The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Alan Clarke Day


‘If you wanted a symbol of the strange, strained relationship between the British and film, try this: the most important British director of the late 20th century made barely anything for the cinema.

‘Among his peers, Alan Clarke was a role model. His most vocal admirers include Paul Greengrass, Danny Boyle — as a young man, the producer of Clarke’s 1989 film Elephant — and Stephen Frears, who once surveyed their shared generation and declared Clarke “the best of us all”. But from the 1960s until his early death in 1990, Clarke worked mostly and most brilliantly on TV. Which may be why his name remains less celebrated than those who celebrate him.

‘Usually, you can tell an Alan Clarke film in seconds. You’ll know it from the hot-blooded realism, all the touchy-feeliness of a porcupine, and a trademark shot of a character furiously walking, pursued by the camera. Yet his breadth was remarkable: one-off plays by new British writers; borstal shocker Scum (1979); adaptations of Solzhenitsyn and Brecht (1982’s Baal, starring David Bowie); a late run of stripped-down classics including Road, Christine (both 1987) and The Firm (1989), the scalding drama of English football hooliganism with a star turn from Gary Oldman. (Coaxing excellence from actors was another speciality: Tim Roth and Ray Winstone got their start with Clarke).

‘From later this month, his bruising visions of British life are to be showcased in a season at London’s BFI Southbank and, in May, a series of box sets collecting, for the first time, the many TV films he made for the BBC. Making up most of his career, the bulk has gone unseen for decades. Just a fraction of Clarke’s work has stayed in circulation, the rest marooned in the archives, some assumed lost. It’s an odd fate for such a talent. Lord knows, Britain never had enough great directors to be so careless.

‘Clarke was born on Merseyside, north-west England, in 1935, the son of a plasterer and customs officer. He trained in the theatre, coming of professional age in the 1960s. Despite a love of movies, TV was a natural home. It was somewhere a free spirit could kick at the establishment in front of audiences no theatre could match. The pact endured throughout his career. On TV, in a three- (later four-) channel Britain, Clarke’s fiercest, weirdest films went out to millions, rubbing shoulders in the schedules with quiz shows and sitcoms.

‘Why would he have wanted to work in the British movie business of the 1970s and 1980s, a grim landscape where nothing got made and, when it did, tended to involve Joan Collins? Yet if he had, it might not have taken 26 years to rescue him from the archives. Clarke’s era often found the British telling themselves they made the best TV in the world, but the self-congratulation came with a sniff and a smirk, the medium then considered to be on the wrong side of the divide between high and low culture. And, as such, disposable.

‘Clarke was drawn to the institutional, to tales of classrooms, barracks, psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, his style became radically spare. Scum and The Firm are his touchstones, but just as potent are two films he made in Northern Ireland: 1985’s Contact, a stark account of British troops in south Armagh, and Elephant, a wordless carousel of sectarian killings in Belfast made four years later. It was strong medicine: but Clarke could also be surreal, and very funny.

‘Even through the mists of nostalgia, we can’t pretend this stuff was mainstream. In Richard Kelly’s biography Alan Clarke, Made in Britain writer David Leland recalled the response to the 1983 film (broadcast on ITV), whose portrait of a delinquent skinhead played by a young Tim Roth left viewers wanting to “go round the back of the [TV] and see if it was plugged in properly”.

‘Inside his industry, Clarke provoked worse than disbelief. There was regular friction with the BBC. The brutal Scum — starring Ray Winstone — was banned by the corporation after it had commissioned it in 1977. (A cinema remake was one of Clarke’s handful of feature films.)

The Firm, too, ran into trouble, with scenes cut before its transmission on BBC2. Long memories may half explain why Clarke still seems to be outside the BBC’s embrace. It’s hard to see Clarke as part of the national broadcaster’s brand, the feral Bex Bissell of The Firm lined up with Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley. Harder still to picture a film such as Contact anywhere now on avidly non-confrontational British TV. That really would have people checking the back of their screens.

‘Clarke always confounded British culture. As a working-class director whose projects were sometimes about the working class, there were attempts to box him up as another Ken Loach, a poet of the kitchen sink. But Clarke’s worldview was too singular for that. His politics were leftwing, but unruly. Danny Boyle remembered Clarke advising him to read The Sun rather than The Guardian (with the latter, “you always know what they’re gonna say”). His real obsession was psychology: power, compliance, the dynamics of men and women.

‘Visually too, he was a triumphant sore thumb. Where British film always leans to the stagey, Clarke was kinetic. A watershed came with the invention of the Steadicam, the kit used to smoothly follow actors in motion that became his signature. Famously, it was also loved by Stanley Kubrick, who employed it to chilling effect in The Shining. With Clarke, Britain had a director who didn’t fade into irrelevance if mentioned alongside Kubrick. For him to die from cancer at 54 was a tragedy, but at least we have the work: the films of a giant from an occasionally small country.’ — Danny Leigh



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Alan Clarke at the BBC: he was the Bresson of Birkenhead
Remembering Alan Clarke, the King of Bleak, Violent British Cinema
Close to the Bone: Alan Clarke
Alan Clarke profile @ Senses of Cinema
Alan Clarke, un génie singulier à (re)découvrir absolument
The Alan Clarke Collection
Alan Clarke: made (and unmade) in Britain
Alan Clarke viewing notes (1967–1990)
The Complete Alan Clarke at the BBC
Criterion Prediction #27: An Alan Clarke Collection



Walking into Film History: Alan Clarke’s Steadicam Shots

The Late Show – Alan Clarke

Alan Clarke: His Own Man

BFI’s Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989) Blu-ray Set Unboxing


Interview about Alan Clarke with Ben Wheatley and Jim O’Rourke
from There’s No Place Like Home


When did you first become aware of his work?

Ben Wheatley: I think it would have been when I was at school and it would have been Scum (1979). At the school I went to in London there was a lot of talk of people hitting people with pool balls in socks and that had actually happened in an incident at my school so that’s kind of how I heard about Scum. Then I actually came to see it when I was about 12 or 13 at school. Whenever there was bad weather we’d get the video decks out and watch things like Enter the Dragon (1973), the Rambo movies, hardcore karate movies or early Jackie Chan stuff. In my school they would show Clarke stuff and I saw Contact (1984) at school as part of a history course about Northern Ireland. Then I had to try to remember what it was called and try to track it down later. I think that’s a brilliant movie and I remember watching that and just sitting there sweating, terrified by it. I also would have seen Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) and also Road (1987) because I remember having seen one of the original theatrical productions of Road at the Royal Court when I was a kid. So I was interested in seeing what they did with that and then when I saw it was Clarke, it was like fucking hell! I saw the version with Jane Horrocks, Ian Glen and Ian Dury. It was pretty amazing. A friend’s mum worked at the Royal Court and we were basically just this load of oiks. She said she’d give us free tickets for whatever we wanted, so I saw quite a lot of stuff around that period. I also saw Carol Churchill’s Serious Money, Bennet’s Kafka’s Dick and The Emperor, so all that sort of thing. But yeah Road, blew my mind at the time.

Jim O’Rourke: If I remember correctly, it was Made in Britain (1983) that I saw first, and at the time I probably associated it with other films I saw at the time like Quadrophenia (1979) and the like. Although I spent a good deal of my childhood in Ireland and London, I never saw any of his films as they happened on TV, and they really weren’t readily available in the States. I had read a lot about Elephant (1989), and was definitely looking for that. Around ten years ago when the first commercially available DVD’s were released, I became quite ravenous about finding his stuff. I even bugged someone I knew who had a friend who worked at the BBC to copy anything they could, and it worked!

