Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fish Tank

The best film I've seen in some time (is that vague enough?) is Fish Tank. In The New Yorker David Denby writes that, "Fish Tank” may begin as a patch of lower-class chaos, but it turns into a commanding, emotionally satisfying movie, comparable to such youth-in-trouble classics as “The 400 Blows.”

It reminds me a little of Terrence Malick's work in terms of its artful (rarely distractingly so) photography and tendency to cut away from the human drama to show (a little of) what's going on in the natural world beyond it. Otherwise it mostly reminds me of Kes. Both films are about English 15-year-olds who seem trapped in working class worlds without hope. Or with little hope. In Kes, Billy Casper finds a kind of freedom through a kestrel that he finds and tames. What hope there is for him lies in the possibility that he might be able to experience something similar when he grows up. In Fish Tank, Mia Williams finds a horse that she plans to free, but her own freedom looks as though it will only come, if at all, by way of an escape to some other place.

Although Kes is basically a story of despair it is loved by many people (mostly men from the north of England) because it strikes them as an unusually realistic and sympathetic portrayal of their childhoods. I can't see anyone loving Fish Tank in the same way, but that might be because it's about a girl in the south of England growing up in the 21st century. It's a different world from the one I grew up in (so is Kes, but less dramatically so). Non-English people sometimes struggle with the accents in Kes. I think that will less of a problem with Fish Tank, but there is still a danger with cockney accents:



  1. I just love Kes, but then again I'm a lifelong Anglophile. Among my early reading, about which I spoke a bit the other day, was Arts in Society, a classic anthology of late '60s and early '70s essays on the arts from the late, lamented New Society magazine. Among editor Paul Barker's own contributions was "Boy in a Cage", a very clear-sighted and evocative essay on Kes from the time of its original release, which was my introduction to it. I had to wait years and years to actually see the film itself, but it was definitely worth the wait.

    I wonder, incidentally, if you're familiar with Jeremy Seabrook's 1971 book City Close-Up, which is a kind of non-fiction counterpart of Kes - a journalistic-sociological book extracted from interviews taped in 1969 with around 200 natives of Blackburn. Some of the more sociological stuff in there is a bit dated and vicariously embarrassing, but if you like Kes, you'd probably eat it up.

  2. I'll have to read "Boy in a Cage." Looking up City Close-Up led me to a review of it by Dennis Marsden published in Oral History Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1974, which contains this wonderful sentence, referring to another book by Seabrook: "I recall particularly an almost surrealistically depressing scene in a pub where instead of real human intercourse, all that happened was that various spiritually frozen characters pushed backwards and forwards the dessicated counters of long-dead speech forms." This sounds like something worth following up on too. Thanks.