Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It takes an ocean of stallions to shave our back

Loaded magazine was launched in 1994 at the forefront of the ‘lads mag’ movement of boorish lad culture for the 90s, which turned on the touchy-feely influence on masculinity that had arisen in the 80s.
The lads mags were basically Playboy with less nudity, articles about things Blokes would/should be interested in such as booze, sport, gambling and real life gangsters such as con-turned-celebrity Dave Courtney, all punctuated with photo shoots of models or soap actresses.

In 1998, guy Ritchie capitalized on the geezer zeitgeist with the release of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a knockabout gangster film which mixed a cockney-fantasy view of the London underworld with a dash of Tarantino and another beneficiary of lad culture, Vinnie Jones, the ‘hard man’ of football. The film’s success spawned a plethora of copycats with Rancid Aluminium, Going Off Big Time and Love, Honour & Obey amongst the drek that followed two years later. Thankfully there are few genres in cinema which don’t yield the occasional gem and the brit gangster scene was no exception, offering up the goods with films like The Limey and Gangster No. 1, helping to stop Britain from seeming like nothing but a den of wankers.

Sexy Beast, however, is in a league of its own.
The debut feature by acclaimed music video director Jonathan Glazer (with promos for Radiohead and Massive Attack under his belt), Sexy Beast ticks all the generic boxes at first glance.
Starring uber cockney Ray Winstone alongside UK TV actress Amanda Redman as his wife, and featuring a pre-Deadwood Ian McShane who was best known as the rogueish antique dealer, Lovejoy, the film is the story of a London thief retired in Spain who is called on to do one last job.
Thankfully Glazer is a fantastic director and in Sexy Beast delivered a film that was fresh and cinematic and yet also heavily character-driven. The stylistic touches that Glazer developed for his advert and promo work are evident throughout the film, with fantastic sequences involving camera placement as we follow the point of view of a boulder tumbling down a hill, the revolving door of a bank and a car door opened and then slammed shut; a scene where the focus on Winstone’s face remains constant whilst the rest of the frame shakes violently behind him (a similar technique to that used in Fight Club with Pitt as Durden telling you that “you are not your fucking khakis”); a dream sequence involving a demonic rabbit man. What is so thrilling about the film is that every one of Glazer’s touches of bravura serves the characters and the story, rather than being flash for the sake of it.

The film revolves around the unwelcome return of the criminal past that Winstone’s Gal thought he had left behind. Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan is the vehicle for change, and it is a credit to both actors that they manage to convey that the usually imposing Winstone is terrified of the wiry Kingsley, totally convincing as a driven psychotic whose violence is mostly mental despite his taut and menacing physical presence. While much of the praise around the film was bestowed upon Kingsley for a role that was largely against type, Winstone gives a fantastic performance, conveying the love for his wife, the frustration at being unable to disentangle himself from his shady past, and his repressed panic at the thought of discovery by McShane’s Mr. Big, Teddy Bass, later in the film. It’s a shame that he is usually cast as the menacing lug (although Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth offered a more challenging version of that role) as it is clear that Winstone is a fantastic actor.

Sexy Beast deserves not only a place among the best British crime films such as the Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Brighton Rock, but deserves recognition as a classic British film which snuck into the geezer movie explosion a film about a man who just wants a quiet life with his beloved wife and his friends.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

It's not you, it's me.

Despite everything that I have ever read and seen, emotions are never clear-cut. At least for me.

My father died about one year after he threw me out of his flat. I warned him that I would never speak to him again when he threatened it, but he carried on regardless. I went and slept on the living room floor of my mum's flat, already too small for her and my sister and two brothers, but luckily I had a place at University and halls to move into two months later. She had originally thrown my father out about six years earlier for being a drunk, and after a time spent sleeping in his car, he bought a flat a few minutes away from us and I was sent to live with him at about thirteen years old.
It was the drink that led to the fist fight which happened before he threw me out, and it was the drink that killed him.
In books, movies and TV soaps, as well as accounts from friends and family, a situation in which you cut off a family member who dies always leads to you wishing you could have patched things up, that you could have made amends before they were gone, in line with the old cliche that you don't know what you're missing until it's gone, but I have never regretted cutting my self off from my dad. After he had said that he didn't want to quit the booze it was clear to me that he would never again be the father I once knew, and that there was no longer anything to miss.

I cried after I learnt of his death. Not at the time, but a day or two later I slept over with a friend who said I shouldn't be alone, and she was right, I broke down in tears and she held me, taking the edge off the grief. I could never understand why I cried so when I hated him, hated what he had become and had wished him dead on numerous occasions standing in the dark front room of his flat that smelled of cigarettes and cider, looking out at the cross roads outside the flat bathed in a yellow sodium glow.

More recently I have been dumped by my girlfriend of six years. The relationship was always difficult, never flowing naturally but always an effort to try and overcome obstacles, and seemingly involving a lot of effort and sacrifice on my part.
In this situation it is hard to work out what I feel. I am not as devastated as I have been after the failure of shorter relationships, but this is likely to do with the slow, inevitable decline. I wanted to end it myself numerous times for at least the last three years, but was always persuaded to give my one-time partner another chance every time, so the idea of splitting up isn't exactly new, but somehow it still feels like it's out of the blue, a shock, a wrench of the emotions.
Even though I have not been as miserable as I expected to be, I also have a feeling that it hasn't all hit home yet.
The arduous effort put into the relationship led to less time spent with friends and weaker links because of that - it will be hard to bounce back as a social animal, without even taking into consideration the fact that I've never really dated.

So now I'm thirty years old and single, and whilst I'm not sure if I regret the entire six year relationship, for the first time in my life I definitely have regret for my actions (or inactions); regret that I didn't stick to my guns the first time I wanted out, the first time I thought that it wasn't working and that I was sacrificing too much to make it work with too little effort to match it put in by my ex.

That this regret does me little good is of no matter - I have no more control over it than over the tears I shed for my father's death - but what does matter is that I don't know where to go on from here, I don't know how to prioritise friendships and romance any more and I have no idea how to be single.
It might all just fall together with time, but I'm certain that it will help to get some physical distance between this part of my life and the next, so I'm glad I have found a new place to move to and that in one week's time, the majority of the trauma of moving out will be over thanks to a little help from my friends.