Gilbey on Film: Cinemagoers of the world unite!

The Bread and Roses film festival kicks off today.

Cinemagoers of a revolutionary inclination rejoice! Cannes may already be creeping into media coverage a full fortnight before the festival begins, but Londoners can turn their attention instead to a different festival which kicks off today, its principles unlikely to be diluted by flashbulbs and red carpets. Not only that but it’s free (well, lots of it is, anyway). The Bread and Roses Film Festival marks the centenary of the 1912 textile workers strike. There will be screenings held across London, some even at the Clapham Common bandstand. (A tip: when you study the BBC’s five-day weather forecast, try not to think of the blue pearl dropping from the black cloud on each day as a splodge of rain, but rather a tear shed poignantly in recognition of the workers’ struggle. Also: pack a brolly.)

Here’s why it’s all going down:

The centenary of the 1912 strikes marks a window of opportunity to interrogate through film depictions and representations of capitalism, workers’ rights particularly female worker’s rights, strikes, social activism and immigration, debates and issues that are very much alive, if not the defining topics, of 2012. The festival was conceived to attract new and underrepresented audiences to film—groups, communities, and individuals that otherwise do not have access to seek out or afford access to such films… All community hosted screenings are free to attend allowing audiences normally economically marginalised from cinemas to be able to access films in their local community.

You can read more on the festival website. There’s an impressive menu of screenings and discussions. Eisenstein’s Strike will be shown with the accompaniment of a live score by The Cabinet of Living Cinema, whose repertoire includes Russian and Soviet folk and classical music rendered with a bewildering array of instruments which may or may not include a kitchen sink. A screening of Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses, about a Los Angeles cleaners’ uprising, will be followed by a Q&A with his producer, Rebecca O’Brien. Other influential figures speaking at the festival include Kim Longinotto and Nick Broomfield.  

Also in London next week, and unconnected with the Bread & Roses festival, is a free screening of Mathieu Kassovitz’s dynamic 1995 banlieue-set thriller La Haine, presented by the very wonderful Other Cinema, and accompanied by Asian Dub Foundation’s live score. The key detail here is that the screening takes place at the Broadwater Farm Estate community centre in Tottenham, North London. There will be further screenings of the movie in London and Paris, but Tottenham, where last summer’s riots began, is a particularly apposite venue for this film about the urban unrest following police brutality. Or is it too literal a venue? The Other Cinema has expressed a desire to screen movies such as Casablanca and Jules et Jim on the estate in the future—but should they have started there? La Haine is a good hook, and a fine film, but imagine screening something jazzy and colourful instead— Zazie Dans La Metro or Spirited Away or the mad Thai western Tears of the Black Tiger. What do you reckon?

Or, if jazzy isn’t your bag, then some Ken Loach: wouldn’t he go down well? Kes is the way into cinema for a lot of young people; it was one of mine. Or, if you think Larky Loach would go down better, Looking For Eric would be a rousing choice. I haven’t seen his forthcoming film, The Angels’ Share, which opens in the UK in June, but I hear it has a comic bent. They could have premiered it at Broadwater Farm if it wasn’t already receiving its grand unveiling at, erm . . . Cannes.  

Ken Loach (Photo: Getty Images)

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era