Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989) - Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (10th July 2016).
The Film

BFI is releasing the highly ambitious and anticipated Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC. There is a choice of the following:

- Dissent and Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC (1969-1989) - a 13 disc set of 11 Blu-rays and 2 DVDs.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 1: Dissent (1969-1977) - a 6 DVD set.
- Alan Clarke at the BBC Volume 2: Disruption (1978-1989) - a 6 DVD set.

Due to the massive amount of the content, the set will be covered in 13 separate reviews, which later will be combined into a singular review after the completion of all 13 reviews.

This review covers DISC SIX of the “Dissent and Disruption” set.

“Funny Farm” (1975) (92:40)

Alan Welbeck (played by Tim Preece) has been working at a mental institution as a nurse for the last three years. The patients come in many forms. Alan (played by Allan Surtees) is a patron who is aware of his mental illness and frequently comments on the surroundings and other patients. Jeffrey (played by John Locke) is a young teen who thinks he’s Elvis. Walter (played by Terence Davies - not the director) claims he has died once before. Mr. Chadd (played by Wally Thomas) loves to sing. Alan is the head nurse taking care of the male patients in the understaffed institution throughout the days, but he has made a serious decision that will affect the entire place - to quit his job.

“Funny Farm” by title, but it is definitely not a comedy. There are occasional humorous moments from the cast of characters and their interactions, but for most of the time the moments that could be funny in any other location becomes a more serious matter considering the institutional setting. With films such as “12 Monkeys” (1995) showing mental institutions as places where wackos are placed, “Funny Farm” is closer to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) in which there are some patrons that are not completely insane, with even some being aware that they are a bit on the “non-normal” side of society. The production shows that mental illness was a serious issue at the time that not many discussed or knew about. Writer Roy Minton actually went to institutions to observe and study the daily routines of the staff and the mannerisms of the patients to carefully illustrate the difficulties and constraints. Due to realism more than sensationalism, it is not built on weirdness and laughs but some scenes are heartbreaking such as the single shot uncut monologue by Sid (played by Michael Bilton), or the seriousness of what would happen to the place if nurse Alan were to leave - as they are understaffed and struggling as it is.

“Funny Farm” was broadcast as part of “Play for Today” on February 27th, 1975. Shot on videotape, Clarke’s directing is done in a very observational style - with long shots with long takes during the scenes with nurse Alan with the patients, while scenes of Alan with other staff members are with more closeups and medium shots. It’s very well directed, well acted, and not overly flashy, making the content stand out much more than the style. The production received positive reactions including BBC mental care experts who recommended it to be shown as training and as examples for mental care nursing staff.

“Scum” (1977) (74:37)

Carlin (played by Ray Winstone), Davis (played by Martin Phillips) and Angel (played by Davidson Knight) are newly placed in a borstal - a reform school for juvenile delinquents. In essence it is a prison where the boys are under constant surveillance in strict and torturous conditions by the adult staff. Carlin is headstrong and wants to be left alone and serve his time without trouble. But that is not to be the case as he learns that the “Daddy” of the institution’s wing is Pongo Banks (played by John Blundell) and he along with Richards (played by Phil Daniels) give Carlin a beatdown to show who is boss. Angel being black has some racial hatred encountered, and Davis being a scrawny fellow is constantly fearing bullying. Though not all the juveniles are considered dangerous or violent. Archer (played by David Threlfall) is a vegetarian, an atheist, and an individual freethinker. He respects authority by smiling and feeling positive, but he does antagonize and question the adults behavior and tactics without undermining their positions. Carlin respects ones like Archer, but knows the only way to make it through the sentence is to show who is the real boss - through violent methods.

The television production of “Scum” was made for broadcast by the BBC in 1977 with a script written by Roy Minton and directed by Alan Clarke but it was pulled from schedules - as the BBC found it overly violent and disturbing to be shown on television. It was widely publicized in the media that the finished production was unusually banned by the broadcasters themselves. A select few critics were able to see the production illegally, after producer Margaret Matheson organized a special screening and there was considerable debate on whether it could or couldn’t be shown. The BBC had final call and decided not to air it, which called for outside producers to consider buying the rights to the finished film to show theatrically, but that did not transpire. Instead, financers were able to “remake” the production as a feature film with Clarke directing and most of the cast returning for the film, eventually completed and released in 1979. Some scenes deleted from the television production were reinstated and additional changes were made, with none of the original BBC footage used for the new production. It’s a very interesting case of two versions of the same story filmed two years apart with most of the same cast and crew.

Alan Clarke pulled out all the stops for “Scum”, with its bloody physical violence shown on screen, from the razor blade cutting, racial violence, severe beatings, and the horrendous male rape scene - though there were a few pre-censorship cuts with an additional suicide scene and a few shots of onscreen violence cut. The production was very critical of borstals as reform schools in the UK - which were eventually abolished with The Criminal Justice Act of 1982. The adult staff treated the boys like …. ”scum” offensively beating the kids without care, doing little to make the kids reform for the future. The production was shot on 16mm film stock, with many handheld shots filled with tracking shots to convey a sense of uncontrolled environment. It was one of Clarke’s most impressive casts assembled with the young kids - Ray Winstone in one of his earliest film performances is undeniably strong, Phil Daniels would eventually play another iconic teen role in “Quadrophenia” two years later and also costarring with Winstone, and David Threlfall gives an outstanding early performance as the unlikely “inmate” who says the most eloquent lines with full confidence while relaxed - just to name a few of the many amazing young talent whose careers went much further. “Scum” is undeniably bleak - there is no happy ending and the ending itself only seems like the beginning of worse things to come. It was not until 1991, a year after Clarke’s death that the BBC finally lifted the ban and broadcast the original version of “Scum” on television to very positive reactions. It would have been interesting to compare the television and the theatrical versions of “Scum” together for this set, but this is essentially “Alan Clarke at the BBC” and the theatrical version was made independently. For people interested, the 1979 theatrical version of “Scum” is available on DVD and Blu-ray separately, with the Blu-ray editions coming from a 2K restoration.

