Discussing the original IPCRESS FILE with a personal friend of Len Deighton’s recently, we both concurred how difficult it is to get hold of classic British movies of a certain era. When I was doing my PHD, I used the BFI in London but they don’t hire out and it’s a killer going down to the big bad smoke -where bed and breakfast gaffs are around 70 quid a night – to watch a movie in a cubicle. More recently, I’ve been acquiring some gems through my mate, Dave Collins, the half Iranian co-author of my Iranian political thriller SACRED WINDS which was taken to the Cannes Film Festival this year by a London producer whose name escapes me. Dave’s got a cousin in Paris and it so happens that CANAL PLUS have bought the rights to a number of British and American classic films. Thanks to this Parisian connection, I have recently obtained VILLAIN, with Richard Burton, Paul Scharder’s THE SORCERER, Stacey Keach in THE SQUEEZE and a whole rake of goodies – particularly including Lindsay Anderson’s IF with Malcolm McDowell.
This is fortuitous as Paul Mitton and myself are currently working on a street history retrospective that is almost like a sequel to IF. And guess what, it’s a street history that doesn’t have a working class protagonist. Neither does SACRED WINDS for that matter. Am I selling out? I don’t think so but I’ll come back to my own proletarian credentials in a moment. For those who don’t know, IF is a surreal story of an insurrection in a public school that would seem partly inspired by George Orwell’s essay, SUCH, SUCH WERE THE JOYS. My mentor in the film business, Peter West, worked as an editor on this movie which was filmed AFTER the formation of the March 22md movement in Paris but immediately before the Sorbonne events with which it has been subsequently identified. A good account of the film’s making and significance can be found in Ian Raikoff’s book, INSIDE THE PRISONER: RADICAL FILM AND TELEVISION IN THE 1960s. Raikoff was the South African Trotskyist who wrote the Prisoner episode where Patrick McGoohan found himself in a wild west town and was big mates with Nick Roeg and Donald Cammell of whom more in a minute.
In our pseudo sequel, FAT BOY, a character loosely based on that of Malcolm McDowell, does serious time for shooting up a vile public school and killing his PE teacher Diggins. This customer has gathered around him a bunch of FLASHMAN TYPES known as Diggins’s lads, some of whom are killed in the insurrection of 1968. A decade or so later and Diggins’ lads are still Flashmans, but part of the Thatcherite economic counter-revolution by which finance capital asserts its primacy over manufacturing industry. In league with East End gangsters – overlapping the territory of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY and EMPIRE STATE - they seek to develop the East End as a financial centre but having been snubbed by the US/Italian mafia, their principle source of finance is Russian. Meanwhile, the kid who shot up the public school with his 1968 mindset very much intact, is released from prison with a new identity and is looking for revenge.
As well as IF, this story draws on THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (my second favourite film after GET CARTER) and EMPIRE STATE, which opened out some of the themes of THE LONG GOOD FRDAY in a rather didactic and one sided way. It also draws on the themes in some of Joseph Losey’s movies (particularly including THE SERVANT by Harold Pinter) but also Donald Cammell’s PERFORMANCE (with Mick Jagger and Edward Fox) in which a weak aristocratic character finds himself manipulated by a kind of proletarian Leviathan – a working class bad boy rebel turned bad who now parasites on the community from which he was derived.
In this way, the later movies of Anderson and the crime movies (like Performance) to which I refer prefigured a trend in Thatcherism whereby it supplanted old ruling class old money (and their patrician values) as it created a dog eat dog society through false populism. Thatcher and her ilk were far nastier than Old Etonians like Harold MacMillan who preceded them. This isn’t to say that Stuart Hall, Martin Jacques and the Stalinist rabble that ran Marxism Tody were justified in abandoning working class politics, in the building of the broadest possible of fronts against Thatcher. It does mean that while the working class was the principle focus of Thatcherite attack (particularly during THE MINERS’ STRIKE with which ENEMY WITHIN deals) other layers of society also lost out once the workers were defeated and the new Coercive State form was consolidated. This was signalled early but rendered manifest when the Special Branch raided the BBC Glasgow studios over Duncan campbell’s SECRET SOCIETY programme and at the Battle of the Beanfield.
What makes this salient today is that only by politically refounding the labour movement can the present Thatcherite regime which persists under the coercive state, whichever passle of Tories wins the next election, can only be defeated by politically refounding the labour movement but that its unlikely it will reconstitute itself around the traditional miners’ strike battles of the past. Rather, it needs to refound itself around issues of democratic rights. It’s also likely the professional middle classes and intelligensia might be part of this process as they’re getting damn all out of the present order of things as well.
Finally (because this is my last blog), there’s the issue of race and etnicity. This has GOT to be a focus for STREET HISTORY and realist drama and literature today. This cannot be done, however, by following the post-modernist or post structuralist fetish (eg in SCREEN) for emphasiising identity at the expense of class. Arguably, this is a problem with films like JASMINE and BRITZ. In our society, ethnic identity politics proliferate because of the political defeatc of the working class and suppression of the left. This applies to fascism in the socially excluded white working class and to islamic Fundamentalism. What we see in ethnic identity politics is a manifestation of primitive rebellion in the sense that the term is used by Geoff Pearson (editor of the British Journal of Criminology) to refer to “authentic but limited proletarian responses” to a deepening social crisis. Again, it’s all rooted in alienation which is the core theme of kitchen sink and street history alike.
And again, it’s a case of the left participating in its own demise. By scabbing on the anti-fascist struggle – eg in Brick lane – and leaving the Asian community to stand alone, the SWP and ANL contributed to the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism before ever Salman Rushdie wrote THE SATANIC VERSES or the collapse of the USSR SEEMED to render Marxism redundnat. This again is a theme of COOL BRITANNIA – the sequel to ENEMY WITHIN – set during the 1990s.
Thank you for staying with the blog this week. It has been fun. I will be here again when PICNIC publishes ENEMY WITHIN in Spring 2009.
Finally, PICNIC bloggers will know it is custom for the outgoing blogger to introduce the incoming. I have asked PICNIC all week to whom I am handing over -it works out its Blog Rota months ahead - so I could prepare something welcoming to say in advance. But I kept being fobbed off. Now I know why: our publisher, has been having some fun . . .
So, it is farewell from this Old anti-capitalist Trot and, as of Monday, welcome to GUY FRASER-SAMPSON of Cass Business School, founder and partner of a dedicated European Venture Capital Fund of Funds, previously with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and author of the best-selling PRIVATE EQUITY AS AN ASSET CLASS, the only definitive textbook on the subject in the world.
It gets worse: GFS will be blogging on his new book MAJOR BENJY – the further adventures of the character from the much loved Mapp & Lucia series based on characters created by E.F Benson. It is endorsed by Gyles Brandreth – ‘What Joy! What Bliss’ – I WARNED you it got worse!
Therefore, it is now definitely Au Reservoir, as the Major might say, from Roger Cottrell and ENEMY WITHIN.