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View Full Version : Why Mike Leigh is a blight on British cinema



k-punk
24-01-2005, 06:52 AM
Pleased to see that the sacred cow Mike Leigh got a long overdue slaying in the Sunday Times yesterday. Minette Marrin dared to break ranks with the near unanimous consensus and proclaim the obvious: that Leigh's films are intellectually lazy, stereotype-ridden, patronizing and simplistic.

Before I go on, I should say that I haven't yet seen Vera Drake. Well, I say I haven't seen it, but from what Martin wrote, it's clear that I <i>have</i> seen it - many times before. Leigh's films endlessly repeat the same gestures: grotesquely overacted mugging by most of the cast, with an off-the-shelf patented British Character Actor 'Great Acting' rendering of timorous fortitude by the lead; absurdly simplistic portrayal of class, with people divided into three types - heroic, would never complain us, even though we've only got a round of bread and dripping to last a family for a week, have to go to school with holes in our hobnailed boots and make our own entertainment rahnd the old pianner, Thoroughly Decent heartwarming, hardworking, hard done to salt of the earth folk; moustache-twirling Toff Villains that would be laughed off stage in pantomime; but worst of all, the very devils in Leigh's know your place cosmos, the <i>aspirant</i> working class, those who, grotesquely and appallingly, want more for themselves than to make do and mend. Almost all of the alleged comedy of Leigh's films is at the expense of this 'upstart' class. Witness Alison Steadman's 'classic' performance in the poisionous <i>Abigail's Party</i>, the alleged humour of which consists in the fact that, can you believe it, there are people out there who don't know what the protocols of middle class Taste are. It's so amusing isn't it, dear, when they get above themselves...

There really is no difference between Leigh's portrayal of the aspirant working class and racism. Steadman's yowling accent and barely 2 dimensional characterization is the class equivalent of blackface.

As for politics, Leigh's films are unfailingly anti-political in their British socialist, commonsense empiricist conviction that if only people were more Decent then everything would be alright. They are straightforward morality plays in the worst sense, in which any <i>structural</i> analysis of class is made impossible by a sensibility that is at once smug, resentful and sentimental.

henrymiller
24-01-2005, 09:55 AM
All true... but the Sunday Times would be less than keen on yer structural assessment of class, cf Norman Stone's infamous assault on everyone from Loach to Jarman ten years back.

k-punk
24-01-2005, 10:47 AM
You're totally right .. Marrin seemed to move seamlessly between a well-founded assault on the lameness of Leigh's class stereotypes to an idea that class is itself a passe topic (presumably on the assumption that we're living in a classless society now lol).

She also had the rather strange idea that Leigh was popular entertainment - when surely Leigh's audience is almost exclusively the Guardian-reading handwringing liberal middle mass, vulturous in the aftermath.

In fact, one of the other problems with Leigh is that he is part of a bourgeois theatre-schooled establishment which controls film in this country and ensures that it is seen as some down-at-heel inferior sibling to Thee-Ay-ter.

Diggedy Derek
24-01-2005, 10:50 AM
Interesting. Yeah, there's a lot of truth there. There's always been a bit of hypocrisy in the way he works with "real people", but intensively trains them until they act the way he wants. The "real" in his films isn't something that's just walked off the street- it's been obsesively shaped.

henrymiller
24-01-2005, 11:55 AM
Abigail's Party: Abigail herself is not in the film, she's AS's kid, and her party is a 'punky reggae party', this being 1977--there is a kind of lower-middle-class squeeze going on, phe4r of 'that sort of thing' (ie youth, non-nuclear family rules), but also terrible culture-shame: felt ignorance of books, art, wine. I think it's one of his more nuanced things, but can easily see how it's part of the top-down squeeze: ugh, people who don't know about art ect ect and their naff ideas.

'High Hopes' was the nadir in terms of stereotypes, the lefty beardy people visiting Marx's grave, the shark-like yuppies... incedentally it's TWO QUID to get into Highgate cemetary these days.

HoldTight
15-02-2005, 01:24 AM
" The "real" in his films isn't something that's just walked off the street- it's been obsesively shaped. "

yeah.

"In fact, one of the other problems with Leigh is that he is part of a bourgeois theatre-schooled establishment which controls film in this country and ensures that it is seen as some down-at-heel inferior sibling to Thee-Ay-ter."

double yeah. this is one of the reasons why Young British Film-Makers Today have such a poor gig. gor dear, that sounds like a thread on it's own....

s10cki
20-02-2005, 07:00 PM
what's wrong with the "real" in his films being "obsessively shaped"? i mean that's kinda what artists do! shape things!