Clarke was a master of the “social realism” drama and not afraid to show violence at often it’s most brutal, a statement that could easily be leveled at your own work, Ben.

BW: Yeah I think that the thing about his stuff that always struck me was that I didn’t ever feel the same kind of way about any other kind of film. I mean other stuff around like The Wild Geese (1978) and Star Wars (1977) and all these kind of things. There was plenty of stuff that was violent but there was nothing that made you feel so sickened and guilty about it as his stuff. It felt like it was really happening to you and you felt afraid by it. I think the only other time I had seen that was maybe Scorsese’s stuff or maybe Ghosts of the Civil Dead (1988).

Like Mean Streets (1973)?

BW: Well I was thinking more like Taxi Driver (1976) or Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967) and that really affected me but that’s what its supposed to be about where you’re portraying it in a way that isn’t realistic and I recognise that from life, where I’ve either seen violence or been involved in it and it didn’t feel like movie violence. That’s why I felt it was a type of filmmaking that made more sense. I suppose Cathy Come Home (1966) has that kind of element to it and things like Ladybird Ladybird (1994) made me feel like that. There’s something more sensational but less polite about Clarke, he wants you to feel it as well as understand it. A lot of the films are just a warning not to get caught in the cogs of society or you’ll get ground up. It seems to be a recurring theme, that the machine was uncaring and that there may be these people full of faults and problems but they were still human.

At the time, Clarke’s work was often criticised for looking too much like a documentary (Scum, Christine, Contact in particular). What is your opinion on this?

BW: It depends where the criticism comes from, does it come from people who are worried about people tuning in half way through thinking it was real? I don’t think it’s a criticism that stands up now, I mean if it was for purely aesthetic reasons then it’s down to different tastes. Its like all the asinine comments by people saying that films shouldn’t be shot handheld because its amateur. It depends from what perspective they are saying that, because films look very different from each other all the time. I mean its like The Battle of Algiers (1966), is that a shit film because its shot like a documentary?

People’s experience of real life is through handheld devices like news cameras, camcorders and phones. So if you shoot stuff in that mode then the people believe its more real and a way into the drama as opposed to sitting back and thinking its like a Hollywood film. I understand why he shot in the way that he did because he was trying to make you believe and get rid of that controlled artificial feeling.

JO: I am actually surprised to hear that, at that point there’d been a considerable amount of film and TV that adapted that ethos, you could even look to The French Connection (1971) to see that it had become part of mainstream filming. Maybe there was a backlash against that that I am unaware of, but of course also Mr. Clarke was making films for the BBC, and i can’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough of all BBC productions in the 70’s to get a picture of the standard operating procedure, but it seems like the criticism of someone just looking for a criticism. It definitely would make most viewers unsettled, as there is nothing to fall back on, so to speak. Christine (1987) and Contact could see how he was really pushing into an almost rarefied hyper-reality, those films, like Elephant, really don’t put off a documentary like feel, but much more like an aestheticised quality. The hand held camera of his earlier films implies a cameraman, but the steadicam implies omniscience.

Personally I think the comment about them looking more like a documentary is a compliment to Clarke’s ability as a director to make his dramas look “real”.

BW: Exactly. All that people want, and who are these people? They set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner of art. Who are they and what have they done? It’s like bring me the shame-faced people who gave bad reviews to Nic Roeg’s films throughout his career.

In 1972 Clarke directed “To Encourage The Others” and “Under the Age” both for the BBC. TETO was based on the book and play by David Yallop and the evidence it contains twice forced governments to re-open a murder case long since closed and finally in 1993 lead to the granting of a posthumous Royal pardon to Derek Bentley. Under the Age features a transgender barmaid and openly touches on the subject of homosexuality (decriminalised only a few years earlier). Clearly both groundbreaking and challenging works at the time.

JO: I would imagine so. To Encourage The Others is actually one of my favorites of Clarke’s films. Not being subject to British laws, but being there a lot at the time, I was unaware of such barbaric laws, so it is all the more fascinating how much of it I saw in the British films and TV shows I knew at the time. There is definitely a kind of “problems picture” quality to Under the Age, but I didn’t know it was as radical as it was.

BW: It was all risky that stuff and if you look at what goes on now; where’s Alan Clarke, where’s Dennis Potter – they don’t exist in our modern world at all. It’s such a sad state of affairs when you look back to that period and they were so adventurous. We’ve got plenty of other types of TV from that period we’ve got game shows and talent shows, we still have all that but we haven’t got any of that sort of agit-prop theatre stuff. I guess because at the time and because of the focus, there were fewer channels so you really were speaking to the nation and addressing those issues but you could make that stuff now and people wouldn’t watch it.

Because there’s too many channels so too much choice?

BW: It’s not too much choice, you’ve got choice but if you don’t like bad news you can turn over and watch sport. You don’t have to watch theatre on TV anymore but back then it was like, what else are we going to do? Plus you had to get up out of your seat and turn it over!

Do you think it is just a sign of the times that everything seems to be reality television and is that really what people want? Although arguably in the US that’s where some of the best TV drama is being made like BREAKING BAD, HOMELAND and HBO dramas.

BW: I wonder, I mean television in the US is different but if you’re talking about mainstream cinema that goes on national release you’re right but it’s a bigger thing than that isn’t it? American Independent cinema is pumping out like 500 movies a year, which we’re never ever going to get to see outside of film festivals. Then there’s Festivals like Karlovy Vary where you see all the European stuff that you’re even less likely to get to see. I mean there could be masterpiece after masterpiece being made out there.

Even with the really good HBO stuff, its still all genre stuff like DEADWOOD is still a cowboy show and THE SOPRANOS is still a gangster show.

Although we’ve got film directors like Soderbergh and Campion going back to making drama for television, nothing as yet still seems as edgy as the type of dramas that Clarke was making.

BW: It’s different though because the turnover was a lot faster, Play for Today’s were ephemera so you’d bang it out and it was done and then move on to the next one. You didn’t have any of the risks, any of the pressures of returning characters and storylines. You’d make it then move on.

It’s dangerous to broadly say we live in terrible times but the shame of it is that the way BBC should be run is that if something is a commercial success then it should become an ITV show. If you look at it in broad strokes and what they should be doing is making stuff that no one else will make but as soon as they do that they get criticised for making stuff that no one watches and wasting the licence payer’s money, so they cant win.

I really liked it when they got rid of people like Dave Lee Travis and others from Radio 1 and brought in all this fresh new blood. But everybody was like, why are you doing this? It’s not what its for, its not about being popular, its about certain types of music for certain types of people and I think its the same for the Television side, they should get back to taking risks because they are in the privileged position to take those risks. I mean I watch Strictly Come Dancing, I’m not ashamed to admit I watch it with my family and enjoy it, so I’m not snobby about these things. They just don’t balance it out with the other stuff. A big brassy show like that should be on ITV.

JO: But, to some degree, at least in the States now, like you mentioned Soderbergh, I think part of the reason is because these are the only outlets for them to make something that is even somewhat close to the kind of films they want to make. There was definitely a stigma to working in television in the past, I mean for instance, people would speak badly of someone like Curtis Harrington because he moved into television, but that was the only work he could get as the economics change. And the economics are directly tied to the kind of work you can make, whether we like it or not.

TO ENCOURAGE THE OTHERS was shot on multi-camera colour video for the court scenes, colour 35mm for the re-enactment of the crime that opens the film and then uses a rapid montage of B&W stills to illustrate and differentiate evidential re-enactments. This has been compared to Peter Watkins forensic style documentary approach, another director you have recently been compared to yourself with your film A Field in England (2013).

