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Thread: I, Daniel Blake

  1. #1
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    Default I, Daniel Blake

    Saw this the other night and I found long stretches of it very moving and powerful. The thing is, the bits I DIDN'T like were when you could clearly see Loach tipping the scales with some cheesy/pious dialogue. I thought that must be case of a faltering script or performances, but now I wonder if I was just being more easily hoodwinked for the parts I considered flatly 'realistic'.

    I bring it up because of these two blogs about the film from the Gruniad:

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/...ke-unrealistic

    https://www.theguardian.com/commenti...welfare-system

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    I've been arguing about this on the Facebookz where I posted the Phil Duff piece. I've not yet seen the film. Worth noting that all the people that liked it unequivocally were Corbyn supporters (which I'm not).

    Not yet seen it myself - and unlikely to, 'til it's out on DVD - but I wrote this:
    "By point of comparison, I watched Andrea Arnold's American Honey the other week and I found that a really, interesting, open text that made me think a lot when I'd left the cinema. Oher Loach films I've seen made me feel a bit like I was being taking through my paces a bit and shown who to like and who to hate. Depends on what you think cinema is for really - straight polemic/anger or something a bit wider. There's room for both of course but it might explain the reviewer's dissatisfaction."

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    I also wrote this in response to an angry post by my former English A level teacher, who is an unreconstituted 70s leftist:
    "I will watch it for sure. I'm intrigued. It's not the omission of the "undeserving poor" he's focused on, it's more having the central character as one so virtuous, which makes the film a bit "good guys and bad guys" - that's what I read anyway [Phil Duff's piece] -(hard for me to comment on how accurate this is 'cos I've not seen it). One could make the argument that the benefits system is now so shitty and evil that it deserves to be presented in this light. I did feel after reading the review what on Earth would a film look like that satisfied him, the complexity that he seems to asking for? An impossible task maybe.

    Anyway, I liked this review though because it was thoughtful, not just vitriol or an attempt to undermine the politics like Toby Young's was. It's possible to agree with the political message of a film and still not like it and critique it. Was does it mean to make a film about working class life in 2016? Should cinema just be straight polemic or something more open (I mentioned Andrea Arnold's films above). All open questions but I thought these sort of things are the subtext of the review.....
    The way I read that review the feel I got from it - is he found some aspects of the film very unsatisfying, while being in agreement with the politics. I have a strong suspicion I will have a similar reaction when I see it. The review is trying to express this, without falling into dismissing it. He's zeroing in on one thing, the deserving/undeserving poor thing ('cos it's such a common trope in discussions about benefits) but maybe there are others? I'd imagine so. Maybe I should stalk him on Twitter 'til I found out."

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    My perception (from inside my bubble) is that the 'deserving poor' thing is a tabloid thing, if not concocted than at least inflated by the rags to draw fire from the bankers who are really fucking everybody over.

    Perhaps this isn't the impression that people from the working class have, though, and I wonder if this is entirely down to the newspapers pushing that anti-scrounger angle or if they are just more likely to encounter actual 'scroungers' and feel like the cloistered middle classes are simply ignorant as to the existence of these people?

    In any case, I think the film is really worth seeing. It certainly touches upon the necessity of benefits in a society where traditional manual work, to speak of just one industry, is drying up. Also the dehumanisation (and dehumanising effect) of the process. Parts of it made me squirm with discomfort and recognition, an obvious example being Blake put on hold for an hour with that tinny classical muzak on loop.

  5. #5

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    I haven't seen this yet but really want to. (American Honey too).

    I think one thing that makes this film stand out and draw comment is that is tackles a working class issue. Something popular British films have stopped doing in my lifetime. Although this film is not quite popular yet (something your parents might have on DVD) it does stand out like a sore thumb. Working class issues are seldom explored earnestly now, there is just poverty porn propaganda and caricaturing comedies (Phone Shop, People Just Do Nothing etc). Think back to the years of Full Monty and Trainspotting (also Nil By Mouth perhaps) - there was a whole bunch of serious, popular, films that addressed the demise of industry - yet now, we are left with a particularly Toryesque depiction of England in mainstream films. There is the London to Chipping Norton upper middle comfort of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones etc, or there is the rapist-with-tears updated Clarkson fantasia patricianism of Bond.

    it is troubling that cinema has, largely, played ostrich to the recent years of demising social mobility and a bloating of the wealth gap. Any redress of this is good, not to be partisan, but just for the credit of film-making.

