A belated three cheers for The Impostume's annihilation of Mike Leigh. Leigh's reputation, more than his films, tell us a great deal about British culture, and about the misanthropic fantasies of the middle mass*. It's telling that practically every Guardianista profile of Leigh starts by announcing how "unHollywood-like" he is. Like Loach, Leigh makes films whose very drabness operates as a signifier of (middlebrow) taste and distinction. Leigh's MO is to take screamingly over the top melodrama stereotypes that would be laughed out of soap operas* and insert them into portentous screen Theyater in which the longeurs and the miserabilsm labour to signify Seriousness. A certain mystery always perplexes me about Leigh's proleface grotesques, from Steadman in Abigail's Party to Blethyn in Secrets And Lies: if Leigh's scripts are arrived at by the celebrated process of collaboration with actors, why, with migraine monotony, do they always contain the same shrill pantomime characters? Is it a kind of natural stupidity of British actors that is asserting itself, or could it be that the "collaborative" process is nothing of the sort? You're also left wondering whether Leigh would get away with the racial equivalent of his class caricatures, until you see his middle class characters, and you realise that he has no ability to capture any sort of human being, whatever their class.
*The Impostume is of course right, though - misanthropy is the only thing that's interesting about Leigh, which is why Naked is his only film to attain any sort of vividness (notice how Johnny, not a character so much as a rant, an internal monologue made into pockmarked flesh, stands out from the other stock theatre types in the film, a long streak of bile burning through a world of pasteboard effigies). It's a misanthropy with a strong accent on snobbery, of course: the worst hubris in Leigh's world is to get above yourself, to have unbecoming airs and graces. Where I disagree with Carl is the comparison with Martin Amis, about whom nothing whatsoever is of any interest - even misanthropy can't redeem Martin.
**The one character that reminds me of Leigh's in current soap opera is Stacy's mum in EastEnders, a truly excruciating luvvie rendition of "mental illness".Posted by mark at August 26, 2008 04:50 PM | TrackBack