BW: I think both Clarke and Watkins are kind of influences but I’d say that both are more precise political filmmakers than I am. I like their stuff and I use elements of it, but its a different era and different to the kind of thing that I’m involved in. We’re interested at coming at it from slightly different positions.

A year after The Wicker Man (1973), Penda’s Fen was screened by the BBC in 1974. David Rudkin’s script tackled subjects as diverse as religion, politics, censorship, homosexuality and paganism. It’s hard to contemplate what the impact must have been when this was first broadcast nearly 40 years ago. I’m interested to hear your own thoughts on Penda’s Fen.

JO: Penda’s Fen was startling for me when I saw it, because it was about the twelfth or so Clarke film I’d seen, and was the first, that I had seen to use, for lack of a better world, a representation of fantasy. I guess I had been swept up in my idea of Clarke-auterism to overlook that, just like a lot of other great directors, working within a genre can be bent, twisted, and reshaped to your own means, and this was the first time I had seen Clarke do that from the “inside” of the image, as opposed to how he approached the image.

BW: It’s less nuts than the Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984) or Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)! They’re just fuckin’ crazy! That’s the good side of all that stuff is that they can make something as crazy as all that and then just go out and say alright!

I saw Penda’s Fen quite late, what I liked about it when I read up on it is that Clarke said he didn’t know what the script meant either. I loved the fact that he said that as well. It is a film that you can see that he just went with it and he came to terms with it afterwards didn’t he? He started to understand it more afterwards and I watched it, thought about it a few more times and it resonated. It would have blew your mind watching it back then in 1974. I mean I’ve been watching old Dr Who episodes from that time and they’re like bad enough! It’s like that old Nigel Kneale stuff, you have to forgive it a bit when you watch it but its like going to the theatre and the framing and pacing of it are very slow and difficult and some of the acting is a little bit quirky but once you get in the door you’re alright.

Three years later Clarke made SCUM for the BBC, which they promptly banned then two year’s later in 1979 with writer Roy Minton, a film version was made with a few different scenes to the original TV version.

JO: Seeing the BBC version of Scum finally was a real treat. As much as I like the film version, I much prefer the BBC version. I feel it is a stronger cast as well. I actually wasn’t aware of the conflict with the Home Office, but what’s surprising anymore? One of the things I liked about Scum was the lack of sentimentality, with no escape route that films like this, or “issue films” in general offer. I remember in particular the scenes involving the slightly more nuanced boy who feels he has gotten through to one of his keepers. That’s a hard balancing act to achieve, these kind of scenes always risk having the words from the characters turn into a direct megaphone for the writer, especially in the case of the boy who seems to be a bit more philosophical about his situation. This is a nuance I think Clarke really excels at. I’ve never once felt preached to by one of his films, it’s a really rare gift.

BW: I don’t remember it being banned at the time; all I know about is the film. I only found out about the TV version during the “Banned” season on Channel 4 and The War Game (1965) etc.

Scum was originally pitched to the BBC as a trilogy of dramas focusing on Police training, Army Training and Borstal.

BW: I’d like to have seen all of those. That’s interesting because isn’t that how Elephant was commissioned as well? It was to be three films and involving Danny Boyle. He directed one and produced another, and then there was a third one. I remember them being on TV. Scum was the film that made me feel afraid. Scum and Made in Britain are both kind of similar in that way in the pulling away of the scales to children, they’re like the Brothers Grimm – in like this is what will happen to you if you fuck about and you’ll end up in these institutions. It’s like a kind of unglamorous version of A Clockwork Orange (1971) isn’t it? I think in Scum its more that he goes in to borstal and they offer him the opportunity of becoming a monster to fit in with the system and he takes it, and then he rebels against that as well because he’s just too wild and then they beat the shit out of him. That’s the Carlin story and then there’s the character Archer, his story is more like the voice of the writer. It’s also like a cowboy movie isn’t it? I mean its Shane (1953) isn’t it? They push him and they push him and then he fights back.

JO: The thing I took from both Scum and Made in Britain, well most of Clarke’s films, is his interest in showing the circle of how the violence is institutionalized and self-sustaining. Despite the sense that someone might have that they are rebelling, they are rebelling in relation to a world they are no longer a part of, they are now part of a world that feeds upon it’s consumption and expulsion of violence, and how someone defines themselves by it.

Psy-Warriors (1981), Elephant and Contact all deal with the subject of the troubles in Northern Ireland a very hot topic in Britain at the time. It would be unfair to label Clarke a political filmmaker but he did not shy away from filming important issues of the day, which perhaps could be argued courted controversy.

JO: Psy-Warriors is an especially interesting film I think, unlike Elephant and Contact, they offer some way in for the casual viewer, which most of his viewers were most likely. I’m actually curious if there were “fans” of particular directors for Play for Today or shows like that. I can understand how writers grew in fame because of most likely stage productions and the like, but I wonder how many people thought they were seeing “the new Alan Clarke”. Anyways, Psy-Warriors on first viewing strongly brought up memories of Peter Watkins’ Evening Land (1977) and The Seventies People (1975), if I’m remembering correctly. I guess it would still be a little off-center for most television films at the time, but I really like the, for Clarke, almost off putting coldness of it. I need to see that one again…

BW: He wasn’t afraid of being a political filmmaker and that’s the thing where most people don’t fucking go! The bombings were still going on when these were being filmed and when they were filming Elephant in Belfast. These people can find out where you are and where you live, everyone can. It’s like its both sides and the secret service, so perhaps he didn’t give a shit, but that’s how I would think about it now.

Imagine going to BBC and trying to get that commissioned now.

BW: No, but then maybe the commission was about that. It wasn’t that he had an idea and took it to them, they may have said they want stuff like this, what have you got? So he went “well what about this?” Fine, then I’ll do it. When you see it, you can feel your hair on the back of your neck going up and then you come out the other side.

Do you find that as the film goes on you almost become desensitised to the violence/killings, which was perhaps part of the point of the film?

BW: It’s not so much that, its more that we are designed for narrative, so we look for stories in everything and its how you understand what people are thinking by looking at faces because you make up a story about it. But there’s no story in this. You’re desperately trying to find a story but there isn’t one, because there is no narrative. It’s that tit for tat stuff that is beyond understanding, its like you’re watching it and then it ends and you are like, what?! There is no punishment, like where is Inspector Morse?! It doesn’t get tied up and it never gets set up so that’s much more like a real thing.

JO: Yes, that is the key element, and sort of relates to what I was saying earlier, in that you’re using a certain set of rules, ways of watching, and when it doesn’t follow them, or give the desired results, hopefully the reaction should be an awareness of those expectations and a new way of seeing, which is what I think is really effective in Clarke’s steadicam films. Even with Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, the disconnect is invigorating.

It could be said that as we watch Elephant and as the scenes of the senseless killings continue we become less shocked by them, could be leveled at the characters of Jay and Gal in Kill List (2011) and the impact on us of their continual killing spree.

BW: I think its a different thing, I think you’d be more on it if you had used Scum as an example than Elephant, because you are so far back you are like an angel following or floating behind him and its a very different feeling from Kill List which is because its showing as a socio-realist documentary style you’re drawn into their story and you have protagonists. Its a different thing because you are with the protagonists and you spend time with them, so you sympathise with them and they do appalling things and then you feel bad about that. Elephant you don’t know who these people are, you never really see their faces. It’s a different set up. Carlin is more of a Kill List character because you follow him, you get to know him, you get to understand what his motivations are then he does appalling things and its kind of cool and the whole “I’m the Daddy now” scene.

There’s that weird structure within it, in the film, which doesn’t happen in the TV version; you’ve got that horrible rape involving characters you’ve never seen before. They up the ante and the horribleness of it but with nothing to do with the main plot.

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman would go on to direct films of their own, still only one a piece, which both seem very Clarke-influenced – The War Zone (1999) and Nil by Mouth (1997) respectively.

JO: I wish they would make more! I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them, despite the respect they have, to put together the kind of films they want to make. You can’t underestimate having someone in your life who not only teaches you about your craft, but instills in you the strength to hold to your convictions, which Clarke so obviously had. It is one of the greatest gifts someone can give you, that peek into the good and the bad that is to come, which is reflected in both their experience and in their character. I can only imagine what an inspirational man Clarke must have been, but as there are people all over the world held captivated by his work, and the feeling that they must share that with others, that’s as much evidence as you need of his strength.

BW: I think I remember reading Tim Roth saying that he went to America because he couldn’t find any directors like Clarke in the UK and that was it. There’s nobody else doing that kind of edgy stuff.

Christine, Diane (1975) and Horace (1972) all focus on varying aspects of troubled youths from drug dealing to incest to mental illness. All these are still every day issues today and yet, rarely topics openly discussed and certainly less so back at the time that Clarke was making them.

JO: Even if everyone who caused these problems tuned in and saw these films, or films like them, we’d still have these problems in the world unfortunately. It’s a slow process, and in any endeavor, the hope is you get a few people to realize these things in their own life, the life of others. Even for Clarke, most likely, these films were his own way of starting to find a way to make these questions a concrete presence in his life. Christine is a particularly strong case, I never felt that Clarke was showing me this girl’s life, but also trying to make sense of it himself. This is a quality of his films that has never lost it’s energy, regardless of time and place. Technically, the steadicam really helps this, that lack of “author’s movement” really frees the viewer to become the author, in a sense.

The Firm (1989) is as much a film about football hooliganism and violence as it is about families and tribes.

BW: There’s usually a cooler system underpinning Clarke’s stuff; there’s a machine that moves the characters around. There’s coldness in there. He’s always saying something. He worked within genre sometimes and then sometimes he just goes off and is very formalist and does his own thing. You look at Christine, as soon as he gets hold of the steadicam it’s almost like an art film in the same way that Elephant is.

JO: It might just be because I saw The Firm after I knew Gary Oldman, but I found it a bit more of a performance driven film than his others, even more so than Made in Britain. In this way, I read it more on a personal level, the Oldman character not just as indicative of the problems, but an insight into why those problems exist. The dynamic with his family, friends, work, the insecurity that underlies it all spoke to me more as England finding it’s footing in the world; the big family, after the 70’s when it had changed so much. So it is about family, but reaching out even more so, I think.

Clarke’ became almost synonymous with his use of the steadicam.

BW: Isn’t there a steadicam shot in Scum? There are some very long shots that travel up and down stairs or it might have been something like an easy-rig. An easy-rig is like a rucksack basically with a harness, which has got an iron bar that comes over the top and then it’s got a hook on it. All our films are shot on that, so Laurie (Rose) always uses that. Actually Down Terrace (2009) isn’t shot on that but everything subsequently was on easy-rigs, so it’s like a poor man’s steadicam. You can do quite long shots, they’re not hand held and they’re not as silky like the steadicams. Clarke’s work has some of the best use of steadicam ever.

JO: Clarke’s steadicam work is still second to none. I am especially fond of Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, that is really remarkable. Technically, of course, Stars of the Roller State Disco is astounding, but in a way the opposite of that is what I find so remarkable about his use of camera, especially when it was in it’s infancy. With most steadicam shots, and crane shots for that matter, either highlight their disassociated omniscient stance, or worse, “hit the spots” showing small details for diegetic purposes, one after another, you can even sense the continuity person checking off the list as it goes, and this is a particular bane in films of the last 10-15 years for me, The fluidity of Clarke’s steadicam work is not the liquidity of it, but the fact that it never draws attention to it, which allows you as a viewer to fill the vessel yourself. Truly remarkable, and very much a political decision, I think.

A director who picked up on issues of the day.

BW: It’s kind of like Corman, it’s taken from the headlines and it’s turned into them, or like Sam Fuller. To make a film like Elephant at the height of the troubles is so unbelievably ballsy. I don’t think there was anyone who was making movies that political or in the mainstream at that time except maybe Loach. The closest you get to it now is maybe Paul Greengrass United 93 (2006) is from the headlines and it has that feel to it. He’s a kind of cross over documentary/filmmaker and Bloody Sunday (2002) is very Clarke-ian.

JO: You had a lot of that in Japanese cinema in the 70’s, not so much now unfortunately, despite it being even easier and cheaper to make a film now more than ever before. That’s what sort of befuddles me, I’m looking for the Fuller’s of today. There seems to be quite a good deal of work like that coming out of Australia right now, and I like the way Philipe Grandrieux is making an active effort to engage with the here and now. In some odd way, he seems to have taken Clarke’s ideas to a new level.

As well as being a pioneer of the steadicam, he was fond of using varying lengths of camera lens, the close-up etc. As a director can you speak about the technical side of Clarke’s work?

BW: He also did the stuff which splits into two beats, because there’s other types of things like Baal (1982) and Psy Warriors which are both very theatrical. They’re shot very flat and like on a tableau. So he’s a very hard guy to quantify. He’s like that and its like Nic Roeg or Ken Russell, they are not people who you can really pick their styles apart and mimic them really. Maybe in bits but you never really get underneath the skin of what it actually is that he’s doing because there are too many elements to it and his choices are varied, like his political choices, they’re not always aesthetic choices.

In a way that Loach and Leigh’s styles are kind of an invisible style where characters almost disappear into the background of the film but Roeg and Clarke were more visible. In Loach and Leigh an edit is invisible and filmmaking is something you should never notice, you should be drawn in by the characters, where with like Russell or Roeg it’s like really in your face. Here it is, this is the story and this is the feeling and I think that Clarke kind of falls between those two.

What Clarke was doing back then technically was totally revolutionary, I mean its revolutionary still now. It’s a singular moment. From like Christine on it’s totally modern.

I see a parallel in your own film Down Terrace with The Firm, a crime film very much about gangsters and violence, but intrinsically about families.

BW: The thing that really surprised me about The Firm is when you realise he’s an estate agent and the arguments he has with his wife are much more violent than any of the rest of the film for me. That’s just horrible.

Drunken blokes bashing each other up over football, I mean who cares, but when you see that scene with the kid who has his mouth slashed open with the blade, its just horrible.

Then you see Oldman going back to his mum’s and up to his bedroom and smashing the bed up with the weapon. That’s when you feel the real ferocity of it, also its one of the greatest Oldman performances.

With the Down Terrace thing, the psychological violence is as important as the physical violence in it but we also knew we were never going to do like a shoot out in a spaghetti house like in The Godfather (1971) or something like that. It had to be about the violence that the people in the family does to each other and with their chums and that’s much grimmer and more affecting. The thing about Down Terrace and with Kill List is that a lot of stuff revolves around how you can relate to it. So when someone gets shot, you’ve no reference, you don’t care because it’s a TV thing or a film thing, but when someone who gets shouted at by their dad, you know what it is because it happens, Its happened to you.

