« Slamdance 2019: Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture | Main | Slamdance 2019: Boni Bonita »

January 26, 2019

Slamdance 2019: Beats


Brian Welsh - 2018
Attitude Films

I don't know how many of us on this side of the Atlantic were aware of a law that was put in place in the United Kingdom in 1994. Part of a much bigger package of new laws, some of which were progressive, Section 63 proved that even politicians who grew up with rock and roll could grow to be the moral arbiters regarding youth culture. Basically a law that outlawed rave parties, some of the wording is certain to raise an eyebrow in describing the music - "wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". To quote the title of a play, "No sex please, we're British".

Based on a play by Kiran Hurley, the film takes place in central Scotland. Johnno, a teenager with the look of perpetual disappointment can't even listen to the electronic dance music at home. His best friend is Spanner, lanky kid with a bowl haircut, considered "scum" by Johnno's mother, Allison. Also in the household is Robert, a cop, who tries to look the other way when enforcing the draconian law that essentially criminalizes young people hanging out together, listening to music on a boom box. As a protest against the anti-rave law, a large, secret rave is being planned.

The film is mostly in black and white with a very selective use of color. There is music, but most of the narrative portions of Beats are closer in spirit to the "kitchen sink" British films that appeared primarily at the end of the Fifties and early Sixties, films that centered on working class characters. Allison and Robert are planning to move out of the cramped row house they currently live in, to a newer development the signals aspirations of upward mobility. For Johnno, Spanner and their friends, there is only interest in getting through the day with music, beer and the occasional tab of Ecstasy. The use of color, or lack of it, reflects a life of narrow options.

The rave scene is virtually a compendium of what use to be called "underground movies", primarily from the Sixties. While there are bits that were inspired by other filmmakers, there is the influence of Stan Brakhage. The trip, for lack of a better word, is a series of fragment, some of which are superimposed over shots of the crowd at the outdoor rave. Some of these fragments resemble Brakhage's hand painted works, his attempts at creating films that resembled hypnogogic vision. Other fragments use bits of film that have been altered by natural elements.

That Steven Soderbergh is listed as the executive producer is less surprising given that the film was produced by Ken Loach's company, Sixteen Films. Soderbergh incorporated scenes from Loach's Poor Cow, a working class tale, as part of The Limey. While the film takes aim a criticizing Section 63, and its over-zealous enforcement, Welsh has enough comic moments to avoid being entirely polemical. Music from the era includes Prodigy, Orbital and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Beats concludes with a coda, where the main characters are since 1994. I was reminded of the ending of George Lucas' film about high school kids in 1962, enough that Brian Welsh might well have titled the film "Scottish Graffiti".

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 26, 2019 08:16 AM