Posted by Mel
There’s been a strange sensation of déjà vu around lately – Rupert Murdoch making media history, U2 and Morrissey headlining at Glastonbury festival last month, teachers and public service workers out on strike, privatisation creeping further and further into education and the health service, high unemployment, a combination of pay cuts, benefit cuts and inflation hitting the poorest hardest and an overwhelming sense that Divide and Rule politics are back. Yup, let’s do the Timewarp to the mid 1980s and the glory days of the Thatcher government!
Cuts to the arts and especially to the UK Film Council are inevitably affecting the way that British films are financed and produced. So we have been thinking about 1980s cinema and the way that British cinema at the time approached the political situation.
In the summer of 1985 there were urban riots and a sense of huge dissatisfaction with the government as the miners’ strike ended in bitter defeat. Racial tensions, a widening gap between rich and poor and certainly a North-South divide were exacerbated by rising unemployment. On the other hand, the rise of the “Yuppie” – young urban professional – with sky-high salaries in finance or advertising suggested that some people had never had it so good.
But these issues tended to be reflected more in television than cinema, with cutting edge series such as Edge of Darkness, Boys from the Blackstuff, and in the growth of satirical comedy shows such as Spitting Image. Meanwhile, the early 1980’s revival in independent British film-making seemed to reflect a rose-coloured attitude, with many of the new directors coming from the more privileged end of the spectrum, with public school / advertising backgrounds.
Films like The Long Good Friday, My Beautiful Launderette, Stormy Monday, Babylon and Meantime addressed some of the issues of the day, while another strand was deliberately fantasist – Company of Wolves, Labyrinth, The Draughtsman’s Contract, Time Bandits etc. Maybe some of these were political allegories in disguise, like Marcel Carne’s wonderful Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942), which managed to condemn the German occupation of France despite heavy censorship – but mostly they represented fantasy for its own sake and some amazing new possibilities in post-production and special effects.
Anyway, I remember it all well. The flat I was living in was burned to the ground during the Brixton riots and the Eady Levy (a tax on cinema box office takings that effectively self-financed British film production) was abolished, which was a big blow to the industry in general. British film-makers increasingly had to seek finance from America and the lack of funding pretty much signed the death knell for short films on cinematic release alongside the big picture.
So these were hard times, but as a result, humour flourished as a natural response: a two-fingered salute to the state of things. We thought we’d show one of the last films to be made with support from the Eady Levy – a wise-cracking comedy, and one that portrays the economic decline and social tension in Liverpool very well.
“Letter to Brezhnev” (dir Chris Bernard 1985) is showing at the Sharrow Pie Experiment, London Road (opposite Cake R Us) on Sunday 31st July, 7.30pm.