Down Terrace was originally a script we’d written in the 90’s called Robin and Robert and it was for Rob (Hill) and Bob (Hill) to play the characters. Amy (Jump) and I had written it and it was about contemporary artists, it was like Gilbert and George. The family went back in history back to like medieval times like crofters or something but whenever the son had a child the father would have to retire and then there would always be a father and son, so that’s the story. So by the time we get to Down Terrace it had all got changed around but the core of the story is that the father is replaced because the son becomes the father and then when a new child is introduced the whole balance of power has to change because there’ll no longer be a baby anymore. The mother is the same, like fuck, we’re out, we’ll have to be retired and that’s why they fight against it. Its like the line “I much preferred it when it was just the two of us” and its partly to do with growing up and maturity. That was another thing about that film it was a small business and they just happened to do something else because you never really knew what they do. Its never really said what they do. Nefarious, but enough for them to kill people over it.


11 of Alan Clarke’s 29 productions

Penda’s Fen (1974)
‘The film is a passionate deconstruction of conservative myths about nationhood. At a critical point, the formerly hidebound Stephen cries out: “No, no! I am nothing pure! My race is mixed. My sex is mixed. I am woman and man, light with darkness, nothing pure! I am mud and flame!” Rather than hewing to a belief in tradition, continuity or stability, Rudkin champions hybridity and what Salman Rushdie would later term cultural “mongrelisation”. A while before it became fashionable for historians to talk about the inseparability of “nation and narration” or “the invention of tradition”, Rudkin was arguing that English Christianity was a violently imposed ideology. The family, heterosexuality, militarised manhood: all these pillars of patriotism take a tumble. What makes Penda’s Fen particularly prescient is that it locates these hybrid transformations in the English countryside. The 1970s saw a number of artists offering new versions of pastoral – Philip Trevelyan’s The Moon and the Sledgehammer (1971) was a creepy documentary about a family living without electricity in a wood; Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside (1973) introduced readers to what would later be known as edgelands; Jeremy Sandford’s Tomorrow’s People (1974) portrayed the Dionysian longings of free-festival revellers. Rudkin shows rural England to be a place of struggles and heresies, of antagonisms and anguish. The film even turns to etymology, arguing that “pagan”, which originally meant “belonging to the village”, referred to the politics of local governance as much as it did to theological doctrine.’ — The Guardian



the entire film


Scum (1979)
‘Alan Clarke’s Scum, originally made for the BBC’s Play for Today series in 1977, has become a cause célèbre in the history of film censorship. Although the film had already been scheduled, it was eventually banned and only broadcast in 1991, a year after the director’s death. How the decision was reached remains unclear but there is no denying that the film was deemed too controversial both by the Home Office and the newly-appointed BBC One controller Bill Cotton. Scum is set in a borstal, the name given to institutions for young offenders (a system that was to be abolished in 1982), and depicts life under a daily regimen of violence, bullying and racism. In response to the censoring of the original TV version, director Alan Clarke and screenwriter Roy Minton decided to re-shoot the film two years later for cinema release. Starting with a comparison between the two versions we will examine the different modalities of production and reception related to the two different media (television and cinema). Then we will analyse what makes the representation of a sensitive question such as living conditions in a borstal acceptable or not, considering the degrees of fictionalisation of the representation.’ — Revue LISA



the entire film


Beloved Enemy (1981)
‘A cool hard study of ‘the art of the deal’ on a global scale. Sir Peter, the chillingly affable chief exec of big British multi-national UKM, learns that the Soviet Union’s chief scientists are in London with government credit to spend. He’s keen to flog them a tyre-production plant. based in the Ukraine, which will unshackle UKM from bothersome unions at home. But at the negotiating table, it fast becomes apparent that the Soviets are more interested in the laser technology UKM employs to vulcanise their tyres; and Peter starts to foresee a new future in military aerospace for his ever fiexible firm.’ — letterboxd



Baal (1982)
‘According to Willett, Alan Clarke’s first choice to play Baal was Steven Berkoff (‘I thought it was a mistake’), and he claims the credit for suggesting Bowie, who had been playing in The Elephant Man in New York and who had a strong interest in German Expressionist painters of the 1930s. Unsurprisingly, Bowie appears on screen in the very first shot, as the adaptation plunges the viewer into the action with no preliminary titles and no sense of introduction to either the setting or the central character. Baal is standing in mid-shot against a plain background, looking directly into the camera. ‘At the time of the flood,’ he says, mysteriously, ‘they all went into the ark..’ Split-screen in BaalSet in the years before the Great War, the minimal narrative is a succession of scenes in which the young poet alienates everyone he encounters, whether at a smart dinner party or in a low-life tavern. He sleeps with women, sings, drinks, abandons an unborn child, drinks, sings, and goes wandering in the mountains where he dies in a hut after the wood-cutters who live there have gone to work. There is little sense of character development but Baal is used largely as a foil to expose the hypocrises of society at all levels. Between the vignettes, Baal stares into the screen and sings, often in a split-screen shot which pairs him either with one of the other characters or with a caption.’ — SCREEN PLAYS


Excerpt (low quality)


Made in Britain (1982)
Made in Britain is extraordinary television. The sheer quality of writing in David Leland’s script was rare even for its time but seems completely absent from TV today. Leland never tries to make Trevor likeable, but by giving him such a powerful voice he forces us to listen to viewpoints that we are deliberately made to feel uncomfortable by. Rarely does a film of any description dare to take on its audience on such difficult terms, feeding them with one hand and slapping them in the face with the other. It remains a difficult and confrontational work, but for all the right reasons. Similarly uncompromising is Tim Roth’s central performance as Trevor. Roth famously only got seen at all through a chance incident – a cycle tyre puncture led him to a youth theatre in which he had previously worked to borrow a pump, only to discover that auditions for the film were being held there the next day. He met Alan Clarke and sold himself for the part. It’s genuinely impossible now to imagine the film without Roth at its centre – his performance as Trevor is nothing short of astonishing and is without doubt the key reason for Trevor’s enigmatic screen presence. Everything is just right here, the snarled anger, the sarcastic sneering, the nitro-powered physicality – Roth plays Trevor as a ball of furious energy looking for a direction in which to explode, a missile with a message and a haphazard targeting system. There are times when you really, really want someone to slap some sense into him, but there is not one solitary second that you can take your eyes off him. When that slap finally comes, you’re genuinely unsure about how to react to it. Alan Clarke was the ideal director to commit Leland’s words to film, investing in the visuals and actors the same energy and intelligence that roars through the script. Made in Britain is an Alan Clarke film every bit as much as it is a David Leland film and a Tim Roth film and a Chris Menges film. It is that collaborative process that Clarke seemed to savour, and at his best it is not just Clarke’s voice we hear but all of the voices in the film. Made in Britain – tough, smart, angry, difficult, electrifying and without peer to this day, is just such a work.’ — Cine Outsider


the entire film


Contact (1985)
‘Alan Clarke’s Contact is a starkly stripped back film about British paratroopers on patrol in Northern Ireland. It is pared to the very bone, where dialogue has been jettisoned, action appears without context and the cinematic grammar is one of long takes, steadi-cams and opaque ambiguity, rather than realism. Contact is a visceral, tense film, that ignores the politics of Northern Ireland, but focuses on the really bleak sense of terror. The British soldiers are characterless, unsympathetic, but not villianess, while the Irish combatants are only seen at distance, almost presented as the other. Clarke ratchets the tension through his camera movement, his willingness to have the camera follow the action, rather than precede it. It feels like a film about being a soldier; the boredom, the oddities, the terror. Contact is a tough, terse 65 minutes, that reminds me of Samuel Fuller, without the melodrama, or Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, without the philosophy.’ — Wilson



