16 February 2015

Spineless Swines, Cemented Minds

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When I was sixteen, my plans to have a Mohican hair style like DeNiro in Taxi Driver were scuppered by my Mum who decided it looked too much like “fanny pubes”. We compromised and decided I could have the Brazilian strip down the centre, but just short on the sides rather than bald to avoid any real resemblance to a vagina. So I went into the hairdressers where they did as I'd asked, I looked into the mirror and told them it was fine. I thought it looked good! I then got home and my Mum decided I should have had it slightly shorter on the sides and so dragged me back to get more shaved off. “Wait outside for a second” she said to me before going in on her own. She returned a minute later and said that they'd agreed to correct it for free. That was nice of them, I thought! I went in cheerful as ever and was greeted by the frostiest haircut I've ever had in my life. They didn't speak to me, they didn't look me in the eyes, they didn't smile… turns out that in an effort to save a few quid, my Mum had told them that I thought their original efforts were full-on shit and that I was fucking pissed off. Oblivious to this, I then re-entered like a smug little twat and tried to make casual small talk as though I hadn't just sent a banshee in to do my dirty work. That was the last haircut I ever went for. Even if being a skinhead would make me look like a massive racist thug, it's better than returning to that void of social awkwardness.

This Is England paints a picture of both the 1980's and skinhead culture. Although I became one because I felt like a dickhead down at the hairdressers, the style was originally slightly more meaningful to those who sported it. The film starts with a montage of everything we love about the tackiest decade in recent memory with clips of stupid fashion, Roland Rat, and loners who've mastered the Rubik's Cube. Things then take a turn and the images become more sinister. Missiles being tested, injured soldiers, the Falklands, unemployment, and the first ever human-lizard combo, Margaret Thatcher. Once we've established how shit the 1980's was, we meet the main character, Shaun. About twelve years old, fatherless, and fugly, Shaun is lacking in guidance and so stomps about town giving and receiving abuse like a gammy little imp with wonky eyes. Quickly he falls in with a friendly gang of skinheads who take him under their collective wing by shaving his head, buying him clothes and letting him smash things up with them. I guess that's what people did before common sense prevailed and somebody had the nouse to invent Xboxes and Facebook. It all seems to be going well for everyone until about halfway through when the peace is disturbed by the arrival of Combo. Fresh from jail, Combo is a scouse Joe Pesci with controversial views on those that don't fall specifically into his perimeters of a British master-race. Although, if he falls into his interpretation of what it is to be British then we can probably summarise his recruitment questionnaire to “are you white and/or a massively arrogant bell-end?”

Here's a depressing fact for you... As I write this now, the year is 2015 and this film is now almost ten years old! Seriously! How the fuck did that even happen? Where has it all gone? The amount of time that's passed since this film’s release is almost as long as the shitty decade that it's set in lasted for. I'm twenty-six right now and maybe I'm only just getting used to a significant amount of time going by un-noticed but that's still mental. Since its release, This Is England has received almost nothing but critical acclaim and spread through our national consciousness with the efficiency of an irremovable genital wart. If there's a person in the land who’s not seen this movie then they should sort their lives out or face being exiled from home-grown pop-culture. There's been television spin-offs, moronic lad-ish films that rip it off, and even its soundtrack has popped up more and more in other shows, films and adverts. Who'd have thought that music used to express a character’s feelings as he descends into violence and racism would be so effective in advertising?! And I suppose a descent into racism is part of why this film is so brilliant. Before seeing this movie, I just assumed that people who wore Doc Marten’s and had a shaved head were angry, ignorant, bigoted gizoids. As it turns out, they are... but this wasn't always the case. In the same way that this film has subtly become a widely known and respected part of our cinema history, it seems that racists too secreted themselves within the skinhead movement like a parasite before slowly redefining it.

To begin with, skinheads were a subculture of working class chaps who had a love of music and fashion that was derived from both a Jamaican and Mod scene origin. The movement was filled with people of all ethnic backgrounds- it had no political affiliations and was simply a way for a load of working class people to feel a sense of community with each other. Unlike most films to depict skinheads, This Is England shows both sides of the coin with the original gang that Shaun joins being all about that culture and the friendship within. Like the movement itself, the group is ultimately infiltrated and ruined by more militant and right-wing members who seem less interested in the music than they are in finding scapegoats for their own shitty lives. The film therefore follows a similar structure to the opening 80's montage in that we start with the good times before moving on to the more dramatic shit stained blemishes that have come to define both the decade and movement. In fact, this is a fairly common trajectory for director Shane Meadows whose previous films Twenty Four Seven and A Room For Romeo Brass follow a similar path. The first halves of all three are basically comedies in which working class youths exchange banter in a way that's so naturalistic we could almost be watching a documentary; something which Meadows has taken further since with his most recent films being a mockumentary and a concert film. In all three films too, the second half wanders into darker territory when our easily influenced and youthful protagonists are terrorised or manipulated by an angry, psychopathic fuck-nugget.

Those however aren't the only elements of Shane Meadows’ work that share similarities with each other as all are also heavily auto-biographical for him. Twenty-Four Seven drew on his experience of being at a shit boxing club; A Room For Romeo Brass is about the time his best mate was bed-ridden and he befriended a nutcase; Dead Man's Shoes is about the time he returned to his home and found everybody living a normal life despite having bullied a disabled person into suicide; and This Is England is about the time he started hanging out with violent skinheads. I don't know how Once Upon A Time in the Midlands ties into this because I hear it's shit and so haven't bothered seeing it. However having just re-watched all the others, it really does seem like Meadows had been building entirely towards this film and so put every element of his previous films into this one modern classic! It's a film that needs to be seen by pretty much everybody and speaks not only about community and discrimination but also masculinity and the need for guidance. It's also fairly cinematic with its use of slow motion and musical montages making it look a bit like if Ken Loach were to remake Reservoir Dogs.

Personally I have no real criticisms of this film however I did see a video of some smug twat on NewsNight Review saying that the young boy in it seemed unrealistically wise for his age. This is bollocks though with the guy saying it being a pretentious bucket of smug who was enjoying his own critique a little too much. For what it's worth, I think my favourite of Meadows' films so far is Dead Man's Shoes but I think it should be mandatory for schools to show this to kids as a preventative to them evolving into grown-up knob-heads. It also goes someway to explaining why we now associate the flag with racists as much as patriots. Although, I label both of those groups of people under the heading of 'idiots'. Morrissey was accused of being racist simply for wearing his nation’s flag on stage however that time he referred to the Chinese as a “Sub-species” went relatively un-noticed by comparison. The image of shaven-headed yobs sporting the Union Jack and ignorantly finding minorities to blame for their own stupidity is now so tattooed onto our minds that what it means to be British has completely changed over the years. Where the world once saw us as a nation of intellectual and probably-gay, dapper gents, it now sees pissed-up football yobs travelling the world to patronisingly slur at foreigners before smashing the place up. The film might be set in the 1980's but does the title This Is England refer to then or now? I shaved my head through meekness and a sense of awkwardness but if you look at my passport picture, you'd think I'm one missed hit away from stabbing you in the face for a rusty spoon. I've since disowned my head-carpet all together and let it grow to whatever length it wants. The plus-side is I don't look like a thug but the downside is that I do look like a stoner. Ten years later or not, I suppose it beats going back to the hairdressers. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time. 


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