Like the previous disc, this also celebrates two productions of mirror opposites of two productions set in institutions - shot on video vs shot on film, elderly vs youth, the main viewpoint from the staff vs the main viewpoint from the incarcerated. Two more fascinating work from a fascinating filmmaker.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only be played on region B or region free Blu-ray players

Video

BFI presents the productions in 1080i 50hz in the original televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. As these were UK TV productions broadcast in the 25fps PAL format, the films are transferred in the 50hz signal to preserve the PAL runtime.

“Funny Farm” was transferred from a digibeta copy of the original 2” PAL transmission tape. As it was originally shot and edited on video, there are the usual minor tape errors such as analog video snow and off balance colors. Overall, the remastered transfer looks quite good with very few errors.

”Scum” was transferred in HD from the 16mm transmission print and the transfer is very good. Considering that the film was in the vaults for so long, it was gladly not destroyed after the BBC ban. Colors are reproduced well with greys and blues dominating the screen as well as the frequent red blood being violently red. Film grain is visible with dust and specs being completely eliminated. An excellent transfer by BFI.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The original mono tracks are presented in lossless mono sound. The audio sounds very good with no troubling instances of hisses or pops. “Funny Farm” has good clean dialogue with some minor issues with microphone pickups in certain scenes. “Scum” sounds excellent with clear dialogue and sound, with the riot scene sounding very loud and powerful, even for a mono track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font for the productions.

Extras

Audio commentary on “Scum” with David Threlfall, Margaret Matheson, Phil Daniels, and Nigel Floyd
This commentary was recorded for the previously issues DVD release and features actors Threlfall and Daniels with producer Matheson, and moderated by critic Nigel Floyd. Issues talked about are the casting, the filming conditions, some differences between the original and the 1979 version, and the controversy. The participants didn’t do much homework or brushing up as there are many mentions of “I don’t remember” in the commentary.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Optional David Leland Introduction on “Scum” (2:53)
This introduction was made as part of the Alan Clarke retrospective in 1991, and preceded the first ever broadcast of “Scum” on television. Leland shows the film canister marked “Restricted” and discusses why it was banned by the BBC.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Tonight: Scum Discussion” 1978 news broadcast (10:51)
On January 23rd 1978, Alisdair Milne, the Managing Director of BBC and Peter Fiddick, columnist for the Guardian went on BBC news to discuss the banning of the production, with Milne defending the BBC’s decision and Fiddick - one of the few critics who was able to watch the production, talks about why it shouldn’t be banned.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Arena: When Is a Play Not a Play?” 1978 TV documentary (46:02)
This 1978 BBC documentary discusses some of the more controversial BBC productions that were blurring the lines between documentary realism and dramatic realism. “Cathy Come Home” by Ken Loach and ”A Life at Stake” are a few productions talked about in addition to “Scum” clips of many productions are shown, though obviously ”Scum” is only mentioned. Originally shot on film then transferred to tape, the picture quality is lacking but is still watchable.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

“Alan Clarke: Out of His Own Light” documentary (Part 6) (25:37)
The newly created 270-minute documentary on Alan Clarke has been divided into 12 parts with each part covering the productions reflected on the first 12 discs of the “Dissent and Disruption” boxset. Part 6 covers the two productions on DISC SIX. ”Funny Farm” is only discussed for 3 minutes, with Roy Minton talking about the research put into the production and it is much too short. On further discussion ”Scum” is given the most time on its own, with Ray Winstone interviewed about the early role as well as others discussing the production, eventual ban, and how it led to the 1979 remake film. The entire 270 minute documentary is comprised of interviews with 50 people who worked with Clarke, knew Clarke, and looked up to Clarke. The interviews come from wildly differing sources. Some are slighty old 1.33:1 standard def video, some are hi-def 1.78:1 video. Some are lit too brightly, some are a bit dark. Some have clear dialogue, some sound echoey. It’s very inconsistent in how it looks and sounds edited together, but presentation wise, it is top notch.
in 1080i 50hz AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Packaging

The ”Dissent and Disruption” 13 disc set includes a 200 page booklet with essays, photos, credits, and film information. “Funny Farm” has an essay by David Rolinson and “Scum” has an essay by film critic Ashley Clark. Also listed are full film credits, extras credits, and restoration information.

Note the extras score of B+ represents this disc only and not for the entire set and the overall score of A+ is for the entire set.

Overall

BFI’s work on the thirteen disc “Dissent and Disruption” (1969-1989) set is nothing less than an amazing collection of works by one of the most controversial and influential directors who pushed the boundaries of broadcast television. Absolutely recommended.

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: A+

 


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