Without any pretence at front-line criticism, Peter Wix presents a quarterly digest of armchair observations to help in your search for the best of old and new movies.
KES- Ken Loach 1969
The star movie revisit for this column goes way back to the beginning of the career of Ken Loach, who we can currently thank for digging deep into social history with his current release, The Spirit of 45, a celebration of the time and politics that made social welfare a daily reality.
Kes reminded us in 1969 of how, even when the miracle of the welfare state was first built, social exclusion was still such a cruel experience for so many people that it was necessary to keep poignant examples of this to the forefront of art distribution, reminding society of its responsibilities. Loach has done this all his life, and Kes is now a little gem, one of those crystallisations of the early works of long-haul film directors who started when stories of working class communities did not need to feature aspiring heroes of either ballet stages or condescending bollock-naked cabaret. Billy Casper, played by a 15-year-old lad, David Bradley, found in the same newly built school that features in the lm, is a boy without choices in a community of folk without choices, all of whom pass the pain down mercilessly and unwittingly. Yet he finds beauty in the grime and, for a moment, hope that soars skyward, embodied in the titular Kestrel which he nurtures.
Kes is often celebrated as a great British lm, but it is more cinematically Czech than British. While Loach admired Czechoslovakian cinema, an influence on British filmmaking since the Free Cinema days, Chris Menges was the Director of Photography, and he had worked on Lindsay Anderson’s If… with Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek. This direct, still, realist, observer camera style, opening the lighting around actors to bring their surroundings into the description, was big in Eastern Europe. So was the humorous relief evinced by the celebrated footy class with Brian Glover, complete with the mock- formal Match of the Day score- lines. Czech out films like Milos Forman’s 1964 Konkurs, or Vera Chytilova’s lovely Daisies (1966), and you’ll see what I mean. Kes is a winner about losers. 10/10
EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL- Werner Herzog 1970
If you have to write two lines about one film, take something that leaves you speechless or something about little people, or both. Did Herzog really jump into a cactus at the end of shooting to show his solidarity with the actors who suffered to make this? This is your cactus moment. An unratable property.
THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS- Nicholas Ray 1960
This was Quinn the Eskimo, as in the Mighty Q, of the Dylan song, and seriously wrong anthropologically, yet weirdly right, Hollywoodesquely. Daring, curious, watchable… We miss Quinn. And Ray, he can come back whenever he wants. 6/10
ARGO- Ben Affleck 2012
Every day we learn more about how the Anglo-American military-industrial-political establishment understands ‘truth’. Hollywood thrillers set in lands panel-beaten by US foreign policy do not guarantee suspense or catharsis. This one would like to go Missing or be Living Dangerously but falls woefully short of finding a Salvador. It’s tedious and tendentious garbage. 2/10