Why Ken Loach Will Make You Go From Real to Reel

May I introduce you to an independent filmmaker who captures real moments, takes you on a journey and tells stories that will give you a different perspective on life: Ken Loach.

An English director of independent film and television who has never succumbed to the siren call of Hollywood. According to IMDB, “it’s virtually impossible to imagine his particular brand of British socialist realism translating well to that context”. And I agree.

While studying law at Oxford University Loach joined the Drama club but decided to pursue directing after his degree at BBC.

Even though his work was praised for it’s new dirty realism in Z-Cars and his Wednesday Plays, Loach didn’t feel it was real enough. He went back and analysed the films he most admired: the Czech new wave and the Italian neo-realist.

“In these films, people are just being, not performing. And what I was doing was getting performances I didn’t believe. So I learned from my mistakes.”

Ken Loach took his craft to pieces and rebuilt it, borrowing some techniques for example: using natural light whenever possible and casting nonprofessional actors alongside professionals. He decided to shoot chronologically, feeding the storyline to actors bit by bit, so their reactions were real and combining improvised shots with closely scripted ones. It’s perhaps this level of realism which distinguishes his films from others.

I personally think this approach enabled the actors to go on a journey with their characters as their story gained more depth and layers. He also casts unknown lead actors which allows the characters to have a clean sleight.

In a 2000 poll of industry professionals conducted by the British Film Institute to determine the BFI TV 100 of the 20th century, Cathy Come Home was voted second (the highest-placed drama on the list), behind the comedy Fawlty Towers. In 2005 it was named by Broadcast as the UK’s most influential TV programme of all time.

The cinematographer was Tony Imi. Imi’s innovative use of hand-held camera to take moving action shots and close-ups showed a kind of realism which was rare in British TV drama at the time. This produced shots some traditionalists thought “not technically acceptable”. Imi commented: “I was stuck in a rut after working on Dr Finlay’s Casebook and Maigret – standard BBC productions. All of a sudden, with The Wednesday Play and Ken, there was a newness that fitted into the way I was thinking at the time.”

Loach’s naturalistic style helped to heighten the play’s impact. Many scenes were improvised, and some include unknowing members of the public, such as the final scene in which Cathy’s children are taken from her at a railway station (none of the passers-by intervened).

Cathy Come Home also had a huge impact on me while watching and gave me an exceptional real, raw and compassionate picture of the housing crisis in the 60s. Rarely have I felt a film was so real that I thought I had witnessed it myself. The same goes for Ken´s latest Film: I, Daniel Blake. Even though I have never been in a position where I’ve had to seek social benefits and was unable to work because of a health problem I feel like I understand Daniel Blake and the struggles he goes through, even to the extent of him running a computer mouse up the screen, because he is forced to use computers and has never learned how.

I would like to challenge myself and invite you to join me to do what Ken Loach did. Let’s have an honest and humble look at our work as creatives and be willing to dismantle it in order to rebuild a much stronger and unique style that is a true expression of what it is we really want to show the world.

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  • Ashley Menelaws

    A great and insightful article !

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