor and young Shaun (played by newcomer Thomas Turgoose) gains a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, as with any coming-of-age tale, the innocence is confined to Act One. When an old friend of the gang returns from a recent prison stay, his racism splits the group and he persuades an impressionable Shaun to stay on the wrong side of the divide.
Easily the best film I've seen so far this year, This is England sees exceptional performances from each of its actors, a soundtrack full of ska classics (I do love hearing Toots and the Maytals on a cinema sound system) and a superb period recreation of early 1980s England. In some ways it's a skinhead Quadrophenia, which the film directly references with its shot of the full ensemble cast lined up against a wall on its promotional poster. However where The Who's film focuses on the internal struggle of a boy finding himself, Meadows' story is as much about an era's and a country's identity crisis as it is about one boy growing up.
Offering a complex depiction of racial violence, it is a story every bit as relevant to 2007 as to 1983. This makes it all the more frustrating that the British Board of Film Classification gave This is England an 18 certificate, citing "realistic violence and racist language" as its reason for keeping any person under 18 from seeing it without parental consent. Meadows sadly notes that "the film is now unavailable to the audience it will benefit the most".
After seeing this film, I'm completely at a loss as to how this would get an 18 certification when so many more violent films receive 15s and 12s. In the above news segment, the BBFC representative attempts to single This is England out by noting that its violence dwells on the infliction of pain. Somehow this is more harmful than other kinds of non-pain-focused violence?
The most recent James Bond film, Casino Royale, received a 12 certificate from the BBFC. Aside from numerous instances of hand-to-hand and weapons-based combat as well as massive explosions, there was a particularly memorable scene of graphic torture. I'm 32 years old and when the big bad captures Bond, strips him naked and proceeds to penalise his, um, penis, well... I'm still emotionally scarred. But at least it was educational. Kids may not learn about the history of racism and youth culture in their country, but they will know that if they become MI5 spies, they should avoid capture by Le Chiffre, because he is prone to go straight for the penis.
All Meadows has asked for is a 15 certification, which thankfully Bristol's City Council has had the good sense to grant. Following an appeal by Mark Cosgrove, Head of Watershed Media Centre's Film Programme, the Bristol City Council's licensing committee unanimously voted in favour of reclassifying the film. Hopefully other enlightened city councils will do likewise and give more young people access to this great film. If twelve year-olds can go to the cinema on their own to see a baddie bludgeon Bond's bollocks, certainly young people three years older than them should be able to watch an intelligent movie about growing up dangerously.
Official site for the film
Under My Skin by Shane Meadows
Response by Shane Meadows to 18 certification
Bristol City Council re-classifies This Is England
UPDATE (13 May 2007): Westminster City Council has followed Bristol's example and lowered the film's certification to 15.
30 April 2007
18 April 2007
With a few days' distance from my first really negative experience in England, I've had time to reflect on expatriate life and Google for information on others' experiences as well. Today I came across the Ex-Pat Manifesto, to which I would like to add the following point:
- While I am a representative of my country, please consider that perhaps I left it for a reason. The probability that I disapprove just as much as you do of the government that I left behind is high. I'm happy to engage in intelligent discussions of my reasons for leaving it, but as a human being with feelings, it hurts if the first thing you say to me is along the lines of "I hate you people". That said, I will still respond civilly to these sentiments. I'm a guest in your country and I respect that. I hope that one day we can share a mutual respect and that our learning about each other will give some hope for the world learning to get along peacefully on a global scale.
15 April 2007
"Oh I don't know, I don't know, oh, where to begin. We are North Americans."
Everyone should live at least part of their lives abroad. Aside from all the obvious horizon-broadening it does by introducing you to new places and people, one of its most educational aspects is its gift of your new identity as the foreigner. Although it’s a negative lesson, good comes from it. You start to have more compassion for outsiders everywhere.
"And for those of you who still think we're from England, we're not."
I was at a friend’s birthday party last night where I met loads of wonderful people with whom I stayed up drinking until nearly dawn. But there was one guy there that, when I met him, I thought he was joking with what he first said to me. Having heard my accent, he asked, “Whereabouts are you from in Canada?” So I said, “Oh, I’m not Canadian, I’m American. I’m from Chicago.” Immediately he plainly stated, “I hate Americans.” It was funny so I wrly replied, “Yeah, me too.”
"I hate the feeling when you're looking at me that way 'cos we're North Americans."
As the night went on, I started to see that it wasn’t the good-natured joke that I thought it was. Every time I saw him, he shouted “Hey, American Dave” or “Look everybody, it’s American Dave!”
