Friday, 4 July 2014
Looks and Smiles (1981)
Ken Loach is, as Wikipedia testifies, "a film and television director who is known for his naturalistic, social realist directing style". As a result of this authenticity, much of Loach's work feels more like documentary than fiction and, of all the films from Loach I've seen (and I've seen many, as regular readers of this blog will no doubt know) Looks and Smiles is probably the one that feels most like a documentary. The view of realism and the genuine interplay captured here in early 80s 'People's Republic of South Yorkshire' may as well be an observer of real people in real homes, real streets and real unemployment offices.
It's true to say that the message of Kes some twelve years earlier (and penned by the same writer, Barry Hines) was of a youth whose skills and natural ability for animals and wildlife would be ignored by a society who had already mapped his life out for him, marking him down for the drudgery of manual work. The youth of Looks and Smiles however have no such preordained security. This is Thatcher's Britain and the skills and natural ability of school leavers in this decade would not save them from the dole office as mass unemployment reached an astonishing high. The film, shot in a vivid monochrome that put me in mind of the later Ian Curtis biopic Control, explores the story of three such youths - Mick, Alan and Karen - trying to make sense and glean something akin to happiness in their idle, unfulfilled days. For Alan, played by Tony Pitts in his first role, his escape from the unemployment statistics is to join the army (just in time for the Falklands we note in hindsight) whilst Mick played by Graham Green busies himself between endless unsuccessful applications and interviews in finding love with Karen played by Carolyn Nicholson.
The arbitrary quality of the narrative, flowing from Mick's fruitless job search and Alan's home leave to Karen's broken home background, really does make us feel like a keen eyed observer of real lives but ultimately its the somewhat gentle, ponderous speed in each character arc that fails to hit the necessary beats to make Looks and Smiles key message one to truly sit up and listen to.
A nearly, but not quite effort from Loach that is nonetheless a fascinating and enjoyable production offering a vivid snapshot of a time which, criminally, feels like its returning to us once again.