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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

David and Goliath : Guest Post by John Mulligan

David and Goliath

Michael Henderson, in 2014, wrote an article for the Spectator magazine. The heading of the article reads “Why Ken Loach hasn’t made a decent film since Kes.” There are a number of things to be concerned about here. I will deal with them which fall into two areas. The first being the magazine itself and the second with the film director Ken Loach, who, after all, is what the piece of writing is about. It seems reasonable to accept that the author of the piece of writing will reveal to us why Mr Loach has not “made a decent film since Kes”. Well, it is interesting what he has to say and it is not interesting at all; it is surprising what he has to say and it is not surprising at all. To understand this sentence you need to understand the philosophy behind the magazine itself. 
Kes, Ken Loach’s most famous film and many say greatest, was made in 1969. In the five full decades that have followed, he has not made a decent film according to Mr. Henderson. The first thing to note about the article is that it is very badly written which is not unusual for the publication. In the opening paragraph then he mentions one of Loach’s films - Jimmy’s Hall - he then goes on to attack the writer of this film, Paul Laverty. Of Laverty he says (Laverty) “who is usually described as a Scottish ‘human rights campaigner’. Wake up at the back! They’re doing this for your benefit.” Five years before this article was written Paul Laverty gave an interview in the Socialist Review, in it he said 
"I saved up some money and went out to work for a co-op in north Nicaragua, in the war zone. That was a real eye opener for me, I saw what the US were doing there, funding the Contras. I saw the systematic planned violence against the civilian population of Nicaragua. I visited El Salvador and Guatemala during their wars as well. In three years I saw how the US tore countries apart in a much more sophisticated way by cutting off loans to the IMF and World Bank, putting pressure on other countries to not deal with them.
Many of the same US politicians involved in the wars in Central America - Richard Perle, John Negroponte and a whole host of other shady CIA figures - were later involved in the Iraq war.”
 Michael Henderson, of course, does not mention any of this and the reason should be evident. The Spectator, in the 1980s, wrote on Nicaragua itself but instead on writing in detail about Reagan's terrorist war against the native population, they instead sought to write unceremoniously about the Sandinistas, which would, I suppose, be akin to somebody condemning a Nazi who murders a few people in his spare time on a whim and staying silent on the six million slain Jews and the other victims of Hitler’s megalomania. This is what Ambrose Evans-Pritchard did when he wrote in 1985 in the magazine.
 “It appears that the Sandinistas are either trying to exterminate the Contras, or provoke them into conflict in order to justify blocking the transfer of military power to the incoming government of Violeta Chamorro on 25 April. Meanwhile the state propaganda machine has accused the Contrast of terrorising peasants around Quilali and of breaking the ceasefire. President Ortega has threatened 'the full fury of civil war and insurrection, unless the Contras are disarmed.' He needs the Contras desperately. They are his last excuse for holding on to power after a crushing electoral defeat.” 