Christine (1987)
Christine hews close to the Clarke we know—he’s discovered the steadicam and camera operator/collaborator John Ward at this point, and has perfected the long walking shots that had become a signature of his. (Long before the Dardenne Brothers established a bonding aesthetic based on tagging along directly behind their protagonists, Clarke had colonized the conceptual territory and planted a Union Jack flag.) We start off trailing the titular 13-year-old character (Vicky Murdock) as she walks down a pathway behind apartment buildings in what appears to be a middle-class neighborhood; a music box tinkles away over the soundtrack. Entering a house, the girl banters with another kid, who’s trying on a grown-up’s suits. Eventually, they both calmly take out syringes and shoot up heroin. You know those Hallmark cards featuring children in baggy adult clothes? Imagine those prepubescents put down their color-tinted roses and started doing horse in front of you. This is not your usual shock-cinema horrorshow of drug addiction. In fact, as this scene repeats itself numerous times over the next 50 minutes, it’s the sheer banality of the scenario that hits you like a brick to the face. There is no statistics-filled disclaimer about where, how, and why this epidemic of underage narcotics usage is happening, no dead babies crawling on the ceiling, no do-you-know-where-your-children-are moralizing. Christine merely traipses from one plain household to the next and then small talk, shoot up, rinse, repeat. Murdock’s spare, Mouchette-like performance gives the film both its impact and a timeless sense of watching a numbed-out nightmare—she’s caught in a looped Afterschool Special running on smack time. The use of repetition and a complete lack of context make it feel like a dry run for Clarke’s Elephant two years later, in which boiling down a complex social problem (in the later film’s case, the Troubles in Northern Ireland) to nothing but activity—all effect, no cause—cuts away the chatter. Action is character here; when he got around to Elephant, he had dispensed with character altogether and gone straight to action.’ — Film Comment

the entire film


Road (1987)
‘Best you end your Clarkeology 101 tour with Road (87). Made for the Screenplay series, his adaptation of Jim Cartwright’s stylized play about Northern no-hopers features plenty of virtuoso Steadicam shots, a show-stopping apocalyptic monologue by Lesley Sharp, and the best use of music in any of Clarke’s works. Eventually, the two brothers and two women out on the town we’ve been following end up at in a dilapidated building, desperate to make a physical connection but unable to break through their malaise. Then one of them suggests something: “You drink, you listen to Otis [Redding], and you get to the bottom of things!” Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” plays almost en toto as the men vibrate with excitement. The hopes, fears, and frustrations of this quartet, all of which might be shared with Britain then, or all of us now, pour forth. A connection is made. The movie ends with its characters chanting: “If I keep shouting, I might escape.” It’s a transmission of hope, yelled up at the sky. Then the sound dies down and Clarke holds on a silent overhead shot of these folks for seconds on end. Hope screams eternal. Fade out.’ — Film Comment



the entire film


Rita, Sue and Bob Too! (1987)
‘Trading as ribald comedy, this film reflects a cruel and widespread reality, yet maintains an unnerving distance from its own implications. Neighbours on the rough side of a run-down Bradford estate, Rita and Sue (Finneran and Holmes, grittily authentic) are best buddies nearing school-leaving age. They babysit for nouveau riche sleazeball Bob (Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Sharp), whose disaffection with sex becomes her husband’s justification for getting it any which way he can – one way being on the reclining front seat of his flash car, taking Rita and Sue, incredibly, in quick succession. It’s all fun and games until Michelle finds out: Rita becomes pregnant, moves in with Bob, and has a miscarriage; and Sue opts for a haphazard shack-up with a bully of an Asian boy. Thereafter director Clarke’s keenly observed ‘naff’ character nuances, never a comfortable laugh, really begin to stick in the throat, and his persistent rib-tickling in the face of the girls’ desperation provokes a moral dilemma which the ludicrous ‘Carry On Coupling’ finale simply aggravates. Humour in the worst possible taste.’ — Time Out (London)




The Firm (1989)
‘One of Clarke’s most acclaimed and controversial films, The Firm shocked television audiences in 1989 with its unflinching depiction of football hooliganism. In one of his earliest starring roles, Gary Oldman plays Bex Bissell, the ‘top boy’ in a London firm. A symbol of Thatcher’s Britain and a product of his time, Bex is an estate agent addicted to the buzz of being a football hooligan. The violent subculture is ingrained into his lifestyle. Clarke once stated that the character was a response to how he saw the Tory government’s complete misunderstanding of the neoliberal society they had created. Clarke’s prerogative wasn’t to make a shocking exposé, but to show how these types of firms operated “in a ritualistic kind of way.” Shortly it becomes apparent that the violence doesn’t actually revolve around football, but has everything to do with the hooligans’ machismo behaviour. Clarke himself was a avid Everton FC supporter and stressed that the main point of the film is that the problem is not football, but the people who use the sport as an excuse to exercise their hooliganism. The Firm stresses this notion throughout to the extent that an extra directly addresses the television cameras, stating that the firm would be causing riots even if they were associated with snooker, tennis or darts. To this day, there’s never been a football hooligan film quite like it.’ — Little White Lies





Elephant (1989)
‘There is a remarkable cadence to Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) that makes it difficult to define as a television drama, extended short, short-form feature or artist’s moving image piece. In differing contexts it could be read alongside films such as Culloden, Partie de Campagne or Meshes of the Afternoon. The film, a circle of violence, near silent with no thematic context provided, other than three lines of dialogue spoken in a Northern Irish accent, provided Clarke an opportunity to focus his camera in a manner akin to his more conventional roots in social-realist docu-drama. Produced for BBC Northern Ireland and originally broadcast on BBC2 in January 1989, at a time when the corporation had been recently forced by Thatcher’s government to impose a blanket broadcast ban on loyalist and republican organisations with supposed links to the IRA, Elephant makes no attempt to explain, contextualise, glorify or denounce the succession of eighteen murders, played one after another, the only recurring feature a lingering single shot of the murdered man at the end of every sequence. By shooting almost entirely on a steadicam on the streets of a Belfast free of passers-by and stacked along with empty buildings, gives Clarke the opportunity to determine the pace of the film by its characters and allows it to unfold as if it were a documentary. Clarke’s narrative arc is episodic and its beats are natural. We follow, literally, each assailant or victim as they go about their daily business, playing football or taking a stroll in the park, at work in factories and offices, even chatting with friends in their own homes. Our field of vision is as limited as the man which we trail. Every area we are led towards, indoor or out, feels claustrophobic, inescapable of violence that we are aware is imminent, that we will to stop but are never given the respite.’ — Ajay Hothi


