Film, art, reality and Ken Loach


 From Jarrow into the future, the never-ending march!


Spending time and resources on re-location, post referendum, has been an interesting, if difficult,  process over the summer. France has been a comfortable destination, both in terms of culture and prospective places to live.

Now we have now widened our search, however, to scope projects in the cities of Rotterdam and Dublin. Both seem to offer a more supportive context for a refreshed approach to developing a social business project list, and a settled philosophical face to permanent membership of Europe. Progress reports of our search for a compassionate community in the EU, as they emerge…

This has not been a brake, however, on engagement with the artistic and political culture of England. I saw two films riven with political angst and declarative for reform over this week. Below is a commentary on that viewing.

Adam Curtis has delivered a provocative new film, HyperNormalisation, which seeks to show how the emergence of inward looking, technology driven, private banks and corporations have essentially subsumed the power of government, in the widest possible sense of a world with only a pretence of accountablity.

Image: Adam Curtis

The film tracks a development arc from the 1970’s onwards which shows the rise of ‘big data’ and it’s secret storage and manipulation, and how this, coupled to a capricious and opportunistic political class, had traded allegiances and money whilst dissolving their ability to solve societal problems.

You can see this challenging and sometimes disturbing film on the pages of the BBC iPlayer here.

Curtis’s title for the film comes from the concepts derived by American academic Alexei Yurchak whilst writing about the collapse of the old Soviet Union. He argued that everyone recognised the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any possible alternative, politicians and communities gave over to maintaining a pretence of a functioning society. This delusion eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy with fakery accepted by all as real.

Ken Loach, defined by Conservative MP Kwarsi Kwarteng, as a ‘revolutionary socialist’ has produced in his film I, Daniel Blake a contemporary catalogue of outcomes that derive from the structural, corporatist and political changes over time, defined by the film HyperNormalisation.

In a recent interview the Tory critic refuses to see the ‘reality’ of I, Daniel Blake, as it is only an artistic representation. Resorting to the perjorative epithet ‘revolutionary’ to describe the film maker, in the face of an austerity campaign derived from his own ideology, the like of which has created the need for the very representation we see in Loach’s film.

What I, Daniel Blake is not, despite the Kwarteng protestations, is a dogmatic, rigid and Manichaeian Marxist rant.

As always wth a Loach film the depth of research, and contributions from state actors and individuals of conscience to it, is clearly visible in the film credits.

See the recent interview with Ken Loach and the Tory MP below. (The MP even amazingly admits that he has not seen the Loach film, and continues to deny the struggle of ordinary people in carrying the burden of austerity!).

Daniel Blake is a working class resident of the North East who, having suffered a heart attack, finds himself and those around him trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare of conflicting processes, anti-humanitarian state machinery and ultimately despair. Loach defines this context for a life, for many contemporary lives, as ‘conscious cruelty’.

The language used by the systematised officers and state actors, in this rational, economic world that Daniel confronts, is of ‘sanction’, remote decision makers, contracts and ‘customers’. The services and support he is attempting to access have been ‘privatised’ and contracted out. so that all people entering the system become coins in a fairground slot machine – waiting to be pushed over the edge.

It is in this process that the filmic work of Curtis and Loach come together. Remote corporations drawing down vast sums of public money, attempt through the use of technology and rigid process ladders, to solve a problem the politicians cannot master.

Daniel is a victim of a change, started over forty years ago, aided and abetted by technology, which has left the political class floundering to find solutions to the most complex of societal problems.

It is the lack of humanity, of the personal consideration, which drives the frustration and anger that Daniel feels. Applying a ‘sanction’ to individuals who are ill, distraught and now deprived of all income for thirteen weeks is anti-humanitarian, surely? The Loach film contains a scene in a food-bank which is completely heart rending. That society should allow such support processes to exist, no matter how worthy, whilst prolonging the detrimental state of its individual members, is deplorable?

It is this sense of powerlessness, I would argue, in the face of such complexity which has allowed the demagogues and sound bite political contenders, who are contemptuous of the truth, to move communities to the isolationist right, as those communities seek solutions to the deprivations and inequalities they are experiencing.

Both filmic artworks present a depressing and depressed view of human relations and experience. The Loach film, however, is essentially about working-class friendship, compassion and solidarity – not any of which is administered by the state in general, alas.

It is the desparate shortage of humanity in both these cinematic edifices that is the most painful. A world determined by elite processes which lack any sense of it in strategic, operational or political decision making.

Most people of the liberal left are driven by a strong social conscience. What is less clear to them, and which is a weakness of the left in general, is the delivery or conceptualisation of a crystal clear message, methodology or mission, that makes issues and solutions tangible, transparent and treatable.

Watching the work of Curtis and Loach may coagulate us into action – to deliver that humanistic, egalitarian and compassionate society, which both films are crying out for.

The long march continues.

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