In Conversation with Ken Loach

Loach2Anthony Davis: My mother tells me that you were in Bristol last night.

Ken Loach: (Pause.) Yes, that’s right.

AD: Which is my home city.

KL: (With hesitation) Oh, are you a – Gashead or a City fan ?

AD: (Pause.) Ah… when I was there, I was a City fan, but I’ve lived in this area for so long…

KL: Oh, well.

AD: (Long pause) It’s the old Blue and Red, I suppose, really, isn’t it – the symbolism. […] So, obviously doing the rounds, from place to place, with the film..?

KL: Yeah, it was a very warm audience, really. Yeah, it’s been curious … I mean, we’ve had so many terrific responses …

AD: (Interrupting) Excellent! And good questions?

KL: Um, yeah, yeah, yeah, very good. You know, very to the point, but some extreme … extreme hostility from some of the right-wing press again. I mean, it’s just bizarre. And personal. Very personal abuse.

AD: And you put yourself through reading that?

KL: Well, they send – you know, the distributors tend to send you all the stuff …

AD: (Interrupting slightly) And you’re dutiful and read it?

KL: Well, it’s interesting to see what the opposition are up to – you don’t want to live in a bubble, I mean?

AD: No, no.

KL: So, but it is, it’s bizarre – I think, if anyone else had directed it, I think there wouldn’t have been such a kind of foul-mouthed response.

AD: So, do you think that they attach connotations to the film, because it’s your film?

KL: I think, yeah – I think, inevitably, that happens with everything really, whether it’s music
or whoever it is.

AD: Yes.

KL: It’s seen as part of a continuum. But, I think that we’ve all been surprised at just the, um, kind
of foul-mouthed abuse of some of it: it’s really playground stuff. So, I mean, it’s not hurtful, but it’s surprising.

AD: I looked up a couple of things – I don’t know if you go on Rotten Tomatoes’ web-site at all …

KL: No, no, no.

“The critics will examine the brush-strokes, but they won’t stand back and see the painting.”

AD: …but it’s quite a useful way of collating all the reviews. And I found one there from The Irish Times that says, “You’ll laugh and you’ll fume, that is what we’ve come to expect”. [KL laughs] I’m not sure whether that was a positive review – it seemed to be, from the context in which I found it.

KL: I don’t remember The Irish Times. Um …

AD: But I just wanted to remind you of the exchange between you and Graham Fuller in Loach on Loach (the Faber & Faber book) … is that why you regard most film criticism as decadent?

KL: I think so, yes. The critics will examine the brush-strokes, but they won’t stand back and see the content of the painting. I don’t know why that is.

AD: Do you think that that’s still the case?

KL: Yes, very much so, um – I think that they don’t deal with substance. If you look at the book reviews, they will, generally speaking, get someone to review a book who can discuss the content, and evaluate it and say it’s soundly researched, the ideas are maybe approved or criticized, but there’s some evidence brought to bear. If it’s a story, is it worth telling, are the characters valid? You feel that the people doing the review take the content seriously – usually. You never get that, or you – I won’t say never – but you rarely get that in films. They will discuss the how, but they won’t discuss the why or the what – and that’s very strange.

AD: So, with this – you mentioned this sort of foul-mouthed response …

KL: That’s just one or two …

AD: Just one or two. But what are they latching onto, I mean, are they actually justifying their response in relation to something?

KL: I think that the right wing really – the fact that we’ve managed to keep going gets up their noses. [Laughs] I think that they hate the idea, you know, that you can manage to keep working, and I think it’s a political hostility, couched in personal abuse. But what they’re actually saying … one of them said that we had no strong women characters.

AD: But the mother’s a strong character…

KL: Yes, yes, of course. I mean, like, we did a film called BREAD AND ROSES, which was about two women, two sisters, and leading the struggle for pay and conditions amongst cleaners in LA. IT’S A FREE WORLD was, again, two women in the forefront of … with an agency to employ foreign workers. I mean, they were up to all kinds of tricks to get a place in the market, and to reduce labour costs, but they were certainly strong. And they were full of wit and imagination, and creativity – albeit, you know, on a project that we might be critical of. But there was no doubting their strength. So, I mean, it doesn’t bear examination. But there’s no examination, it’s …

AD: So, it’s simply an assertion that is made, and then there’s no basis for it.