the entire film



p.s. Hey. I’m super happy to tell those of you who know of whom I’m about to speak and care that my old friends, artists, and longtime d.l.s of this blog aka Michael ‘Kiddiepunk’ Salerno and Benedetta ‘Oscar B’ De Alessi gave birth to a son, Milo Storm Salerno, yesterday morning. Whoo-hoo! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Strangely, if it’s of interest, the LAist published a piece on the history of the Aquarius Theater that I mentioned vis-a-vis ‘Hair’ yesterday. It’s here. Thank you for the link to the Hoberman piece on Bresson! ** Armando, Hi. Thanks. Nope, I don’t appear in ‘I Apologize’. If we need someone to help with the film, I’ll let you know, and thanks for the offer. It will largely be shot in the Bas Normandie area of France. Ha, getting old doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make work and do interesting stuff. The easiest way to find out about upcoming performances is to check ‘Incoming’ in the blog’s right margin. When an event gets confirmed, I list it there. Look, man, if you don’t have patience re: the usually laborious publishing part of writing, and if you don’t believe in what you wrote enough to fight for it it if necessary, then that’s that. As I’ve said many, many times, first getting a novel published for me was long, difficult, and full of ups and downs. I think most writers might say the same thing. And trying to get a novel published when you haven’t published work in magazines or on websites first and don’t have at least a little presence makes it even more difficult. Writers do get lucky and find agents and publishers quickly, but that’s very rare. Succeeding, whatever that means, as a writer is tough. If you’re not willing to tough it out, then all I can say is I hope you’re one of the rare lucky ones. ** Damien Ark, Hi, Damien. Cool. It’s a really good book. Get someone to give it to you for Xmas. Oh, awesome, a review by you! I’ll go read it asap. Everyone, The fine writer and d.l. Damien Ark has reviewed a ‘wacky psychedelic electroacoustic project from Romania’ — Somnoroase Păsărele’s TION — @ The Attic. Think about checking it out, yes? Here. ** Sypha, Big up on your Philip Best big up. Yeah, I read about Greg Lake’s demise. And I think I remembered that your mom had a boner for him in addition to being an ELP fan, no? ** Tosh Berman, I think it’s Bresson’s wife who was involved in the interviews book. I could be wrong, but I know his spouse is still alive and very kicking. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yeah, the air is bad here. It’s weird. Some strange winter-caused condition where pollutants are trapped. All public transport has been free for four days straight. And they’re doing this thing where, on different days, car traffic in Paris is restricted — on one day only cars with even license plates are allowed, and odd license plate cars on the next. It’s supposed rain in a few days, and I think that’ll stop it if nothing else does before. Yesterday … no, mostly work again. I found out that getting an apartment is going to even more difficult than I had thought. Most of the real estate agents are demanding that I have a French bank account, which I don’t have, with a year’s worth of rent in it, which will not exactly be easy to arrange even I can set up a French account. So part of yesterday was spent trying to figure that out. I’ve been meaning to try to get in touch with this guy who was my closest friend in high school and for years after. I haven’t had contact with him since about 1980. Anyway, someone found what could be his email address for me, and I started writing an email to him yesterday that I’ll finish and send today. That’s interesting. I would love to reconnect with him. He was the friend with whom I first discovered experimental music and film and stuff. So that’s potentially exciting. Zac is almost completely well at last, yes! How did Friday happen for you? ** Steevee, Hi. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the OJ Simpson documentary. Like you, I’ve seen so much acclaim for it. And thank you for your thoughts on Lim’s book. I’ll pick it up. Curious to know what he considers to be the major and minor films, unless it’s the obvious ones. ** Joakim, Hi, man! ‘Damp’, that’s nice, yes. I’ll confer with Zac and see if and what we can think up. It’s probably dependent on how heavy the build-up work to the new film is going to be. I would love to be in the zine, so let me try to sort it. Thank you! Oh, my new email is: Cool. Worth the wait, for sure, on the tattoo. Did you guys have a fun birthday celebration yesterday? And how cool that Asger now shares the same birthday with Michael and Bene’s new kid, eh? Love, me. ** New Juche, Hi. Yeah, sure, I understand that. Although your use of text in the work is quite, quite effective. The ‘Gone’ scrapbook was just research for me. I never thought anyone else would ever see it, and so I never thought about whether it looked interesting. The gif fiction is my first foray into visual work that wasn’t a collaboration. And, yeah, it was certainly strange at first, but now I think that work is as good as my written fiction. But it took a while for my confidence in it to come out of nowhere. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Jess Franco is fun. I don’t know that one. Have I done a Franco Day? I can’t remember. Oh, and thanks for talking about Alan Clarke here a while back. That’s what caused me to make the post today. I hope it’s okay. ** James Nulick, Hi, James. Ha. I don’t personally know anyone who is ‘into’ cottage cheese thighs and batwings, but, based on some of the slave profile fetishes, I think there must be clients out there looking just for you. ** Jeff Jackson, Hi, Jeff. Got your emails, thank you! I’ll set up the post probably today, and I’ll get back to you soon. Yury’s fashion line project died an unfortunate death about two years ago. He did one initial collection that was very well received, but to be able to continue he would have needed considerable money from a financial backer or or a few of them, and there’s just too much competition. It’s a very tough business. So he had to give up on the project. He’s okay about that now, but it’s really unfortunate. We’re supposed to get an answer about whether the TV series is a go or not on December 20th. Fingers severely crossed. ** Anna, Hi, Anna! Welcome! I’m seeking apartments through some kind of composite website that gathers the offerings of a lot of Paris real estate agents. My roommate is handling that, so I don’t know the name of that website off the top of my head. You might find it with a search, or I can ask and get the info for you tonight. I know there are a few real estate companies here that partly specialize in finding apartments for people coming from other countries. I used this one a few years ago, and they were fine, and there are others. I’m not sure how the percentage thing works. I know that it’s much easier and simpler to rent a furnished apartment than an unfurnished one. I’m trying to find an unfurnished one, and it has been much more difficult to arrange than with the furnished ones I’ve been living in so far. I hope that helps. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. I was actually bowling in the same bowling alley where Morrissey was bowling a few lanes away some years ago in Hollywood. He wasn’t a very good bowler, if that helps. Anyway, bowling’s cool, man, wtf?! LPS got waylaid big time. Jeez, just a very bad flu? I’ve been dying to see ‘The Mudge Boy’. I hear it’s a slam dunk for Best Picture at the Golden Globes this year. ** Okay. Today the blog attempts to cover the work of the great Brit film- and TV-maker Alan Clarke. Give it your best shot please. See you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Nice to see an Alan Clarke day. Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” was inspired by Clarke’s

    Was Oscar Wilde a vampire?

  2. Bill

    Congratulations, Michael and Oscar! Thanks for sharing the news, Dennis.

    The only Alan Clarke I’ve seen is (unsurprisingly) Wicker Man. I really have some catching up to do here, wow.

    The “Luminous Procuress” event started super late, and I had an event afterwards (clarinet/violin duo visiting from Berlin). I only caught about 20 minutes of it. It looked good, in that gay hippy experimental vein; but if I stayed for the whole thing, you’d probably hear me make my usual grumble.

    It’s a week of crap at work, balanced by 2-event evenings! Also went to Francesco d’Orazio’s lovely solo recital of mostly violin work from the last 50 years (Sciarrino, Berio, Fedele). Then it was the last in SF Cinematheque’s Performance Cinema series. The Sult set was quite interesting sound wise; can’t say I was too excited by the visuals.


    • _Black_Acrylic

      Hi Bill, The Wicker Man (great though it is) wasn’t Clarke but Robin Hardy.

  3. Dóra Grőber


    Wow. This sounds like quite a serious situation! I hope it does rain soon or all these efforts help even before that!
    Uh… I mean setting up a French bank account might not be so difficult but to demand a year’s worth of rent in it! That sounds like a little too much to ask. My… aren’t there… I don’t know… real estate agents who specifically work with non-French people living in France?
    This sounds really exciting! I hope you get to reconnect with him!
    Finally, I’m really glad Zac is almost completely well!!
    Today I’m working on some new photo/video ideas because tomorrow I’m about to meet my cameraman friend – finally – and we’re planning to take some pictures and stuff. Other than that, not much.
    What about you? I hope you have a lovely day!

  4. Joakim

    Hey Dennis,

    Welcome to the world Milo – you have the coolest parents.

    We had a really cosy day, he was very into the cake I made > sponge cake with lemon cream, raspberries and walnuts. Then I bought us sushi which is unreasonably expensive in Denmark for some unknown reason, so it’s often reserved for special occasions.

