Monday, 13 March 2017

Unhappy endings.

We're getting ready to go to the demonstration demanding a public enquiry into the events at Orgreave during the Miners Strike of 1984/5 and I was thinking about the movies which were made in the aftermath of the strike.

The other day I watched some clips from 'Brassed off', a magical film about a Colliery Brass Band, set against the background of the strike. It's a very moving story of Miners families lives disintegrating over the course of that year.

At Christmas we watched 'Pride' about the support given to the strike by Gay and Lesbian activists in London.

My point in all this is that these movies (great and well meaning though they are) are basically about tragic defeats of working class people.

The funny thing is that there was a Miners Strike in 1972 which the Miners won, quite impressively.

Even more to the point is that in 1974 the Miners were on strike again, as a result of which the Tory prime Minister Edward Heath called an election on the basis of 'Who governs Britain?'.

The Miners or the elected government?

He lost.

When it came to making a choice between Heath and Labour - Labour won. In October of the same year, Labour called a snap election and won an  even bigger majority.

Meanwhile the Miners won all their demands but no one wants to make a film about it.

A month or so ago we went to see 'The Free State of Jones'. This was a film about a disillusioned deserter from the Confederate army who mobilised a multiracial private army made up of poor white deserters and escaped slaves who took over a swampland and successfully defended it against the attacks of the Confederate army for the duration of the civil war.

It was a remarkable story, meticulously researched and verified - a good news anti racist story for our times if ever there was one.

Except the filmmakers couldn't just stop with the end of the Civil War as they should have done; they had to carry on through the post war re-establishment of the southern Autocracy, Jones' marginalisation and the removal of all the black peoples hard won rights.

In other words they decided against a happy ending (perhaps with a caption explaining what happened later) and gave us a tragedy instead.

So I got to thinking about all the films made about 'Black' subjects and they all have tragic endings.

By comparison when Hollywood makes a film about conventional 'White' subjects (at least since the demise of the Hays Commission) they generally have happy endings.

Imagine the scene - the arty director has finally finished editing the movie and it has a downbeat ending. There have been a number of early showings to find how members of the public react to the film.

At the final private showing, in bursts the fat, sweating, cigar chomping Producer, clutching a handful of the survey cards completed by audience members.

The first thing he demands is a  re- edit to make a 'happy ending'; it's what the investors want.

Think about films about Native Americans - after the 'Golden Age of Westerns' when the Cowboys always had to win, there were a series of 1970's films made (in part) from the viewpoint of the Native Americans.

They always lose!

And yet that isn't always the case - in 1876 at The Battle of Little Bighorn, the coalition of Plains 'Indians' led by Sitting Bull and amongst others, Crazy Horse, defeated the U.S. Army led by Colonel Custer.

But no one wants to make a movie about Native Americans winning any more than they do about other ethnic minorities or working people winning.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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