Alan Clarke was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, on 28 October 1935, the son of an insurance salesman. He directed only three films specifically for cinematic release, the bulk of his prolific output being made for television. A radical, uncompromising and innovative director, his best work concerned the exposure of injustice towards the most despised and neglected groups in society.
After leaving grammar school and completing National Service, he turned his back on a steady job as an insurance clerk, and emigrated to Canada, working as a gold miner before enrolling in a course in Radio and Television Arts in Toronto between 1958-1961. He returned to England after graduating to work in television, moving to the BBC in 1969, where he began to develop his directorial style in The Wednesday Play and Play for Today.
Clarke's three best-regarded works dealt with the violence of young males. He achieved notoriety with Scum (1977), a brutal exposé of conditions in Borstal starring Phil Daniels and Ray Winstone. A timorous BBC banned the film before it could be shown, but it was remade as a feature, released in 1979. Made in Britain (ITV, tx. 10/7/1983), scripted by David Leland, starred Tim Roth as Trevor, an incandescently violent, racist skinhead. For the first time Clarke used the Steadicam to shoot the characters in long, continuous takes to give the impression of ceaseless motion and neurotic energy, a technique he used extensively in later films. The final film of this 'trilogy', The Firm (1988) starred Gary Oldman as 'Bex' Bissell, a wisecracking estate agent, addicted to football violence. Clarke's nihilism emerges powerfully in these films; no solution is offered to the problems of their protagonists, and their violence is not explained by social deprivation, but is atavistic, given its opportunity by a Thatcherite morality which emphasised individuality at the expense of society.
Clarke's 1980s films made for the cinema are very different. Billy The Kid and The Green Baize Vampire (1985) was a Brechtian musical about snooker which, though it contains some lively songs, was conceptually flawed and a failure at the box office. Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1986) was more successful, demonstrating Clarke's talent for comedy. A raunchy tale about a ménage a trois between two working-class teenagers and a married middle-aged man, set around a run-down Bradford council estate, its humour does not dilute the bleakness of the girls' lives.
Before Clarke's premature death from cancer on 24 July 1990 in London he was experimenting with a minimalist style. Elephant (1988) is the most extreme example, a 16mm colour film of eighteen killings in Northern Ireland. Critical appreciation of his work remains muted, considering him unjustly to be an ultra-realist, lacking in art and artifice.
Kelly, Richard (ed), Alan Clarke (London: Faber and Faber, 1998)
Thomson, David, 'Walkers in the World: Alan Clarke' in Film Comment, May-June 1993, pp. 78-83
'Director Alan Clarke', BBC 2 (Corin Campbell-Hill), tx. 12/7/1991
Andrew Spicer, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors
Weet je welke kortfilm van Clark je eens moet zien? Elephant. Je kan je best wel eerst even inlezen in de politieke situatie van die tijd, de 'Troubles' in Noord Ierland - anders zal je er weinig aan hebben.
Boeiende film en ook een grote inspiratiebron voor Gus Van Sants gelijknamige film
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