KL: No, there’s no back-up – there’s nothing in the article.

AD : Because I can think that, even with THE ANGELS’ SHARE, which is a much lighter film – as it develops, [though] it’s quite dark at the beginning. THE GANG OF FOUR has a woman in it, and there’s …

KL: The most sensible of them, in some respects! [Both laugh]

“we were accused of being worse propagandists than Leni Riefenstahl…”

AD: Yes, and you’ve also got Robbie – but he, his pregnant girlfriend is standing – trying to stand up to her father, and have a relationship, and a position. So they’re clearly not spineless, weak characters.

KL: No, no. But it’s not about evidence, it’s just about trying to destroy something, I think. It’s bizarre. I mean, when we did THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY – the other one in Ireland – I mean, there was great hostility there, but that was more … political. I mean, we were accused of being worse propagandists than Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi propagandist – and an idiot called Simon Heffer, who writes for The Telegraph, I think, said that he hadn’t seen the film, and he didn’t want to see the film, ‘cos he didn’t need to read Mein Kampf to know what a louse Hitler was.

AD: Ah, that’s quite interesting, because you were talking about book reviews, and, in a way, you wouldn’t go to The London Review of Books to find out what the cover of a book looks like.

KL: No, no, no, exactly. [Both laugh.]

AD: Obviously, when you’re working on one project, other projects are in your mind, but was there any springboard for this one in THE SPIRIT OF ’45 ?

KL: Um, no, we were on this way with this when I did that. Paul first heard the story three or four years ago.

AD: So, he heard about Jimmy?

KL: Yes, through a friend of his, who was doing a stage-play about him. And then we thought that it just brought a number of ideas together.

AD: Yes, and, of course, Paul has this very interesting background as a former human-rights lawyer – and ‘human rights’, we all know, is a dirty word, because it all means that you can’t be deported, because you’ve got a cat. I mean, it struck me that things like the workers’ education movement, Ruskin, all of those things have a resonance with what’s going on in the hall. And they all seem very positive things, but then, as ‘the masters and pastors’ view it, it’s dangerous: you want to keep this class in the place that they are in [Vigorous assent from KL], you want them cutting turf – you don’t want them educated, except through the church.

KL: Yes, absolutely, and if the church educates you, then you know your place. It was the time of the WEA [Workers’ Educational Association], and the workplace libraries, and the Clarion Cycling Club …

AD: But, of course, those are all things that we wonder whether we might lose again, with this sort of present government. Again, quite a resonance, quite a reason why people might resent this film?

KL: Yes, absolutely. The Labour Party itself has cut itself off from those sorts of workers’ initiatives, really. And it’s a huge richness which, I think, we’ve lost. And there was a great respect for art, for literature for all cultural things. And there isn’t time …

AD: But, then, we just need to go back to the Thatcher days, when Norman Tebbit’s trying to make out that art galleries are the equivalent of Page 3.

KL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, interestingly now, in the last couple of decades, the idea of sponsorship is now everything. I mean, you can’t have an artistic event without sponsorship. And the sub-text is ‘Nothing can happen – without business’. Business is behind everything that we do, and we can’t do things collectively, and in the interests of the community, unless big business tells us it’s OK.

AD: So, just finally, we’ve mentioned the sort of hostility that there’s been from some quarters, for this film. Was that a surprise to you, or perfectly within your expectations ?

KL: No, no, I expected some, and the level of personal vitriol is (in one or two places, not all) is extraordinary. And that’s surprising. But, you know, the audience contact we’ve had has been fantastic. I mean, it certainly has polarized people, but the audiences have been brilliant, and we had a very interesting discussion last night in Bristol, [with] a guy who had come from Wales, saying how the spaces for … there used to be a Miners’ Welfare … that’s gone. There used to be rooms above pubs – they’re tending to go.

AD: So, actually, maybe even more of a polarization, or more of a response, than you were expecting than with THE SPIRIT OF ’45?

KL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AD: People seeing what they had, and what they might lose?

KL: Yeah, yeah. Or what [they have] lost – or are losing.

AD: Yes, yes. Well, thank you for your time. Good to meet you!

KL: Nice to see you.


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