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    I went to see this film in London and it was a cinema full of posh people (including myself there). I suppose, however, that the middle/upper classes are the classes that needs to be informed about this stuff, not experiencing it for themselves in their day to day lives, and who have the power (at least notionally) to change things.

  7. #7

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    I wouldn't go quite that far in assuming cinema's ability to bring about social or political change. I don't think cinema is for that. But, I think it should have broad reflections of the world - just to be valid as a serious art form. And this, of course, should include some serious examinations the massive social shift that has been snowballing since Maggie T. In this sentiment I think cinema is well overdue to deliver a British race-issues film, not a retrospective This Is England trip, but a properly popular story about the rise of the right and racial segregation (that has increased in the last ten years).

  8. #8

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    That is a good observation though, going to the cinema is, to make a very bold statement, a more middle-class pastime now. Especially as Netflix, YouTube etc have undercut cinemas. Of course, the experience is not the same. Perhaps this is somewhat symptomatic of the demise of going out generally. The demise of Pubs and the increase of home-drinking is part of this too.
    Last edited by you; 04-11-2016 at 10:40 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Corpsey View Post
    I went to see this film in London and it was a cinema full of posh people (including myself there). I suppose, however, that the middle/upper classes are the classes that needs to be informed about this stuff, not experiencing it for themselves in their day to day lives, and who have the power (at least notionally) to change things.
    It costs £17 to go and see the film in Hackney which struck me as a bitter irony (my partner was looking into it).

    I agree with You's comments but surely the problem is that class as such has disappeared from the agenda? Probably bigger and deeper issues than this thread was intended for - and probably beyond my capacity to discuss because a) it's a complex subject and b) I've had a few beers. I felt that the Phil Duffy review was kinda objecting to a retrogressive and narrow view of class. I had the sense when watching American Honey that Andrea Arnold was striving to catch something new in what she was doing.

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    Loach has been generally excellent in directly tackling aspects of British politics left unexplored by cinema. His worthiness can get a bit grating at times, but its partly a side effect of the environment he's working in.

    Even with its faults, 'The wind that shakes the barley' is, hands down the best thing ever filmed on colonialism in Ireland.

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    Agreed about "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" - thought it was amazing, not that I've seen a lot of film about Irish history to compare it with.

    Was thinking a bit more about this and to be honest, I don't think I can think about I, Daniel Blake without thinking about Corbyn. I'm aware that my antipathy to the film (without having seen it) is a product of my antipathy towards him. My politics seem to have slipped reflexively to the Centre (or Right - which amounts to the same thing) as part of this opposition. I feel a deep dissatisfaction with the narrowness of vision that the film apparently shows - the good old working classes with hearts of gold vs the evil Tories. I might be projecting but I thought I read the same dissatisfaction in the review discussed. I feel that I want to given a new set of tools for thinking, some new insights into the current moment and instead we're stuck in binaries with defined in the 80s (there's a line of poetry about the new wanting to be born, that comes to mind - can't recall the poem though. Yeats?). The present is politically very strange and the vision offered by Loach doesn't articulate that, extremely worthy in intentions as it is. This is why I favour Arnold's film. It's an attempt to say something new, even if the message is a bit incoherent. Perhaps it just appeals to my bourgeois individualism.

    I went to the cinema on Friday (to see Doctor Strange - what does choosing this over Daniel Blake say about me?) and there was a leaflet associated with I, Daniel Blake all about homelessness, what to do etc. so I can't front too much.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by DannyL View Post
    Was thinking a bit more about this and to be honest, I don't think I can think about I, Daniel Blake without thinking about Corbyn. I'm aware that my antipathy to the film (without having seen it) is a product of my antipathy towards him. My politics seem to have slipped reflexively to the Centre (or Right - which amounts to the same thing) as part of this opposition. I feel a deep dissatisfaction with the narrowness of vision that the film apparently shows - the good old working classes with hearts of gold vs the evil Tories. I might be projecting but I thought I read the same dissatisfaction in the review discussed. I feel that I want to given a new set of tools for thinking, some new insights into the current moment and instead we're stuck in binaries with defined in the 80s (there's a line of poetry about the new wanting to be born, that comes to mind - can't recall the poem though. Yeats?). The present is politically very strange and the vision offered by Loach doesn't articulate that, extremely worthy in intentions as it is. This is why I favour Arnold's film. It's an attempt to say something new, even if the message is a bit incoherent. Perhaps it just appeals to my bourgeois individualism.
    One thing I feel the McDuff piece is trying to draw out via this undeserving/deserving poor dichotomy is the question of 'the individual'. How much is one responsible for hardships? The ultra-Thatcherite position (re-branded under Blair too) is that the individual is always responsible for themselves. If you are rich you deserve it, 'because you worked hard'. If you are poor, in the same logic, you are supposed as feckless and deserving*. Of course, though - and this is where I feel McDuff's position is slightly too harsh - is a worker responsible for not keeping up with the waning job market? Is a worker responsible for their 'failure' or 'inability' to gain new skills after a lifetime of experience skill in a now dead industry are rendered redundant? I think McDuff's criticism that the film makes the character too angelically perfect is scrabbling towards this point. Though, I have to say, I think providing a slightly too perfect protagonist in order to highlight that individuals are not 'wholly responsible' for their hardships is a minor minor gripe in light of British media's ostriching on austerity except for poking fun at the poor.

