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Saturday Night at the Movies

By Andrew Stevens.

Is there an urban continuum (or dynamic) in British cinema? It’s definitely present in the clip above, Young Soul Rebels (1990), Derek Jarman protégé Isaac Julien’s first commercial venture. Earlier films such as Babylon (1980) certainly ran with it and opened it up for others to take forward, most notably with Harmony Korine influencer (fact) Alan Clarke’s Made in Britain (1982). Young Soul Rebels is hailed for its collision of race, class and homosexuality in one setting, but this in itself acts to deny the importance of setting as opposed to the knock-on effects of human interaction within it and therefore leads us to the role of place in cinema, particularly that of the urban. Its origins are less clear, not least as post-war British cinema positively thrived on class, race and sexuality. Basil Dearden’s A Place to Go (1963), a vehicle for Joe Meek-produced singer (and later Joanna and Myra Breckinridge director) Mike Sarne, documented the transition from the dilapidated terraces of the post-war era East End to the optimism of its new social housing projects in the sky (with a Thatcherism-in-embryo subplot also). Lest this become an East End cinematic bingo call, Bronco Bullfrog (1970) also comes from the same direction. Alan Clarke’s later films however, such as Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986, ignore the snobs, it’s a classic) began a retreat back to the class/sexuality divide, while the likes of Beautiful Thing (1996) with its Thamesmead setting had it both ways.

First posted: Saturday, September 12th, 2009.

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