It was actually mildly amusing the first 20 times, but a few “American Daves” later and it was drifting into the arena of the annoying. It was annoying because no one likes being defined by their otherness. It’s insensitive and it’s rude. It stopped being funny when I realised he was laughing at me, fixating on my nationality and judging me for it instead of taking any time to get to truly know another human being.
I’m just Dave. And even that’s just a word my parents decided to apply to me many years ago. I want to know you and part of that is where you were born and the places you’ve lived, but most of it is who you are now. When we meet, just be real and keep it that way and we’re cool.
"So where's the love, where's the love, where's the love, where's the love tonight? But there's no love when the kids are uptight."
His story was mostly just drunken stumbling and a silly nickname. Writing about it makes it sound like he was really malicious. I don’t think he was a bad guy, just ignorant, drunk and obnoxious. Unsurprisingly, he nearly Jimi Hendrixed himself in the middle of the night ‘cos he partied like such a rock star.
"And yeah, I know you wouldn't touch us with a ten-foot pole 'cos we're North Americans."
The night was still young for me, however, and I was only mildly offended by Mr. Sick. Fortunately, my next random conversation would intensify those feelings so that I could fall asleep feeling like a proper second-class citizen.
I was talking to an English girl during my DJ set and she asked, “Do you know what we call Americans?” Not knowing, and willing to play along with her guessing game, I asked the obligatory, “No, what?” So she happily beamed, “Septics!” I was confused so she explained “like Septic Tank”. And, understanding, I said, “Cockney rhyming slang. It rhymes with ‘yank’ and it’s the tank that holds your shit. That’s funny stuff.” With alcohol impairing her sarcasm detector, she laughed gleefully, “Haha, yeah, you’re a septic!!! You’re a septic!”
I always knew I was full of shit, but damn, “septic”? It’s kind of great because it sounds like something out of a sci-fi film:
It’s the year 2375. It’s been three centuries since the last of the polar ice melted and left the earth a scorched wasteland. There are now enclosed cities that artificially support growing crops and raising wildlife. Each is an oasis encased in glass and only the wealthiest can afford to live in them. But there are still some people on the outside, in the irradiated wilderness. They are diseased and insane. Rumour has it they are cannibals since there isn’t anything else left to eat out there. Inside, they call them “septics”. Occasionally one breaks into one of the cities, but they are caught within moments. All it takes is one good shot to the head: if you kill the brain, you kill the septic.
As previously noted here, learning new slang for the word “toilet” is awesome. New racial slurs to apply to myself… eh, not so much. Viva hate!
13 April 2007
09 April 2007
According to The Bolton News, flat cap sales are booming in southern England. I cannot help but notice that this trend has curiously coincided with the recent arrival of a certain flat-cap-wearing American on these shores...
Here I can be seen setting my fashion focus on the Vatican. The Pope needs to move past the beanie and get down with the flatness:
In learning of this trend, I finally figured out of all the fuss being made over my cap. Many people I know in London seem to comment about my cap, whereas back in the States it always seemed rather unremarkable. Wikipedia shed some light on the matter for me: "In British popular culture, the flat cap is associated with working class men in northern England."
Ah, so that's it. I'm a middle class foreigner in the south. I seem to have crossed a class line. It was bound to happen, eh?
A chain-reaction of class-conscious questions ensued. Am I even middle class? Isn't that the great myth, that all Americans are middle class? Maybe I'm upper-lower-middle or lower-upper-lower? What other behaviour gets casually and silently scrutinised on a daily basis?
If I go to a an old formica-countered cafe in Soho and call it a "caff" instead of a "cafe", given that I'm university-educated, what does that communicate? Personally, I just like bacon, I don't care what you call the place that makes it. If I shop at Somerfield, will that be seen as ironically "slumming it". Hm, no, actually that would just be a bad idea. Somerfield is shit.
This photo here was taken from my former life as a half northern working class man, half chav:
UPDATE: I just returned from a holiday in the town of Glastonbury. Although in the southern county of Somerset, I saw many old men wearing flat caps on the way. I then remembered that I first wore a flat cap as a young boy. It was given to me by my uncle. He wore flat caps all the time. Granted, he was in his sixties, but this never struck me as a reason not to adopt his keen fashion sense.
I don't think my present readoption of the flat cap has anything to do with class politics, rather, I think I'm just an old man trapped in a 30-something's body, much like I used to be a geriatric junior high schooler. And I guess I don't even really believe that my current donning of the flat cap has anything to do with age. I may be 32-going-on-78, but I'm often simultaneously 57-going-on-12 and 25-approaching-7.
Caught in the age flux, I kinda like it here.