Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 6:28 pm 
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Edinburgh drinking man depicted in hard-etched poetry

17 April 2005

Sixteen Years of Alcohol
is the Edinburgh story of a guy with a philandering dad who starts to drink at twelve or so, turns into a violent, alcoholic punker, and finally seeks self-reform. Early scenes depict Frankie, the young boy and his father. We then jump forward to the big, muscular Frankie Mack (Kevin McKidd) terrorizing pubs and shops with his three mates like Alex and his droogies in A Clockwork Orange but without Alex's archness and glee. Frankie also gets into fights with his own mates and woos Helen (Laura Fraser), who clerks in a record shop.

Eventually the hero, whose brooding voiceovers constantly intrude, loses Helen, though for a while she seems to have tamed him and turned him from Mars into Artemis, bearer of good news -- as she puts it in a game they play on a colonnade perched high up above the town. Frankie gets stabbed and kicked senseless (S.O.P. for the hoodlums of this piece) and winds up in a twelve-step group for alcoholics -- but when he shares at a meeting, he tellingly substitutes for the classic AA declaration, "My name is Frankie, and I am a violent man." He also joins an acting workshop with Mary (Susan Lynch), his new girl -- or recovery pal: there's no lovemaking or physical affection shown. One shot hints that Frankie's employed in a workshop or factory, but specific detail is lacking: the film is deliberately short on connected narrative, going for passion and poetry over mundane realism.

There's truth in the Village Voice's thumbnail description of Sixteen Years of Alcohol as a series of "static tableaux," and it's also true that McKidd's better than "the dubious romanticism and hard-man clich├ęs of his role." Parts of the movie fall flat, but what makes it worth watching is an intense clarity about the people and the sharply lit scenes they're in. Also welcome to an American is that unlike some Scottish films this one's English is crystal clear too. There is the power and sincerity of the simple small film in Sixteen Years of Alcohol, but also a lack of narrative focus and sense of a whole social world one finds in England's Sixties "angry young man" films beginning with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Jobson isn't trying for "kitchen sink" realism at all, but for something poetic and expressionistic; and the stark, strikingly lit photography helps him approach that goal and make this a watchable film.

What's less appealing is the simplistic fatalism of the plot structure. One may wind up wishing Frankie had received more practical tips about how to stay off alcohol and violence, rather than focusing on his relationships with women, which aren't developed very far anyway. The "dubious romanticism" shows up in the way a life is ultimately seen as circular (as is the film's "ring" framing device) and doomed, rather than -- what would be equally justified by the story -- moderately hopeful. The chap is still young and healthy, after all, and he wants to get better. Why not suggest he's going in that direction?

This is the first film for Jobson, previously known as the frontman for the Seventies Scottish art punk band, the Skids, and, later as a poet, model, TV presenter, film producer and critic. He has not disgraced himself in this semi-autobiographical effort (the timeline follows that of his own Sixties childhood and Seventies youth). What one remembers are the stark sometimes beautiful images. The high-flown, overwrought writing can be cloying, but may also point in a fresh new direction. No Danny Boyle here, but rather, perhaps, a new style and voice. 7/10

(Seen March 26, 2005 at Cinema Village.)

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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