Over the last ten years Shane Meadows has helped to create a realistic portrayal of Working classed Britain. Director of films such as; Twenty four seven, A Room for Romeo Brass, Dead man’s Shoes and This is England, Shane Meadows has helped to bring and to create social realist films for a new generation. His films stand side by side with more mainstream titles such as Brassed off, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, each helping to bring the working classes and the social issues which they have faced to the forefront of National British cinema.
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What this essay intends to do is to explore Shane Meadows’ work as a director of British films, looking directly at how the past reflects the aesthetics and conventions within his films, how his cinema embodies the spirit of working classed identity and the social issues that are touched upon within his work and also why Meadows has become a popular film maker in contemporary Britain. The essay will look at three of Meadows’ films in particular; TwentyFourSeven, A Room for Romeo Brass and This is England, and will analyse the relationship that each film has with one another and why he has constructed an autobiographical take upon each of these films.
Shane Meadows born in 1972 in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, grew up within a working classed community. Meadows teenaged years were in a time which saw great political change for many people in the 1980s, with the working classes seeing only negative outcome to a new British government. Industrial areas, most notably within the North of England, saw the threat of unemployment around every corner and the very essence of working classed life was destroyed by Thatcher’s government, in her quest for a post industrial, classless society. Meadows experiences as a youth and the political and social changes that took place within the 1980s have been established throughout Meadows’ works. I think my 1980s is a richer time to draw on than any other.” Meadows has said when questioned on the reasons why his own childhood experiences are prominently featured in many of his films.
As a British Realist film maker, Shane Meadows has distinctly borrowed from recognisable techniques and traditions from movements of the past. His notable influences are in the ‘New wave’ cinema of film makers such as Karl Reisz, Lindsay Anderson and Tony Richardson from the 1960s and Mike Leigh and Ken Loach who have contributed to socio-realist cinema throughout the 1980s up until present day.
What this has meant for Meadows is that his films are able to create a recognisable identity for a nation that people can be able to associate with. By creating a bond to the cinema of New wave and Realist cinema, Meadows is able to critique our nation through the use of a popular and recognisable aesthetic which is associated with many British dramas.
The British New Wave cinema was the first step into creating a realist aesthetic in British narrative films. Through the inspiration of Documentary and the Italian neo-realist films that had come before, its film makers such as Karl Reisz and Lindsay Anderson were able to create a cinema which focused upon the intent of bringing social issues to the screen through realistic interpretations. Before they contributed to narrative cinema, Anderson and Reisz focused their talents upon Documentary, in which they created a movement, known at the time as the ‘Free Cinema’ movement. Their approach was opposed to the traditional expository mode which British documentary film maker John Grierson produced within his production company; GPO pictures. Grierson’s documentaries sought to tackle the social problems of the working class misrepresented in British cinema, by siding with them. The ‘voice of god’ narration and selective viewpoint was avoided within the ‘Free Cinema’ movement, providing a poetic approach that stripped their documentaries of voice-overs and the right wing political stand point of the Grierson styled documentary, became left wing, criticising the British political system by focusing on the ‘real’ working class, although, from a distance. I want to make people – ordinary people, not just top people – feel their dignity and their importance.” Lindsay Anderson said of his commitment to presenting the working class within his works.
Although Grierson’s approach was highly criticised by the filmmakers of the free cinema movement, it was from Grierson himself who said that documentary was The Creative treatment of actuality.” This broadly used term could simply be interpreted as the way the film maker is able to create a display of artistic elements, from the construction of real people with real problems in real settings.
Implicit in the Free cinema formulation were two related conceptions of freedom: on the one hand, a freedom from commercial constraint and, on the other, a freedom to give vent to a personal or unusual, point of view of vision.”
The importance of the realist aesthetic within the Free cinema documentaries and the ‘New wave’ narrative film was to make it clear that the artist was at the centre of the work. This did not necessarily mean that he was involved within the film itself, but the style of the film, ideologies and messages were that the film maker was trying to get across.
The other importance was the ability to create the feeling of something new, to transform the real from Meer observation but to create a poetry which was able to work upon more than one level, and it was through the representation of a group of outsiders (the working class) that the film makers were able to do this.
Films such as The Loneliness of the Long distance runner, A taste of Honey, A Sporting Life and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, shifted the emphasis from middle class idealistic families, to a focus upon the youth living and working within industrial cities, situated in the Northern areas of England.
The late 1950s/early 1960s became the first time since the Second World War that workers started to benefit from decent salaries and some, an almost disposable income. The youth in particular were able to separate themselves from their work lives and the authority figures that held a grasp over them, enabling them to spend their wages on the consummation of the latest in fashionable products. This is also true of ‘New Wave’ films, which focused less on the importance of work within the lives of the characters but on their leisurely activities. The decline in the working class traditions and the rise of the working classed youth became notable. They were becoming defined not by what they produce but of what they consume and this was an indicator of the times.
When looking at Saturday night Sunday morning by Karl Reisz, the main protagonist, Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) may work within the confines of a factory, but when his working is shown, it is briefly and only to underline the important images or to support the leisurely aspect of his life. E.G. when he is finishing work. By wasting his money upon a sex, drugs and almost rock and roll lifestyle he is separating himself from the authority figures that keep him in his place during his working hours. It’s not a unity of a working class that can be seen within this film or many of the New wave films of the 1960s, it is very much about issues of one person in particular, in the case of Saturday night, Sunday Morning, it is Arthur.
