Wednesday 10 August 2016

Made (UK 1972: Dir John Mackenzie)

What's this doing here then? Surely DEoL only reviews modern films, you enquire? Well look at the strapline people: " anything else that fits the bill." And John (The Long Good Friday) Mackenzie's urban nightmare Made certainly does that.

Filmed entirely on location in a very grimy south London (Woolwich and Charlton) and Brighton (only marginally more cheerful), Made started off life as a play by Howard Barker, called None Were Saved. As such it's a lesser known later addition to the genre of 'kitchen sink' UK drama films, which often comprised cinematic adaptations of social realist plays, beginning with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger - filmed in 1959 by Tony Richardson. By the end of the next decade the genre had largely fizzled out, notable exceptions being Barney-Platts-Mills' original work, 1969's Bronco Bullfrog, Peter Hammond's 1970 adaptation of Bill Naughton's 1959 play Spring and Port Wine, and Gerry O'Hara's All the Right Noises (1971).

Made's cast includes the then popular UK folk singer Roy Harper, a casting decision which also puts Mackenzie's 1972 film into that small sub-genre of movies starring popular musicians of the day, often cast in downbeat parts that suited their more 'natural' (i.e. untrained) acting style: films like 1970's Ned Kelly, with Mick Jagger as the eponymous outlaw, and also Nic Roeg's Performance - same year, same actor; Jamaican singer Jimmy Cliff in Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come (1972); David Essex in 1973's That'll Be the Day and the even more downbeat Stardust a year later: and the entire band Slade in Richard Loncraine's underrated and decidedly grim Flame (1975).

Valerie (Carol White) at home  
Made stars Carol White, an actor who had made her name in 1966 appearing in Ken Loach's harrowing BBC drama about homelessness, Cathy Come Home (which pricked the UK's social consciousness and pretty much started this country's housing association movement) and Poor Cow a year later by the same director.

White is an obvious choice then for Valerie Marshall, a single mother stuck in a dead-end switchboard operator job, who as well as looking after a young baby also cares for her mother, bedridden with Multiple Sclerosis; her only friend seems to be happy-go-lucky fellow worker June. Valerie's love life is split between three people: telephony company boss Mahdav Gupta, a lonely soul who she feels sorry for but never close to; Father Dyson, a friendly man of the cloth whose attentiveness to Valerie comes with its own stifling moral agenda; and singer Mike Preston (Harper), who she meets while on a day out in Brighton with Father Dyson and a group of children from his youth club.

Valerie and Mike Preston (Roy Harper)
In Preston Valerie sees someone that espouses the things she aspires to - freedom and an escape from being labelled a 'single parent.' Preston's hatred of religion (which predictably ends up in a face off between him and Dyson) and non-committal air provides a short term respite from Valerie's cares, but his 'hello, I must be going' approach to life is found wanting when her son is tragically killed after being trampled in a football crowd, while out with June. Troubles increase when her mother dies while Valerie's attention is diverted to her relationship with the singer, which disappoints Father Dyson, compounding her guilt.  Meanwhile Preston moves on for a US tour, and Valerie's misery is complete when she hears his new song on the radio, 'Valerie's Song,' whose subject matter depicts her predicament in some detail - he's made money from her social situation and poor luck.  

Mackenzie, who died in 2011, has gone on record saying that Made was "a bit of a mess" but I think he was being too hard on himself. Sure, its Loachisms are apparent, and the relentless south London dullness also recalls Mike Leigh's 1971 film Bleak Moments - but despite some unevenness in the performances it remains a fascinating period piece. The choice of Harper to play Preston is interesting, blending the character with the real life singer in a way that one is never sure which is which (and made even more confusing by the casting of Harper's real life manager Pete Jenner as his MD in the film). Harper rarely raises his spoken voice above a mumble, but when he sings he achieves a clarity that captivates Valerie with a beauty rarely experienced in her life. Valerie is also a complex character, both her own worst enemy and someone with whom the audience can identify as she tries to escape being seen as 'property' by the men in her life. Her final scene with Gupta, faking pleasure as they couple in his squalid bachelor rooms, dirty plates in the sink and underwear on the radiator, is made worse by seeing her eyes taking in the surroundings. She may simply want love, but the following scene where she spits the words 'black bastard' at him as he tries to convince her that he loves her, hints at the self loathing within.

When the film was originally released in 1972, Made's X certificate was quite justified, with its scenes of sex out of wedlock, the death of the very young and very old, and the celebration of an amoral hedonistic culture. Although subsequently reduced to a 15 rating for video release the film has not lost its power to shock. A recommended watch then, if not a happy one.

Made is released by Network Distributing Ltd in both DVD and Blu Ray formats on Monday 22 August.

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