Mar 5, 2011
One of my fondest memories as a child was hearing my father's adolescent fight stories. Growing up in a white working-class neighborhood during the 1960s, my father saw everyday fighting as a rite of passage that all boys enthusiastically engaged in, usually first occurring after one learned how to walk. One family story that I have always enjoyed, involves my father, at the age of 7 or 8, taking a baseball bat and smashing it against the arm of his 16 year old cousin, instantly cracking his kinsman's bone. I asked my father why he acted so violently and he explained to me that he knew his cousin was about to attack him, so he had to use whatever means he had to protect himself. My father also told me that there were no rules to street fighting, especially when battling someone that was much older and stronger. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to grow up in such a dangerous environment, where the possibility of dislocating a bone or losing an eye was an everyday possibility. Of course, I got in occasional fights, but I never had the opportunity to grow up in a neighborhood that contained an adolescent battlefield with armies of rock throwers, BB gun shooters, and knife wielders. After viewing the trailer for the 2010 film Neds directed by Peter Mullan, I soon realized that it had the potential to be the definitive white working-class street gang film. After eventually watching Neds, I was left galvanized and blissfully startled. To say that I was merely impressed by the gritty savagery and overall cinematic eminence of Neds would be a gross understatement.
Neds takes place in Glasgow, Scotland during the 1970s and was written/directed by Glasgow native Peter Mullan. I was not surprised to find out that Mullan has described the film as 'personal but not autobiographical', as the movie has a stark realism that could not have been contrived by even the most creative of bourgeois writers. Peter Mullan also directed the dark 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters, based on a true story regarding 'Magdalene asylums': virtual prisons for teenage girls that were seen, by their families and/or society, as falling from the grace of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Like The Magdalene Sisters, Neds is an artistic document regarding a part of United Kingdom history that has been all but ignored. Of course, English director Alan Clarke also contributed much in the way of cinematic social realism in the UK with notable films like Scum (1977) and Made In Britain (1982), yet these films lack the aesthetic prowess that gleams so stunningly throughout Neds. After all, one has to be quite the keen artist to find beauty in a white ghetto; a marvelous feat that Peter Mullan was able to triumphantly complete via Neds.
Neds is an acronym for "Non-Educated DelinquentS", which is a derogatory description for most of the characters featured in the film. The protagonist of Neds, John McGill, shows in the beginning of the film that he has the potential to rise above his birthright as a Ned. Initially, John enters secondary school as a confident and studious boy that wants nothing more than to achieve an outstanding academic career. Despite his father being a pathetic alcoholic, his mother a hopeless neurotic, and his brother a petty criminal, John is determined to eventually graduate from a university. Of course, John eventually succumbs to his miserable environment during his teenage years and subsequently follows a desolate path of criminality. Upon becoming a virulent street fighter, John's personality begins to split, resulting in a nihilistic war against himself. John is a charismatic anti-hero that you will find yourself rooting for, even after he commits the most despicable of hate-fueled crimes. Although Hollywood has produced countless films portraying the struggle of the poor black man - always making sure to empathize with his life of crime; the philanthropists of Tinseltown have rarely given a voice to the white proletarian - the melanin-deprived Negro forgotten from the beginning of time. Neds is a real achievement because director Peter Mullan transcended his less than meager background and gave an authentic voice to the voiceless, in the form of true proletarian cinematic art.
Not only does Neds feature gritty socialism; It also includes a dream sequence of John fighting with Jesus Christ in a churchyard. Although this scene is quite serious, it is slightly silly and certainly one of the few segments of the film that does not provoke a total adrenalin rush. Neds may not feature a death camp-sized body count like your latest Hollywood action film, but it will strike terror in most audience's hearts. In fact, I can imagine many people, especially of the liberal "we are the world" persuasion, being offended and ultimately repelled by the film. If you are looking for a movie that offers shallow promises of hope and the sort reconciliation that is so typical of a neatly packaged Hollywood plot, Neds is probably not kind of film for you. Love it or loathe it, Neds will leave an irrevocable impression on you.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:03 AM
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