Tom Jennings chuckles along with the pointed proletarian poignancy of Meadows’ latest chamber-piece.
Freestyle Manifesto. Film review – Tom Jennings
This good-natured ‘mockumentary’ romp is essentially a single-joke sketch tenuously extended to feature-length (as was Shane Meadows last film, Somers Town – reviewed in Freedom, 25th October 2008), showcasing Paddy Considine’s tour de force improvisation of a hapless failed musician with delusions of grandeur. Born when schoolfriends Considine and Meadows larked around with video cameras while bunking off, Le Donk – who’s figured in several shorts (some released as extras on earlier DVDs) – now roadies on megatour with indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys (who, typically, he misnames ‘Article Monkeys’). Meanwhile he plays Svengali to his lodger, an aspiring rapper – played by ‘real’ MC Scor-Zay-Zee (former member of Nottingham’s renowned Out Da Ville), previously famous for precipitating a Beeb kerfuffle over 2004 single ‘Great Britain’ (excoriating its imperialist past and present; equating the Queen and Saddam Hussein!). Perhaps surprisingly (to those not au fait with UK hip-hop), he eventually delivers an absolutely blistering set at Old Trafford thanks to Donk’s bluffing blustering blagging.
Meadows and trendy label Warp Records’ Mark Herbert also play themselves – giving a pronounced whiff of complacent cool-Britannia entrepreneurs mocking those less culturally and economically nouveau-riche; resembling so much ‘alternative’ comedy mining the tedious stratifications of student-union pretension. Yet affection and respect shine through – certainly for Scor-Zay-Zee’s genuine subaltern talent, but for his grotesquely egomanic devilish advocate too. Visiting his heavily-pregnant ex – now stably shacked-up with new man – Donk’s scattershot vituperative envy demonstrates hysterical defence against the overwhelming shame of painful inadequacies which have doubtless been amply confirmed at all class-prejudicial angles from his get-go. Thus primed with appropriate intuitive understanding, we can appreciate without judgement or rancour the poignancy of these particular peccadilloes of the working-class masculinity that this director always elaborates and unravels with consummate skill. Plus, the joker gets the last laugh, his obstinate persistence having anticipated reflected glory from his protégé’s breakthrough – and, remember, temporary triumphs aren’t necessarily merely consolations.
This film also heralds Meadows’ and Warp’s initiative supporting ‘Five-Day Features’ completed within a week – “like Dogme, only in a hurry” – favouring grassroots underground production tactics but with proper distribution prospects. And for further UK hip-hop-related proof of ‘guerilla’ cinema’s power, check Greg Hall’s The Plague (2006) – chronicling a weekend in the life of four twenty-something London friends; shot on mini-DV for a miraculous 3½ grand – which says more about contemporary multicultural metropolitan youth than, for example, bigger-budget efforts like Bullet Boy (Saul Dibb, 2004), Noel Clarke’s urban morality tales Kidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008) and Erin Creevy’s middle-class melodrama Shifty (2008) combined. OK, none of the above have the wit or artful chutzpah of Le Donk; plus the agonies of shoestring fundraising demand massive gratis time and energy for downlow operations to float. But staying so close to the sources – of the filmmakers’ motivations and the subject-matter – can pay dividends rarely conceivable with the multiple alienations of mainstream industrial apparatuses.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 20, October 2009.
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