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October 2004, Week 2


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Paul Ward <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 13 Oct 2004 14:19:12 +0100
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Leo writes: 

>Why can propaganda not be argued? I would define propaganda as promoting
>certain arguments while, if necessary, trying to inhibit others.

OK – but this makes virtually any filmmaker (or, indeed, anyone who engages in spoken or written language) a ‘propagandist’. We focus on certain things, argue that X is a more important causal factor than Y, and so forth. This will also mean that certain things are, as you put it, ‘inhibited’. The term loses any usefulness as a consequence. But my point here was that labelling Loach a ‘propagandist’ was basically a *dismissive* move, suggesting that his arguments have no basis. You clearly think this, but other people clearly think otherwise.

Leo writes:

>Loach's film consistently put forward arguments which promote his
>own political beliefs while ignoring or dismissing those which undermine
>them. See my last post for examples (though, needless to say, 'Land and
>Freedom' should read 'Bread and Roses').

Another way of putting this would be to say ‘Loach makes a case for . . . ‘, wouldn’t it? Isn’t this what we all do – ‘put forward arguments’ (or gather evidence and testimony/stories) that we believe to be right and true, and this will by definition mean that we foreground certain things and relegate others to the background? In the case of documentaries (or drama-docs/naturalistic-drama-based-on-real-social-situations, like Loach’s films), the filmmakers in question might make a case that we as viewers disagree with. Fine. But you seem to be calling for what Stuart Hall calls the ‘operational fiction’ of most mainstream documentary/current affairs material – that is, that it should in and of itself be ‘balanced’. Why doesn’t Loach give the bosses’ side of the situation in his films? Because it is not really relevant to the telling of a specific story from a specific viewpoint. As you have rightly pointed out in previous posts, this might be a problem if viewers simply watch something (whether a Loach film or something else) and believe it to be simplistically ‘true’. But I’m sure there are plenty of viewers of Loach films who watch them and, as Robert Goff said in his last post, find the scenarios and arguments depicted to be compelling and believable, while also knowing that they are not showing the ‘full picture’ (as if any film ever can). We do not need to have Franco’s fascists given equal screen time in ‘Land and Freedom’ because the film is about a specific strand of that conflict (and, especially as the main characters in that film get shafted by the Stalinists anyway). I was at a loss when you mentioned (in a previous post) ‘My Name is Joe’, saying “it advances the view that society should tolerate organised crime because its perpetrators come from a socially disadvantaged background”. This seems like a wilful misreading to make the film fit your own political view of Loach. The film depicts drug dealing and social disadvantage, but I cannot for the life of me see where it says that organised crime should be ‘tolerated’. Desperate people might do desperate things, and there’s often some dealer/loan shark etc on hand to help them dig themselves deeper into that hole. The film is a sympathetic portrayal of aspects of that kind of situation, and asks us to empathise with certain characters. It also suggests that the social deprivation depicted is something that certain other people are likely to exploit via organised crime. It's saying - address the deprivation and you might just address the organised crime. As I see it, it is none too happy with either the deprivation or the organised crime. (But again, all we're saying here, ultimately, is that we have specific 'readings' of a film, and we both think we are right and the other person is wrong, so this one could run and run much longer than it has done already . . . )

Leo writes:

>By 'affluent' I was speculating that Loach is far more financially
>better off than most of the characters in his films would be (and all of
>the ones which are depicted with any sympathy). He might not be a
>millionaire, but anyone who directs theatrically released feature films -
>even relatively low budget ones - will be better off than any academic
>(unless you're David Starkey, maybe) ever will be. I therefore find his
>simplistic cinematic moral lectures on behalf of the downtrodden somewhat
>hard to take.

I still maintain that his ‘background’ (however we agree to define it) is utterly irrelevant to his ability to make films about whatever subject matter he chooses. I’ve never ruled this country of ours, but I don’t think this disqualifies me from making a film (if I had the time or talent) about the Royal Family. (Incidentally, it would be a very one-sided polemic about how we could easily do without them, because that is what I personally believe. I wouldn’t really feel the need to get a ‘Royal correspondent’ or other lackey to have their say . . . ). Granted, Loach is no doubt better off than many academics – but since when were we talking about him relative to academics? Is it the fact that Loach earns more than *you* that annoys you, and makes you feel he is unable to make films about the downtrodden? It certainly seems so from what you say here.

Leo writes:

>[Loach] is also on the record as supporting a political party (Labour) which is
>trying to kill off grammar schools and raise university tuition fees to the
>point at which anyone from a similar background is unlikely to get anywhere
>near Oxbridge ever again. Hmm...

Hmm indeed. Loach has long since lost patience with the Labour party and supports things like the Respect alliance. But this is hardly likely to find favour with you, as his reason for no longer supporting Labour is that they are not left-wing enough (in fact, they are not left-wing at all). I’m pretty sure that while he professed any support for the Labour party (which, I would wager, was pretty muted at the best of times), he would not have been a fan of tuition fees. There were plenty of Labour MPs who voted against the Blair government on this issue. So, your presentation of the facts here is a misrepresentation, to say the least (again, to suit your own political interpretation of Loach – precisely what you vilify him for).

Leo writes:

>I'm sure there wasn't a shred of asbestos anywhere near any railway line in British Rail's
>day, but as soon as big bad private business moved in, they shipped tons of
>the stuff into every siding, station and carriage in the land. Most of the
>miners who contracted respiratory diseases caused by coal dust (of which
>there are a fair few in this part of the world) did so on the NCB's watch,
>too. Thanks to Mrs. Thatcher having decided that it was time to move on
>from our reliance on a dirty and inefficient fuel which broke the backs (in
>some cases literally) of whose who were required to extract it, no-one will
>receive that death sentence ever again.

This is a new one on me – Margaret Thatcher as the saviour of the miners! There was a recent documentary shown on UK TV entitled “Children of the Miners’ Strike” (Jess Fowle, 2004), which showed the deprivation caused to mining communities by Thatcher’s single-minded actions in the early-mid 1980s. Unsurprisingly, not many miners or their families really thank Thatcher for what she did, even though they are no doubt very well aware (more than anyone else, in fact) just how dirty and dangerous their jobs were. I think they realised that her main reason for shutting down the mines was to break the last of the powerful unions, not to give them a life free of coal dust. Point taken about asbestos and coal dust being there pre-privatisation, but what I was saying was that the (private) rail firms knew it was there and it was dangerous and were proved in court to have not done anything about it because of financial reasons. This critique of a profit-led railway system is the central thread of Rob Dawber’s script for ‘The Navigators’. One of the main points in my previous post was that your criticism of Loach as relentlessly peddling his ‘own political viewpoint’ was misguided. He’s ‘affluent’ and (by implication) knows nothing of the workers and ordinary people he depicts. I pointed out that the scripts Loach works with are very often written by people with intimate knowledge of that particular milieu and its people. In other words, a collaboration that shows far more than simply the fevered imaginings of one man. You’ve studiously ignored (or is that ‘inhibited’?) that point, and continue to write as if Loach is the sole ‘voice’ here. One could make more of an old-fashioned ‘auteur’ argument about, say, Michael Moore and his films (without, I might add, presupposing that this necessarily discredits the viewpoints put forward in the films – but that’s an entirely different thread!). My overriding point last time was to argue against what I saw as a simplistic trashing of certain films based on your apparent dislike of one man and his politics.



Paul Ward

Film and TV

Brunel University