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Director Alan Clarke: Scum (1979)

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

I recently re-watched 'Scum' and was surprised by how violent and shocking it was baring in mind I saw it when it was first released in 1979. I'm wondering if this was because everything has become so monitored and controlled today, and that back in the 70's we almost took it for granted that institutional places were run in this fashion... where brutality, corruption and cruelty was a given. Alan Clarke is one the most under rated British directors ever, and his body of work during the seventies and eighties is without question important - 'The Firm', 'Made in Britain' and the more accessible 'Rita, Bob and Sue Too' being his most well known. Clarke creates 'real worlds', and having such a well written piece by Roy Minton, he does this brilliantly with Scum - you are in that borstal with them. Although the main protagonist Carlin, played by Ray Winstone, is the focus of the film, you completely embrace the secondary characters, so the narrative is about the 'situation' as opposed to the individual. Mick Ford is brilliant, all the 'screws' are convincing, the 'thugs' believable, the vulnerable young boys exposed, the intellectuals pathetic and pointless. It was also a reminder of how caricatured cinema has become, when you see how low key and convincing Ray Winstone is by just using body language (he was also very good in Quadrophenia) and how ridiculously over the top his acting is today. It is rare I think, to watch a film 40 years after its release and find it still fresh and probably better than when it first came out, but that I think is due to the great talent of Alan Clarke.

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