Nicaragua - The Iran Contra Affair

He says nothing about the crimes of the contras and nothing about the terror the Reagan administration were supporting, the magazine kept this line and so it is unlikely to change its tone. So straight away we see the article about Ken Loach is perhaps politically motivated. One would think Paul Laverty’s work in Nicaragua would be praised. Indeed, Mr Henderson has left nothing out. The article is not even about him. 
“Only one thing is for sure”, Henderson writes, referring to Loach. “Not many people, working-class or otherwise, want to watch his films. Even critics, one feels, see them out of a sense of duty.” The Wind That Shake the Barley, Loach's 2006 film grossed almost twenty-three million dollars worldwide, his 2009 film Looking for Eric, his 2009 film grossed eleven-and-a-half million dollars at the box office. In terms of the critics well one easy way to answer this conundrum is to look at the awards Ken Loach has won since Kes was made. He has won the Palme d’Or twice, arguably the most sought after award and most respected, he has won the Cannes Jury Prize twice, the Leopard of Honour, European Film Award, European Film Academy Award, British Independent Film Award, Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, the list of honours go on and on. 
Michael Henderson goes on with other charges against Loach, and then the motives for his attack becomes clear. He praises Kes. It is “one of the finest films of post-war English cinema”, he informs us. He then, like a badly-written movie plot unfolding, gives away his motive for his angst and grievances albeit he does do state them. He asserts “Loachland occupies a world of permanent grievance, at home and abroad, with ‘issues’ getting in the way of the tale. Hidden Agenda was about Northern Ireland, Carla’s Song was set in Nicaragua, Land and Freedom took us to the Spanish Civil War. Tick, tick, tick”. What Mr Henderson cannot stomach and tolerate is the political content in Ken Loach’s films. It is not the political content alone of course it is much more than that. Loach is a socialist, openly so, and he makes films about people’s struggles, about communities, their spirit, resolve and the things the Spectator editorial team cringe at. It is this what Henderson really is writing this badly-written article for because there is nothing in the article that tells the reader why Ken Loach has not made a decent film since Kes. 
About half-way through the article he calls Ken Loach a propagandist.
He goes on to say “It is palpably untrue in any case to suggest that working-class people have never been given a voice in English cinema”. He then goes onto list some of these films. Interestingly enough he does not name a single film by mike Leigh, Alan Bleasdale or Jimmy McGovern. There is a reason for this. The films he mentions like A Taste of Honey and  Friday Night and Sunday Morning are devoid of much political content and when there is this political content it does not highlight the British brutality against the Irish,  (the Wind That Shakes the Barley), the appalling abuse and humiliation people face on the benefit system (I, Daniel Blake), nothing about trade unions, (Riff-Raff), the housing crises (Cathy Come Home), the abuse of the prison system  (Three Given Sundays) and so on. He stays away from progressive films about the oppression, suppression, struggles from autocracy people face in their lives and Mike Leigh is hardly Ken Loach in tackling these issues but condemning Thatcherism is a sin and focusing on working class struggles is an even bigger sin. The great irony of course is that he calls Loach a propagandist. It is Loach here that is the propagandist and not Henderson. Loach, he says, is a propagandist but never elucidates on this. Instead, he launches his own unique-style of propaganda which is funny because it is so badly done - it is inevitable what his intentions and motives are. This idea that Ken Loach is a propagandist is an interesting argument.
In his Palm d’Or winning film the wind that shakes the barley the actors playing soldiers were in fact not real actors at all; they were soldiers. In Riff-Raff, Ricky Tomlinson, one of the actors in the film shared with Loach his own personal experience and this is presented in the film so in terms of Loach being a propagandist, by the very nature the way he works - it is an impossibility. Ken Loach, at times, appears to be a lone voice in British cinema to give people from down-trodden and working class communities a voice and when he does it is Goliath that often raises its ugly head. It is interesting to decide who the real David is. 

About The Author

John Mulligan is a 37 year old English writer.
His influences and inspiration are mostly literary. His earliest influences go all way back to Aristophanes, Plato, Sophocles and the rest of the ancient mob. 
"It was not until the time of Chaucer and Dante where anybody really had any direct influence on me and Shakespeare of course, along with many other English playwrights: Marlowe and Thomas Kyd to name just two. The Romantic poets were a deep inspiration to me and some politically so - especially Shelley and Byron, Philosophy had a deep influence over me too: Descartes, Nietzsche, Locke, Hume, Russell, Rousseau, Spinoza, Leibniz and so on. The major influences were the Russian and French novelist, particularly Balzac, Gide, Maupassant, Chekhov Gogol, Turgenev, Zola, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, the list goes on",he says.

His writings - literary writings draws on influences from Balzac, Kafka, Beckett, Gogol, Turgenev. According to the author,to some degree it is absurd, and he is ready to acknowledge that much. "But then again,there is the political me of course which is perhaps a shade more polemical. I am an anarchist and I find most writers are - they do just not state it. So, yes I write on a number of things",he adds.

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