Ken Loach, Kes and brief questions of independence

06 September 2011

MP here

Kes - which made my Top 100 list, at #17, last week - has been restored by MGM and is being re-released in the UK by Park Circus this Friday, September 9. The extended theatrical run at the Southbank coincides with the BFI's Ken Loach retrospective, which runs through October 12 after launching this evening with a screening of his debut feature film, Poor Cow (1967).

I wrote on Kes in more detail earlier this year; and I've also just posted a short summary of Loach's work, with particular reference to his 1969 film, at Front Row Reviews. There, in reference to the director's marginalisation by a right-wing media, I've noted that it "isn’t just the fact that Loach’s films are critical of the establishment, it’s that throughout his career, he and collaborators have remained committed to a general viewpoint that on the one hand demands an understanding of social forces, and on the other allows for the creation of moving and authentic films about the systemic injustices of capitalism itself".

This last point depends among other things, I think, on an industrial context. If this "general viewpoint" - that is, a leftist viewpoint - is a prerequisite for the kind of genuinely involving cinema Loach has made, it's important that he and his collaborators are financially backed enough to allow their vision the room it demands. In an article I read earlier this week - recommended to me by its author after he saw The Killing Fields on my Top 100 - Julien Allen suggests, "If true independence is anything, it is surely artistic freedom allied to studio largesse [...] which is why RKO’s Citizen Kane is surely the most independent film ever produced".

I didn't enter Sight & Sound's young film writers' essay competition in the end (after saying I would), following the conclusion that my many meandering thoughts would have been too difficult to discipline; had I read Julien's article earlier, that line would have prompted me into action. Whatever, though, I think it's interesting and telling that the fourteen features Loach has made since and including 1995's Land and Freedom have all been funded by sources of various and multiple nationalities. It's alarming that a filmmaker championed by critics and contemporaries alike cannot find funding in his own country; that's telling of a wider and even, I think, conscious neglect, in political terms. Something needs to change, clearly; if Loach is able to continue as an artist on the back of his rise to prominence in the more accommodating 1960s, how difficult is it for unknown but no less genuine artists to secure the funding that filmmaking demands?

Anyway, I don't think all of the eleven features I've seen by Loach are masterpieces, but none have been less than compelling. His next film is called The Angels' Share and continues his intriguing collaboration with scriptwriter Paul Laverty. I look forward to that, but meanwhile, MGM’s restoration of Kes - which I had the privilege of viewing earlier - has not only made outlines finer, it has reduced grain and emphasized colour, so that the social analysis of the film's subject matter is matched now by a more explicit visual suggestion of a fruitful youth neglected in favour of capitalism’s demands for labour. If you haven't already seen it, hurry along and do.


It's come to my attention that The Star, a Sheffield-based newspaper, ran a piece back in July on Barry Hines, who is sadly suffering from an aggressive form of Alzheimer's Disease. You can read the piece here.