Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scum (1979)

Scum (1979) was a British film about life in a borstal - a correctional institute for young males.  It was originally filmed as a BBC TV movie in 1977, but was banned for its repellent atmosphere.  Alan Clarke, the director, remade it two years later with many of the same actors, and released it for the cinema.

Carlin (Ray Winstone) arrives at the borstal after being transfered from another institute for attacking a "screw" (a prison guard). He's immediately shown that his new keepers harbor a grudge when they assault him as soon as he arrives.  The scene is stark, realistically lit, and the violence palpably real.  This atmosphere is maintained throughout the film, as the young offenders are brutalized by each other and their keepers.

The borstal is divided into wings, and further divided into race-based gangs (largely black vs white).  The groups fight against each other for dominance, and negotiate with each other for contraband).  The wardens all report to the head of the institute, a strict Christian who is not afraid of bringing his faith into work.  This leads to an amusing scene in which one of the more peculiar inmates, simply to irk the governor, professes his newly found devotion to Islam

Some of the young offenders are not tough enough to survive in this environment, and are hence the targets of those more able to adapt (which ultimately leads to a horrific rape and subsequent suicide). Others, like Carlin become the "Daddy" - the de facto leader of a wing through savagely beating the previous incumbent. This places him in a position to negotiate with the wardens.

Ray Winstone gives a remarkable performance, full of intensity and loathing.  He's a genuinely scary character, but manages to connect with a few other inmates (in the original BBC film, he embarks on a homosexual relationship with a younger, effeminate man; this plot point was excised from the remake).

Many would be deterred by the brutality of inherent Scum.  Some may see it as a dehumanizing film to watch, and with good reason; certain scenes makes your skin crawl.

It is, ultimately, a rewarding film to watch, if only because it gives you a degree of empathy for least capable to survive in these thankfully long-forgotten institutions.

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