Writer John Hill stated that Despite the ostensive commitment to represent the working class, the British ‘New Wave’, through their adoption of conventional narrativity and realism, tend to have the opposing effect, that is, the creation of an accentuated individualism.” The emphasis on the individual in this working class aesthetic of the New wave films may come down to the absence of work as a dominant presence. Instead it seems that the importance of working class life, as a youth, is separating themselves from the authority figures and dominant forces of work and instead making leisure and the way in which the characters separate themselves from work in their free time.
In Meadows work, there is a felt presence of the ‘New wave’ films throughout his work
The focus upon just one main protagonist and their personal struggle rather than the united struggle of the working class is that it is extremely difficult to represent political problems within narrative film, without a need to create a bond to the personal effects that the political has upon the working class within realist cinema.
But what exactly did the filmmakers do to try and create a believable and purposeful reality, and at once avoid the idealistic and theatrical approach that the Traditional Hollywood films employed?
The main focus of reality in these ‘New Wave’ films is by
Meadows first feature film TwentyFourSeven was released in 1997. A resurgence in British Realism lead to a shift in focus for many of the films released within the 1990s. Whereas the films of the ‘New Wave’ in the ’60s, focused upon the employed youth’s personal struggle with working classed life and the hedonistic, anti-establishment attitude they portrayed in their leisurely pursuits and the 80s saw reactions against the Thatcher’s government’s destruction of traditional working classed values and perceptions, the 90s took upon a different perspective, with Britain very much a post industrial nation, class now determined not what they made and who they were as a unified work force, but instead was now determined by what they consumed. This perspective now shifted upon the youth of today, from pre pubescent Children to teenagers growing up on rough, poverty stricken council estates. Unemployment has left the youth in the same position and status.
Samantha Lay stated that Dramas focus more tightly on family relationships and partnerships. Poverty, unemployment and social exclusion are not the driving forces of their narratives, but are merely signalled as contributory factors to family strife, so that it is the working class family that has failed, not the state or capitalist society.”
British Realist films focus upon the effect that politics have had upon the class system, specifically the working class who’s inevitable decline since the 1950s has lead to an alienation of masculine identity and the emphasis as class as a unification.
Meadows films are about the alienation of family life and the journey of finding a place to really belong. The perspective of a child or in the case of Twenty Four Seven; Young Adults, gives Meadow a chance to see the Working Class from a different perspective.
What Meadows’ films do which many mainstream British films do not do is to question the stereotypical view of the average British person, by keeping to a low budget, Meadows’ keeps the focus upon the identities within his own regional upbringing.
Unemployment plays a big role within the films of the British realist aesthetic that were made within the 1980s up until our contemporary time. Children and the youth are not affected in the same in which the adults are but their perspective is of the upmost importance. The period aspect to this is England, Twenty Four Seven and A Room for Romeo Brass gives you an aspect of political change.
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Within the 90s and the 2000s working class focused films created a way of escaping from the reality of the situation. Characters were able to find success from the economic situations that have dragged them down, most notably through entertainment. This can be seen within films such as Billy Elliot, Brassed off, The Full Monty and to an extent Trainspotting. Each of these films proved popular to the British movie going audience and tried showing how the working class could develop and escape from the working class life that had been dragging them down.
Meadows approach, although not entirely pessimistic is about the positive which comes out of the negative situations, or the defeat of people.
Unstable protagonists at the start of each three films, struggle with the uneven situations that their parents are entangled within, often dragging the children down with them. It is this alienation from family life which causes distress and change from these characters. Their questionable actions often ending in violence leads to the chance meetings in which potential father figures, genuinely interested in the emotional and physical state of the these characters help the characters from emotional unrest.
In This is England, Shaun’s violent playground fight is caused from the mention of his Dad’s death. His walk home from school leads to the meeting of a Skinhead gang, most notably Woody who notes Shaun’s unhappy presence. His happy go lucky attitude and genuine care for Shaun makes him feel wanted in a place where he’s alienated not only from family life but from being part of a sub culture which will accept him for who he is, which is evident from the mocking attitude of some of Woody’s friends who are not as caring as Woody’s father attitude to the situation is.
In A Room for Romeo Brass, the fight between Romeo and the two boys leads to the rescue from Morell who is alerted from nearby. Again, the importance of chance turns a violent hateful act, into one with positive outcomes, in which children/teenagers are brought into the world of the adult. The Subculture is what draws the children into an adult’s world. Leisure drives them from the woes of family life and from the authority figures which are bringing them down.
The masculine father figures within Meadows’ films help to refocus the output of the violence of the youth that they have taken under their wing. The troubled teenagers caught in violent episodes, find new ways in which to focus their negative energies. This frustration for life in post industrial estates, in which domestic problems of parents causes great angst often leads to violence. By refocusing these ill thoughts and actions through healthy attitudes, the Father figure is able to guide the youth away from everything that is holding them back. Woody’s optimistic and peaceful father figure for fatherless tearaway Shaun in This is England, enables his alienation from a social perspective to be reinstated into a group in which he belongs. The anger and frustration of these Skinhead youths does not lead to the targeting of people, but of decrepit, rundown buildings on council estates.
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