For Criterion Consideration: The Films of Alan Clarke

Sometimes in this series of articles, we’re going to focus on specific filmmakers who deserve a spot within the Criterion Collection. Especially those the public might not even be that aware of or the impact they’ve had in the art of cinema in general. Alan Clarke is one such filmmaker. Most people when you mention the name Alan Clarke, they will wonder who you’re speaking about. When you mention the actors they helped usher in and a fraction of the future filmmakers they influenced, you’d start to really want to know who this man was.

Alan Clarke primarily worked in television in England, primarily adaptations of plays (such as George’s Room by Alun Owen and Which of These Two Ladies is He Married To? by Edna O’Brien) and various television shows via ITP productions. It wasn’t until he combined his skill and vision with BBC that he finally got the notice he deserved. This is when he started to fine tune his knack for social realism, especially when it came to the down trodden and lower class of England.

There’s a few films I would love to have featured in a box set, which I envision to be like the amazing John Cassavetes set Criterion put out, pinpointing the director’s high points of cinema, with spectacular supplements to accompany them, showcasing why these films at that particular time were an important milestone. Bering that there’s plenty of films to cover with Alan Clarke, first I must present to you that there was a great and once out of print box set, put out by Blue Underground many years ago, that showcased the cream of the crop when it comes to Alan Clarke’s filmography.

These are the films that showed why Alan Clarke was one to be reckoned with. The films were Scum (both the 1977 BBC version and the 1979 feature film version), Made in Britain (1982), The Firm and Elephant (both 1988). What is important about these films is that they all detailed particular angry individuals of their specific era, be it a survivor of the corrupt juvenile prison system (Ray Winstone), a skinhead who won’t bow down to Thatcher’s conformity (Tim Roth) or a father by day and soccer hooligan by night (Gary Oldman). These characters are almost all and one the same, at different points of their life, and clinging onto their own anarchy, while destroying everything around them.

These films are haunting accounts as to what humanity is and how a book should never be judged, even when one sports a swastika or wears a nice pair of slacks. These films have already been presented in a great box set by Blue Underground, as I’ve said earlier, with some great supplements. Such as commentaries with Ray Winstone, Tim Roth and even Danny Boyle, who was a producer on Elephant. There are other films in Clarke’s history that deserve recognition as well, such as Rita, Sue and Bob Too, about two teenage girls who have a sexual fling with a married man and what happens to friendships and marriage because of the affair.

Baal definitely deserves a spot as well, which is BBC production of a play by Bertolt Brecht, who he had a strong interest in, and stars David Bowie, who also did the music for the film. It will be yet another film for David Bowie in the collection, which shows why he is as good an actor as he is a singer. The strange musical Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire also is a film that shows how eclectic Alan Clarke was. Billy the Kid is an up and comming snooker player, and when his manager T.O. runs into debt problems with a vicious loan shark, he is convinced to set up a grudge match between Billy and the reigning world champ Maxwell Randall (who is known as the Green Baize Vampire). It’s a peculiar film, one that needs some viewing from the film fans out there. These films would be a great fit for an Eclipse set, just to get them out there for everyone to see. A snapshot of how diverse the man could be.

I would say if Criterion could get the prime set of films, with Scum, Made in Britain, The Firm and Elephant together, which all have a constant thematic theme, as a prime box set, that would be quite amazing. Especially if they could get those great commentaries included and also the documentary Director: Alan Clarke which shows these films and his career in the context that they deserve. But to add more to the stew, as it were, would of course be a blessing. New interviews with the stars that began their careers or beefed up their filmography because of Clarke would be great.

Also, a roundtable of the filmmakers that he influenced, such as Paul Greengrass, Stephen Frears, Gus Van Sant, Shane Meadows and Harmony Korine with his contemporaries Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (which many are in the collection) to give their thanks and appreciation for a filmmaker often overlooked. Alan Clarke sadly died in 1990, with some of his work banned from television (such as the BBC version of Scum, which then played after his death as a remembrance), but if there were any archival footage of him, in interviews about his work, would be a great addition to the films themselves.

Alan Clarke was a punk rock star. He might have looked like a normal director, but the path he took in film made him a rebel of the system. Often fighting against the higher ups, he showed the world an image of themselves they were afraid to admit was true. With star making performances throughout these films and tight directing as well, this is why his films deserve a place in the Criterion Collection.


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