    I recall Hankinson's Raoul Moat book. Moat was obviously failed by multiple services and consistently mistreated. Moat was not a nice guy, from what I can tell. He solved problems with violence, he had steroid abuse issues and he mistreated the few people in his life - but just because he wasn't an angel doesn't mean the failures of state's services should be absolved.

    Turning up to a restaurant without a tie does not absolve the waiter's mistake of spilling soup on your lap.

    DannyL - The 'mean' tories and innocent workers is a tiresomely simple narrative. Things are not that simple, pretending they are helps no one and I doubt it's efficacy as a political argument against individualism. But any method of highlighting how individuals are affected by social injustice, economic shifts and political austerity programs is better than no voice at all.


    * This same simplistic logic goes for mental health, stress and depression. The individual is responsible for their mental health, it is their problem if they cannot exercise to wellness or stand the pressure. The root of the symptom, in post-Thatcher terms, is never social, political or economic - it is just the individual's shortcoming.

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    Yes, good point about individualism. But I guess most character driven drams are going to focusing in on individuals, with the narrative and message communicated through their struggles. This paragraph struck me:

    But we don’t see how Blake’s ordeal is systematically reproduced across the country. We don’t see how entire communities are treated as collective Daniel Blakes, or how the “creative destruction” of capitalism mass-produces poverty as entire industries are made obsolete. We don’t see how this poverty can metastasise in communities like a tumour around the scars left by mass unemployment, spurring a cycle of social cannibalism as drugs and criminality consume them from within.

    I did ask myself on reading this what on Earth would a film that did all this this look like? He's asking for something fairly incredible, that would stretch the talents of any fictional film-maker to their limits. I don't think that changes to the nature of class are clear and self-evident, so god alone knows how this might be expressed via fictional ciphers.

    But any method of highlighting how individuals are affected by social injustice, economic shifts and political austerity programs is better than no voice at all.


    Yeah, agreed. I think there's another point here about the purpose of cinema and cinematic messages but I dont' have a clear conclusion what I'm writing.

  14. #14

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    Well, I am suspicious of art's political ability. To say the least. I don't feel art should make change. But it should reflect, explore and communicate. And when people communicate then change may begin to happen. But, this is people, not art.

    I haven't seen I, Daniel Blake so a little cheeky of me to make direct comparison. But I feel films like Brassed Off and Full Monty were closer to exploring the 'whole communities' that suffer the symptoms of systemic economic changes. There are probably better example but I can't think of any. Falling Down is perhaps an American version of DB that has a less sympathetic, more imperfect, protagonist.

    But, to ask, 'what on Earth would a film that did all this this look like?' goes straight to a major issue. Out of work industry workers, with a visible presence in the dying days of social spaces are/were so much more 'film-able' than the current problems affecting those under 30. How to depict a search for jobs? People no longer knock on doors, they google and email. How do you show that people have many acquaintances but are desperately socially lonely? How do you show the demise of common social spaces? How do you show the trend of people staying at home rather than interacting outside? How do you show people in bars and a gigs staring at their iPhones rather than holding conversations or experiencing the performance?

    I don't want to say these symptoms are unfilmable, but you'd be forgiven for thinking so considering cinema's lack of creative depictions. Even a great film that explores loneliness and mundanity, Anomalisa, actually resorts to an archaic cinema trope that has loomed large on screen for years - the hotel.

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    the work of art is a programmed teaching machine. It's a mechanism for shaping sensibility.
    it doesn't do it through morality tales though

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