‘Me and him, we’re from different, ancient tribes…now we’re both almost extinct…sometimes…you gotta stick with the ancient ways…old-skool ways.’
When the end comes, wherever that may be, it’s nice to think it’ll be with decorum. That there will be some kind of choice being exercised, even if it’s just in the decision to deliberately empty the chamber of one’s gun prior to a final ‘duel’. An existential ‘High Noon’, the moment one meets one’s maker, or in this case, ‘retainer’. Of course the actual chances of things unravelling this way are highly unlikely, subject as they are to the vicissitudes of everyday life rather than to the artifice of film. We already know this is the 21st century ‘gangsta’/samurai ‘Ghost Dog’, an ascetic renegade with a feudal code. Like our bedsit hero – see the earlier post, ‘burn after reading’- Ghost Dog has a thing for literature too. This most mystical of gangstas quotes freely from the 18th century samurai text, ‘Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai’ and uses the ancient Japanese warrior code to make sense of his ethereal, fragmented world.
As for the shards that most of us know only too well, sadly they’re often bereft of such resolution. Dull, frankly, if occasionally enlivened by the poetic import of film. In truth film seems to be as much of a filter to everyday life as a good, old-skool tome. Consider the celluloid whisper just beneath the surface of countless conversations, all seeking to sprinkle the mundane with cinematic stardust. That’s why those ‘top ten’ lists are often produced over a jar, or during a lull. Whoever you are, wherever you are, it’s the briefest of moments when your own slump, or disgust, is upgraded, as if by osmosis, to the ethical beserk of late model samurai.
So in that spirit, here’s some stuff Southern Discomfort reckons worthy of lobbing into just such a conversational lull. Top five London films. Or at least they would be if they were in any particular order. And yes, five is not ten, but in this case less is definitely more.
Babylon (Franco Rosso, 1980) Uncompromising vision of southeast London during turbulent times. Features ‘Warrior Charge’ (Aswad) on the soundtrack and a brutal soundclash with Jah Shaka near the end. A great fare dodging scene on the bus, and a very funny engagement party just after.
The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1979) Bob Hoskins, never better than as Harold Shand, presiding over his crumbling criminal empire against the backdrop of an emerging yuppie makeover of the London Docklands and the sectarian roar of the IRA. Also memorable for his description of an American Mafia boss as an ‘extended streak of piss’.
The Firm (Alan Clarke, 1989) ‘We come in peace, we leave you in pieces’. Original, and best, of all the football hoolie films, not to be confused with anything featuring Tom Cruise. Instead, Gary Oldman, West Ham, the psychotic underbelly of Thatcher’s Britain. What’s not to like?
The Long Firm (Bille Eltringham, 2004) Ok, so there’s a strong bias here towards entries with ‘long’ or ‘firm’ in the title, or in this case both. Based on the novel by Jake Arnott, with its kaleidoscopic portrayal of the London underworld over several decades, this drama, originally produced for the BBC, also includes a brilliant send-up of liberal sociology in the guise of ‘radical’ lecturer, Lenny.
The London Nobody Knows (Norman Cohen, 1967) A bit of a timepiece. James Mason, he of Hitchcock fame, walks around some of the capital’s lesser known streets, providing an intriguing commentary on the city’s vanishing Victorian aspect and its rapidly changing attitudes. He’s a consummate gent throughout and this is a classy forerunner to what might be described as ‘psychogeography’ today.
And if that strikes you as partial, or way off, then good. As the writer, Howard Jacobson, reminds us: ‘What’s sacrosanct about ease?’