‘Blinded By The Light’: On broken heroes and glory days

When I first mentioned to a friend a few years back that I harboured a deep, timeless love for Bruce Springsteen, her reaction was much the same as those of young Javed’s (Viviek Kalra) are in Gurinder Chadha’s 1980’s-set Blinded By The Light. “Springsteen?!” she sputtered, “isn’t he a bit, you know, old-fashioned?” In a similar fashion, most of Javed’s friends in Chadha’s chaste coming-of-ager scoff at the mention of Boss-worship and dismiss Springsteen as a relic of bygone times; a traditional rocker whose cassettes belong in their dads’ collections. For them, he surely has no place in an era now dominated by synths and colour clashes.

Javed’s family and friends alike wonder, what could a singer from New Jersey concerned with the falsehood of the American dream possibly have to say to a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy from Luton? What those around Javed fail to realise, however, is that Javed is also a blue-collar poet — a master of detailing the monotony of living out your years in a small town, just like Springsteen. When we first meet Javed, it’s 1987 and Thatcher’s cuts have led to mass unemployment across Britain. Frustration festers in Luton, and he writes tirelessly in the hopes of reaching the kind of ‘promised land’ that The Boss spent song after song mythologizing on Darkness On The Edge of Town. While Javed retreats to his room to let his anguishes and dreams spill onto the page, his father (Kulvinder Ghir — often multi-faceted and wonderfully nuanced) reminds him that words won’t pay the bills, as the National Front storm the streets outside in what Springsteen would call a ‘death waltz.’

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Javed is a mirror of Springsteen in the late sixties and seventies — a disenfranchised, disillusioned young man, haunted by the images of poverty around him and terrified by the possibility of a future confined to the borders of a dying town. Where Springsteen observed and critiqued the needless violence of the Vietnam War and the American imperialism sold to the working-classes as patriotism, Javed laments on the steady rise of the National Front under a Conservative government that scapegoats the marginalised: the trade unionists, Muslims, and Pakistanis alike. Neither the sources of Springsteen’s nor Javed’s anger feel like remnants of the past — simply reminders of times that we have long since progressed from — particularly as Boris Johnson’s government edges further towards being hard right with each passing day. Javed and Bruce are one, along with anyone ignored and maligned by the powers at large. Blinded By The Light is at its best when it makes its social commentary its core focus, such as when ‘Jungleland’ — Springsteen’s epic study of his hometown and all its warts –—plays over the climax of an NF demonstration as Javed watches, while those he loves “wind up wounded, and not even dead.” The scene indeed resembles a street on fire, in parallel with Springsteen’s poor, post-war surroundings.

Where there are sharp addresses of socio-political barriers in Blinded By The Light, there are also insistences of great joy, and Chadha’s film is littered with more than enough moments of sweet-natured comedy to give it charm. Just as Chadha once positioned football as a salvation for Bend It Like Beckham’s Jess, here she presents Springsteen’s music as a balm for Javed. For every period of love, conflict, and heartache that Javed undergoes in his teenage years, Bruce is there. If it’s romantic passion that Javed is having his first taste of, then ‘Thunder Road’ is there to guide him. If the desire to escape the ills of his hometown is greater than ever, then Javed has ‘Born To Run’ ready to remind him that Springsteen, too, hailed from a place that would have ripped “the bones from his back,” had he not broke free. Bruce is omnipresent for Javed; a demigod whose work appears to have been written especially for this one lost boy.

Blinded By The Light often pedals an unabashed belief in the restorative power of music but is never naïve enough to suggest that it can totally heal the wounds left by the kind of racism, economic inequality, and familial tensions that Javed faces. Chadha knows, music — not even Springsteen’s transcendent lyricism — cannot solve everything. To find a voice that appears to have felt everything that you have, though, and that seems to have listened to your every thought is sometimes all the reassurance that one needs to remind themselves that escape doesn’t lie too far away. Bruce will be there until Javed, at least, walks in the sun.

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‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ – on Its Beauty, Its Bravery, and How Important It Is to Gay Women

Last year, there was one film that seemed to take up almost all of the space in my head. For all the wonderful movies that came in 2017, none occupied my thoughts or meant more to me than one in particular – this was Luca Guadagnino’s masterful Call Me By Your Name, a film that I have written hundreds of adoring words on over the past ten months, and which I hardly felt I could do justice to in my work. I am not here, however, to revisit Call Me By Your Name but, rather, to discuss the film that appears to have had the same effect on me this year. Though we may only be in September, I doubt that I will find another feature in the coming months that will impact me as much as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Just as Guadagnino’s film gripped every part of me last year, so has Akhavan’s – her depiction of a young, gay woman’s battle with both herself and the cruelty of her environment is as heart-wrenching as it is witty, and feels to me as beautiful and as vital to queer cinema as Call Me By Your Name.

