Nice to be in the presence of greatness: Ken Loach introduces his new film, “Route Irish”.
It’s a political thriller of the type Britain is particularly good at – though Loach doesn’t see it as a thriller and didn’t make it as one, he claims – and trawls the fertile sea of the Iraq war for its tale of private contractor conspiracy. Perhaps unusually for a film made in the West, it presents all the human tragedy of the conflict that has been inflicted on the Iraqis, showing them as humans rather than, as producer Rebecca O’Brien says, “props”. It’s typically Loach (and writer Paul Laverty): scorchingly political, brilliantly humane – and occasionally rather clunky.
The discussion afterwards is hugely interesting but perhaps not exactly unexpected: the anger he feels at the injustice of the war; the problems he had getting it made; the difficulties he has finding distributors so that people can actually see it; the horrors he discovered while doing the research; the conflict he feels trading with the devil of Sky Movies. One thing strikes me: while Loach is almost unique, the subjects he tackles aren’t. There have been many recent enormously successful films about political conspiracies that are similarly anti-war or anti-establishment or anti-corporation: think of “The Constant Gardener”, or “Syriana”, or “The International”. Why are they so commercially successful, attracting funding and distribution? Perhaps it’s because they don’t quite bang on about the message, but dress it up in a medium that the audience recognises and responds to. For Loach, the medium is entirely subservient to the message, which is why he doesn’t want to admit he’s made a thriller. Market it as just that – a tight, exciting, action-packed thinking man’s thriller (all of which it is) – and perhaps the cash will come flooding in, and the message will do it’s own work.
However, Loach, for all his loveliness and humanity, isn’t naive, and I’m sure he’s thought about that and already rejected it: so I’ll just bow to his genius.
An excellent line up at the Glasgow to Saturn party, despite the absence of Alan Bissett, an outstanding writer and performer. Duncan Muir, Kirsty Logan and Anneliese Mackintosh are all graduates of the Creative Writing programme at Glasgow University, and all have very distinctive, confident voices. JoAnne McKay is a scream: fantastic, witty, sexy poetry delivered in a dizzying variety of characters – although she confesses to being unable to do a Glasgow accent.
For my own reading, this was the first time I’d rewritten a third person story as a first-person performance piece, and I’m pleased with how it went. Faced with the microphone, my head tends to go completely blank for a second, but then the adrenalin kicks in, and I got through it making minimal reference to my cue cards. A new technique discovered!
I had a really interesting conversation with a guest after the reading who, quite rightly, asked serious questions about the purpose of a story that reveals sexual abuse in such graphic detail; is it justifiable to portray such scenes for entertainment? The guest was a psychiatrist who sees people every day suffering from the kinds of events I described: there is a huge ethical question, then, about how my fiction relates to the horror of their fact.
I can’t begin to answer those questions in any kind of satisfactory way: I just do what I do. Perhaps I have a wider sense of what “entertainment” is: for me, it includes challenge, the capacity to make someone feel angry or uncomfortable or, basically, to make them think. I don’t do it for shock value – well, not only for shock value – but if such things are to be spoken of, then they should be spoken of in ways that convey the reality of it. Ugliness shouldn’t be sanitised, it shouldn’t be buffed up and given a 15 rating; it should be out there, in all its squirm-inducing glory, for all to see if they want to see it.
As I say, it’s what I do, it’s where I go in my head when I write. There is often confusion between me and the characters I write about. I remember after one reading many years ago, a member of the audience said to me, “You’re either a really good writer or a complete and total bastard”: I was young and not a little hurt that I’d made someone think that about me, but I wish I’d had the presence of mind to pull her leg a bit and say, “Actually, I’m both.” It’s not easy, psychologically, emotionally or socially, to go down those dark alleyways – but I can’t turn away at the entrance to them because what might be down there could offend others.
Of course, we’re talking about matters of taste, and many find much of what I write and how I write and perform it distasteful. I’ll defend to my last breath their right to feel that way. But thank goodness taste is such a moveable feast, because it makes the world so much more interesting a place. My thanks to the elderly lady who tugged my sleeve at the end of the reading and described my writing as “astonishing” and “brave”: I can’t think of two words I’d rather have used to describe my work.
Thanks again to Alan, Nick and Sheila, and to Louise Welsh for hosting the evening.
An electric set as opposed to the acoustic session I last saw, Joan as Police Woman genuinely seems to enjoy playing Oran Mor, and the venue enjoys it right back at her.
“The Deep Field” is the new album she’s showcasing, and it’s typically edgy and raucous, and manages to be very danceable but very left field at the same time. It’s a trick she does exceptionally well, especially in “The Magic”, which is sensuous and erudite and hipswaying all at once, while “Run For Love” is wild and beautifully distorted. She also does a cracking, full-throated version of “Save Me” from her first album. But she changes pace at the flick of a switch: “Flash” – which she previewed last time – is here restrained, like having a sexual itch while being strapped up in a straitjacket, and she is at her most wistful on “Forever and a Year”.
There are a couple of less successful numbers – “Eternal Flame” is a remarkably complex melody and doesn’t quite hit the mark – and early in the set the sound balance is all wrong, drowning that fantastic voice of hers. She also encores with two ballads, leaving the feeling that the evening could have ended with a real high point: there are cries for “Christobel” and, while I’m sure she’s fed up playing it, it would have sent the audience out on twinkle toes. However, she’s more than worth seeing again and again, especially if she continues to flirt with the audience while dressed in slash-backed leather jumpsuits and kitten heels.
Mmmm… kitten heels….
Am looking forward to reading at the first “From Glasgow to Saturn” reading party at the Museum of Anatomy on February 24th. A suitably grotesque setting, I’ll be performing a version of one of the most misanthropic stories I’ve ever written, “Gathering of the Clan”.
It popped out of my head in Bulgaria during the summer, and surprised me because I’ve being saying for ages that I don’t write “like that” any more. It has a lot in common with the stories in “Occasional Demons” and is miles away from the writing I’m doing for my new novel.
It’ll be good to be reading publicly again (first time in about 5 years), and to be sharing the stage with some excellent writers, including Alan Bissett.
Thanks to Alan, Nick and Sheila for inviting me to participate.