Elsewhere (64)
Towers of Learning

No Ego Whatsoever, Just an Urge to Control

It’s been a while since we’ve had an addition to our series of classic sentences, so let’s fix that right now.

Ken Loach is the least egotistical of cinema directors.

Yes, today’s Guardian editorial - In Praise of Ken Loach - would have us believe that an ossified Trotskyist who regards the rise of anti-Semitism as “perfectly understandable” is the yardstick of humility and self-effacement. He’s also, we’re told, a moral visionary: 

“Another world is possible,” Mr Loach told the Cannes audience this week. Not everyone will always agree with Mr Loach’s own politics, but the possibility of a better world is integral to the morality of art, nowhere more so than with Ken Loach. 

Being a devout socialist, a one-time Respect party candidate and a hagiographer of Irish republican terrorism, Mr Loach’s moral credentials are somewhat peculiar. Loach has said that he wants to make the British “confront their imperialist past” and in 1977 he famously rejected the offer of an OBE, supposedly on principle, denouncing the honour as “despicable… deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.” However, as Prodicus noted over at Orphans of Liberty, this principled adamance did not inhibit the director’s 2003 acceptance of the Praemium Imperiale – the World Culture Prize in Memory of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu. His Imperial Highness was of course the brother of the 124th emperor of Japan, Hirohito, whose activities and ambitions were, it seems, altogether more moral and glorious. 

The flavour of Ken’s complicated moral calculus was captured earlier this year over at House of Dumb:  

Nothing sums up the demented nature of the modern left better than a soi-disant socialist party that supports taxing janitors in Leeds to give money to millionaire luvvies in London, so they can make films about how folk in Yorkshire are ignorant bigots. 

Mr Loach had been holding forth on the publicly funded BBC, as he often does, grumbling about “Tories” and once again taking umbrage with multiplex cinemas and the “very narrow” range of films they find viable to screen. The proposed solution to Ken’s problem was, inevitably, greater public funding of independent filmmakers - much like Mr Loach, in fact - and the public funding of a chain of independent cinemas in which these publicly funded films could then be screened, having been selected by publicly funded people much like Mr Loach. This, he said, would “fulfil the possibility that cinema has.” Writing in the Guardian in October 2010, Loach suggested that cinemas should be owned collectively, i.e., by the state, and “programmed by people who care about films – the London Film Festival, for example, is full of people who care about films.” The term “people who care about films” is used frequently by Loach yet is never quite defined, though one doesn’t have to reach far to find the implication. Clearly, he isn’t talking about thee or me, no matter how many times we may excitedly visit a cinema. Bums on seats are not his bottom line. No, our tastes must be guided and elevated, until they conform to the expectations of our professional aesthetes and socialist betters. See? No ego at all. 

And so, what cinemas show should be determined by people who care, as determined by Ken Loach. Such caring, enlightened people might even be inclined to show films made by Ken Loach, and by the friends of Ken Loach, regardless of whether those screenings would find an audience or be economically viable. (If you already have the punters’ money via coercive public subsidy, why fret about ticket sales and those ghastly popular appetites? He’s above such base urges. He’s a socialist, remember?) Central to Ken’s appeal for further subsidy and unearned influence is a belief that the size of the market for art-house / foreign language films, around 2% of total UK ticket sales, is not in fact a reflection of the public appetite for such things, but rather evidence that art-house / foreign language films are in some way being suppressed, presumably on account of their terribly radical content. And this must not stand: 

Those of us who work in television and film have a role to be critical, to be challenging, to be rude, to be disturbing, not to be part of the establishment. We need to keep our independence. We need to be mischievous. We need to be challenging. We shouldn’t take no for an answer.  

However, they will take our money – and not through voluntary ticket sales, as is generally the custom, but with the force of government and taxation. That being what independent, challenging, anti-establishment types do.