kortirion_among_the_trees: (Looking Out)
[personal profile] kortirion_among_the_trees
I've finally had the chance to go see I, Daniel Blake.  In the middle of the working day, so the audience was entirely made up of pensioners.

It was incredibly powerful.  Paradoxically, even the crude bits of social commentary where visibly unprofessional actors deliver heavy-handed lines did not detract from the power, but simply enhanced the overall effect of unvarnished realism.  I don't know how anyone could leave a screening of that film and not go out boiling with rage and indignation and grief, calling for bloody revolution.  And this precisely because there is absolutely no politics in it, other than some drunkard's incoherent babblings about that 'Duncan'.  It is also a film marinated in the tropes of 19th and early 20th c. social realism and documentary.  I could see the texts I read and teach shining through in every twist of the plot and in every characterisation.  Hell, not just the texts, the pictures too:

'Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward' - replicated almost exactly in a scene depicting the queue at a food bank.  There are iterations of that famous painting in photograph form in any number of documentary texts from my period, not to mention verbal descriptions.  Can you think of any equivalents today?

And herein lies the problem.  Eighty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago, this was the stuff of art: you couldn't turn around for all the novels, stories, paintings, not to mention journalistic exposes and sociological studies - read widely by the general public - which took the material of Daniel Blake as their subject.  Where are they now?  Why is Ken Loach virtually the only one doing this?  Why is this no longer a subject for creative endeavour?  The film is almost archetypal - a sort of anti-fairy tale in its plot and character functions - but it is also absolutely up-to-date-to-the-last-second in its social detail, more 'modern' and 'for our time' than whatever the latest trendiest thing in cinema happens to be.  There are gold-mines there, utterly untapped, for more subtle artists than Loach is - why aren't they coming?

Society a hudred years ago was crueller, much more dreadful in so many respects than it is today, but it was also better, because indignation and grief for human suffering were palpably in the air, were setting the tone of the public discourse, transcending party lines, 'framing the conversation'.  Where can you turn now other than various advocacy organisations and a few journalists for any articulated outrage?  It is one of the many functions of art to give culturally influential and lasting form to condemnation of contemporary injustices.  Art is manifestly failing in that duty in our society, and exceptions like Daniel Blake only prove the rule.

P.S. The film is vintage Loach through and through, and the ending, particularly, is very reminiscent of the conclusion of Land and Freedom.
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