    The walnuts are from the sculpture garden at school:

    Yay. I’ll email you more info tomorrow. The artists I’ve contacted so far seem pretty excited about it, which of course excites me even more 🙂

    Btw. I haven’t seen any Alan Clarke films, but I definitely should!


  5. steevee

    Clarke was a great director, and I wish someone would bring back the 1995 retro of his films which played MOMA. (I know it made a big impression on Harmony Korine, for one.) I’ve seen SCUM (both versions), THE FIRM, MADE IN BRITAIN, ELEPHANT, BAAL & RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO. But I can’t afford the new comprehensive box set. I’ve talked to several programmers who have attempted to do Clarke retrospectives in New York, and they’ve all said the BBC is oddly uncooperative. The interview with Ben Wheatley is fascinating – I’ve never talked with anyone who saw Clarke’s work as it came out, apart from RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO, which got a theatrical & VHS release in the U.S.

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    @ DC, this Day makes for a fitting Alan Clarke showcase! I’ve been ploughing my way through his 70s era on that BFI DVD and Jeff was saying the 80s material is even better. Although that other DVD’s not available at present, which is why I’m now subsiding on vintage Euro sleaze to tide me over haha.

    I had an idea to do a Penda’s Fen Day, the 1974 Clarke film that really dazzled me when I saw it recently. I thought about combining a study of the film along with something about the Penda’s area of Leeds where I grew up. The fact that England’s last pagan king was killed on my doorstep and on my birthday will definitely feature in there somewhere.

  7. Armando


    Congratulations, Michael!!! if you happen 2 talk 2 him, could u PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell him i congratulate him and B. & send all of em, includin of course, little Milo, huge hugs???!!!

    thanks so much 4 bein willin 2 consider me. of course id only b able 2 do small things. i wouldnt want u guys 2 give me + responsibility than i can handle only 2 disappoint u… *blushes*. i also would do it 2 just b present in the shootin of a real movie, & not only that, but also a real fuckin cool 1, & not only that, but also 1 written & co-directed by YOU. 2 say id b beyond motherfuckin ecstatic 2 just b there would b the understatement of the year.

    i just meant that i think its great that shes still so heavily involved in preservin & protectin her husbands legacy. ull agree many widows & widowers arent like that. i certainly didnt mean anythin rude or offensive, much less towards her. & of course i dont believe at all whatsoever that getting older means the quality or vitality of ur work will decrease. i mean, 4 an example we dont need 2 go far: theres THE MAGNIFICENT BRESSON. ‘l’argent’, is, in my opinion, 1 of the 10 greatest films of all time, my favorite BRESSON ever, my 3rd favorite film of all time & he was 82 when it was released, so i think, with all due respect, of course, that u mightve misunderstood &/or misinterpreted what i said.

    no, i know how 2 find out bout dates of upcomin performances, of course, i was askin if u somehow happened 2 know when could i go c a show in a date when ud indeed, effectively b in paris & we could maybe meet, since ure travelin all over europe all the time. thats what i meant.

    please, dont get me wrong. its not at all like i think i deserve 2 b 1 of the extremely few lucky 1s & just get my piece of shit pseudo-“book” published by a press NOW. i just meant that: 1. im just not patient at all & all my mental “issues” just make everythin worse. 2. im just tired of bein seen by absolutely everybody as a useless, lazy burden & a loser who hasnt & will never achieve anythin whatsoever at all. so, gettin my book published would at least show em i *might* not b as worthless as they & i c me. 3. ive indeed been waitin. trust me. its been almost a year since i finished the thing & still havent got any answers anywhere from any1… just NOTHING. ive been lookin & lookin & lookin & tryin & tryin & tryin 2 submit my manuscript & nothing has materialized. theres this british press that showed a good deal of interest based on a couple of short samples i sent em (even tho, given the very nature/style/manufacture of the work itself i didnt send those samples in the way they ask 4 samples 2 b sent/submitted. they emailed me. they said theyd really love 2 read the entire manuscript. i sent it. they said theyd get back in touch “in a few weeks” when they had reached “a decision”. that was in march. 2 this day i havent heard a single motherfuckin word from them. so, i just hope u can understand in part my frustration. in the 1st hours of today i sent another email 2 another agent whos willin 2 accept submissions. i just hope hell at least reply… even findin agents whod b willin 2 consider a manuscript like mine is so so fuckin hard. *sigh*…

    well, sorry 4 bein so annoyin.

    good day; good luck,

    ur friend 4ever,


  8. James Nulick

    Michael and Bene,

    Congratulations on your new baby boy! And for Milo: To echo Joakim, your parents rock! You will be far more interesting than 95% of your schoolmates! 🙂


    Man, your apartment troubles are really terrible… I sincerely wish you the best and hope it all works out… they want a year’s worth of rent in a French bank account? I’m stunned. I’m sending good thoughts, hoping something positive happens. Happy Saturday!

    Much love,

  9. Morgan M Page

    Hey DC,

    Whoa, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Alan Clarke before. Thanks for putting him on my radar. His Christine film, about the young heroin user, sounds like a less preachy Christiane F – that 70s movie with David Bowie and the teen heroin crew. Those steadycam shots Alan Clarke was all about are everything – I’ll have to check out more of his work.

    What’s this about a TV show? Sounds exciting!

  10. Sypha

    Well, I’ve already congratulated Michael and Benedetta on Facebook but I’ll say it again here… congratulations!

    Dennis, yeah, my mother has been pretty depressed about Lake’s death, she was crying a lot yesterday. When I asked her, “Didn’t you have a crush on him back in the 1970’s,” she said that ‘crush’ wasn’t a strong enough word, it was an obsession! I guess his music helped her through some dark times… I think I told you that she and my dad got to meet Lake after a show he did in our area back in 2012, even got to take a few pictures with him. Of course, by then his “youthful looks” were long gone…

  11. Jeff Jackson

    Hey Dennis – Great Alan Clarke day! I remember there was a post about him long ago on the old blog, but nothing this comprehensive. I’m almost finished with that new BBC set of his work and – along with the mondo Rivette set – it’s the best DVD release of the past few years. Especially recommend ‘Christine,’ ‘Contact,’ and ‘Penda’s Fen’ if you haven’t seen those yet.

    Forgot to tell you that the book club for ‘Novi Sad’ went surprisingly well. People were receptive to the work and had interesting things to say. At the end, one guy mentioned he’d found ‘Zac’s Freight Elevator’ on the Kiddiepunk site and was enjoying it. He said he couldn’t quite figure it out, but he also couldn’t stop reading it. Apparently he’d gone through it 3X. Thought you’d appreciate that. I finally read ZFE last weekend and loved it. It’s really doing some cool next-level things with the combo of abstraction and storytelling.

    Glad the guest post came through. And sorry to hear about Yury’s fashion line but happy he’s doing fine now.

    Randomly: Are you a fan of Susan Howe’s poetry? Bene reading her book on Emily Dickinson and now curious about her own work.

  12. h

    Hello Dennis,

    I missed your blog for days. Been much occupied with film school work, small moving, etc. Also, for some reason, I went to your past blog for a few times. Oh, then I said “again?” (Sorry, is it traumatizing you?)

    Wonderful about the gallery show you curated with Kristen the other day. Enjoyed Low’s christmas album in particular. And iced flower sculptures. Don’t think I can do anything special for Xmas this year except working, which is fine to me. But your gift through the posts here always leaves me feeling colorful and fuzzy — also, glittering at times — as though I look at Christmas tree in the state of my mind.

    Glad you & your friends are doing well with a new baby also. Great to hear! Have a happy all around winter season over there with your loved ones.

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