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‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a Glorious Celebration of Escapist Cinema

Around halfway through Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Lily James’ youthful incarnation of Donna Sheridan, the character originally made famous by Meryl Streep ten years ago, states that there are only two types of people in the world. In reference to “seducers”, Donna argues that there are those that seduce women because they have a genuine contempt for them and would like to assert their dominance over them, and that the others simply fall in and out of love every evening. I would like to take Donna’s claim, that there are only two types of people, and rather than use it with regards to so-called seducers, I would like to suggest that the two kinds of people in the world are as follows: Those that love ABBA, and subsequently fun, and those that do not. If you are of the latter, then I would not recommend you read this review.

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‘Killing Eve’ on Mutual Obsessions, Crackling Chemistry, and the Hidden Power of Women in Espionage

More often than not, the role of a villain in the espionage genre, who is as witty as they are terrifying, has been reserved for men. To find a spy thriller that includes not only a female hero but also a female villain that our protagonist must face off against is incredibly rare. It is typical for such features to centre around one man hunting down another – engaging in a game of cat-and-mouse until one finally surrenders to the other. It’s there in Skyfall, in which the plot revolves around James Bond pursuing the fascinating Raoul Silva, who repeatedly leaves the former looking like a fool, and it is present in almost every entry in the Mission Impossible and the Bourne franchises. We think nothing of two men working tirelessly to track the other down in such films, yet we constantly struggle to cast more than one woman in similar features. While there has indeed been a steady rise in the number of fictional female spies, from Lorraine Broughton in the recent, massively stylistic Atomic Blonde, to Dominika Egorova of Red Sparrow, there is still a significant lack of compelling female villains for such characters to stand off against. Granted, in Red Sparrow this is arguably because the film wants to tackle the issue of men in power and the way in which women are so often abused and tossed aside in the male pursuit of dominance within espionage; however, in Atomic Blonde, we easily could have had a female antagonist to serve as Broughton’s foil. Perhaps it is exactly this – the need for a captivating, villainous woman in stories of intelligence webs and assassinations – that has made BBC America’s Killing Eve such a runaway success.

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Interview With ‘Obey’ Director Jamie Jones and Star Sophie Kennedy Clark

I sat down recently with Jamie Jones and Sophie Kennedy Clark, the director and lead actress of what was undoubtedly one of the best films of the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year: the brilliant, brutal Obey. During our chat, we talked extensively about the hotly-debated topic of gentrification in London, in which Jones told me that he, himself, “saw the transition towards gentrification in Hackney” and laments on probably having “been a part of it himself”. As we talked, both he and Kennedy Clark lamented on the culture clash that is often found in London these days and the uniqueness of the city. “You have these huge high-rises, massive estates, right next to the most expensive houses! You get gang crime and you get people sitting drinking champagne and Peach Bellini’s in London fields.” Indeed, Jones even told me of a story of gentrification that he had once been involved in himself: “All these hipsters, I was amongst them, we were all just sat drinking champagne, the sun was shining and then we just heard a gunshot and a helicopter comes down and somebody was shot in the leg, and it just happened right next to us!” These sorts of opposing moments are found all throughout Obey, scattered across the film in various different manners, from individual scenes to the presentation of characters such as Kennedy Clark’s Twiggy and her band of bohemian friends squatting alongside Leon’s estate.

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EIFF 2018 Review: ‘Obey’ Centres Around Representations of Black, Working-Class Life in British Cinema and the Chaos of Violence in the Streets

As of late, there has been a steady increase in the depiction of working-class life in British cinema – from Andrea Arnold’s stark, stunning Fish Tank to Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning critique of austerity in I, Daniel Blake. Both of these films have been excellent, and both have felt incredibly brave in their willingness to honestly portray life for Britain’s working-classes under a Conservative government – one which has repeatedly mistreated the most financially vulnerable in the wake of the recession that came in 2008. As fantastic as I, Daniel Blake and Fish Tank are, however, they primarily focus on examining the lives of white characters; few films have set out to explore the experiences of those that are both working-class and black. This particular demographic has largely been ignored in British cinema, despite the rise in the number of stories of the working-classes that have been told lately, so it gives me pleasure to be able to say that Obey, the feature-length debut of director Jamie Jones, is not afraid to tackle such a subject. Obey is an emotionally raw, accomplished piece that consistently succeeds in attempting to give an honest depiction of the reality that this specific community is faced with.

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EIFF 2018 Review: ‘Wild Nights with Emily’: Madeleine Olnek’s Historical Romp is a Surprisingly Touching Romance

Of all the films that I expected to see at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year, a camp, historical re-telling of Emily Dickinson’s life as one that was dominated by a secretive lesbian affair was perhaps the one that surprised me the most. Wild Nights with Emily is directed by Madeleine Olnek – the woman that brought us the deliciously ridiculous Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same – and I’m pleased to say that this lovely challenge to the traditional misconceptions surrounding Dickinson’s personal life, which often paint her as a lonesome recluse, contains much of the same outlandish humour and eccentricity found in Olnek’s earlier work.

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