Gilbey on Film: election special round two
Our critic's verdict on the (other) party political broadcasts.
Another week, another round of party election broadcasts. Presumably there are some people who still can't get enough of the sound of David Cameron saying the word "change." For that section of the public it was good news this week, as the Conservatives issued yet another five-minute campaign film featuring nothing but Dave. Dave in front of Parliament, Dave in messianic black-and-white stills that suggest Anton Corbijn shooting Bono on the Rattle and Hum tour.
My favourite bit occurs between 4:22 and 4:25, where Dave appears to have recently supped from the bottle marked "Drink Me". Either that or he is delivering his address in front of the world's tallest man.
This latest election broadcast is standard Davesville stuff, delivered with shirtsleeves rolled up to suggest a readiness to muck in. (An altogether more illuminating Cameron speech can be found here.) But it's the pushy, badgering tone which really curdles the soul: if that isn't the voice of someone setting out in painstaking terms precisely why you should let him take you in the shrubbery after the Freshers' Ball and show you his Big Society, then I'm George Osborne. (Note to Conservative Party members: George Osborne is your Chancellor.)
Elsewhere, the BNP landed a prime-time BBC1 slot for its own mini-movie. It kicks off with the chilling sound of an air-raid siren, and stock footage from wartime Britain. Unfortunately it then switches to Nick Griffin sitting at a desk. Behind him we see a framed picture of Churchill and several shelves of leather-bound volumes, the content of which we can only guess at. (Chinua Achebe first editions? The collected TV Quick 1991-2009?)
Poor Nick spends all his screen time trying and failing to control his bizarrely ambiguous hand gestures as he tells us of his four gorgeous children. I counted ten different examples of involuntary movement in the first minute alone; you'd swear he was trying to describe a Henry Moore with his hands.
This restlessness goes beyond merely emphasising Nick's naturally sleazy demeanour, which is already a cross between Donald Plesence as Blofeld and a second-hand car salesman trying to flog you a Panzer tank. Rather, it reminded me of the scene in Total Recall when Arnold Schwarzenegger has to pass through Martian passport control disguised as a woman, only for his cover to start malfunctioning just as things are going his way. If the BNP leader is undergoing a similar deterioration, it begs the terrible question: what is on the inside of Nick Griffin? And can it be removed with normal household detergent?
From Nick kicking back in his study, we move to a photo-montage of BNP pet hates (mosques, hijabs, an East London street sign in both English and -- say it isn't so! -- Urdu) accompanied by the standard inflammatory fabrications ("Foreigners jump the queue for housing...") and off-the-wall connections ("Politicians lavish billions on asylum-seekers and rich bankers"). There is nothing funny about the BNP's policies and ideology, so it's oddly liberating to see their amateurism paraded so openly in this way.
The broadcast gives off the air of having been assembled around old Amstrads in the back-rooms of dubious hostelries, with someone's brother keeping a look-out; the atmosphere is less Triumph of the Will and more clapped-out Triumph Herald. Sure, they're racists and Holocaust deniers, but do they have to be such cheapskates?
The "talking heads" section is a good example of the shoddiness. There's a young woman pictured outside Café Rouge -- a damning indictment of the grubby French nation's attempt to flood our high streets with mid-priced Poulet Bretonne. "It's not politically correct," she says, "but I'm proud to be British, which is why I'm voting British National Party." The trick with those cue-cards, of course, is not to let your eyes move from left to right as you read from them.
But Ms Proud-to-be-British is practically Fiona Shaw as Hedda Gabler compared to the couple who appear next. "It was us pensioners that built this country..." says a disturbed-looking elderly man. Oh, do try not to appear as though someone is holding a gun to your head as you speak, there's a good chap. The silver-haired woman on his right looks even more terrified. Her hair was blonde before the camera started rolling, you know.
After a killer line from Rajinder Singh -- "I know the BNP very well and I admire them; they are only doing what is natural" -- we are treated to a cameo from Richard Barnbrook, who emphasises important words with little involuntary thrusts of his elbow, as though his hands, which we can't see, are kneading dough out of frame. Then Blofeld pops up to invite us to vote for the BNP to get our own back on politicians. Hmm, revenge or rationality? It's a toughie.
What swings it for me is the image on which the broadcast ends -- a freeze-frame of a supposedly happy BNP-supporting family. Look at the still below, where it appears the youngest child is gripping his sister's arm with one hideously enlarged hand. Is this what we want? Mutant children? You decide. I'm just disappointed that Nick reneged on his promise to eat Marmite on screen.
The BNP's pitiful effort resembles Avatar next to the English Democrats' campaign film. Someone who resembles Ben Fogle appears in a couple of obvious locations -- outside Parliament, or within sight of the white cliffs of Dover -- to talk us flatly through various unconvincing reasons why England should be completely autonomous. Hands up who resisted the temptation during the cliff-top scenes to call out to our presenter: "Back a bit, back a bit"? Me neither.)
The capper comes when, realising that he hasn't persuaded us, he throws in a bribe: "Oh -- and there's one other proposal I'm sure you'll all support. [I love that mock-spontaneous "Oh".] An extra bank holiday." You know -- for St George's Day. Buying votes with bank holidays, eh? Well, it's original. Can I swap mine for a toaster?
An inconvenient truth
After the crudity of the Conservatives, BNP and English Democrats, the soothing visual simplicity of the Green Party feels refreshing and comparatively sophisticated. No hatchet-faced party leaders, no flannel-spouting presenters with dishcloth charisma. Just three rectangular coloured blocks -- red, blue and yellow -- which are joined by a jaunty, rolling green circle representing the only party "who can really make a change."
My favourite colour is green, so I'm already hooked. And this is a winning aesthetic approach. The green circle morphs into a cross (representing healthcare), a radiator (during the bit about caring for the elderly), a safe's combination lock (behind which is stashed money that would otherwise go on bankers' bonuses) and a thought-bubble (the only misjudgement here: it looks more like a storm-cloud made of spinach).
So on top of all the wonderful things they're planning to do, the Green Party proves it is also flexible. Pliable. Easily moulded. Gets in the carpet. Turns stale if left out overnight and has to be thrown away. Oh dear. Maybe this isn't so simple after all.
Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday