Blu-Ray / DVD region 2. Network.
1980’s were a bad time for British cinema. With tax breaks
and financial inducements closed off by the Thatcher government,
the only films being financed were through organisations like
the BFI or Film Four, which meant that only a small number of
movies ever got made, and they were usually made by the darlings
of these media circles rather than anyone with a proven commercial
talent (I know, it’s not much different now – but
believe me, back then it was much, much worse). This tended to
mean that, twee costume dramas from Merchant Ivory aside, most
British films were grim-faced polemical tracts that felt like
being beaten across the face with a copy of the Socialist
Worker for 90 minutes – all very worthy perhaps,
but rarely fun to watch.
Empire State, watched now, feels very much like
an archetypal British film of the time. Set in an East End that
was seeing the old swept away by the new (the Docklands development
is under construction during the film), with assorted Cockney
wide boys, yuppies, property developers, rent boys and old school
gangland villains clashing in a struggle for power, money and
status, with the action vaguely centered around (and culminating
in) the nightclub of the title, a thoroughly ghastly hellhole
packed with dreadful people.
that is part of the problem with the film – everyone is
horrible. The slimy yuppies with slicked back hair and loud suits,
the gay street hustler Lahhhnden boys, the grasping,
greedy women and the thuggish gangsters – there is no –one
here to relate to. Instead, you get a mix of performances (and
accents) that range from the passable to the astonishingly awful
– something not helped by dialogue that often feels like
a monologue rather than anything someone would ever really say,
frequently delivered with all the passion of a station announcement.
Like too many films of the period, this has a grey, flat television
play feel – the splashes of colour, glamour and flashy excess
seeming just as drab as the derelict buildings. And for the most
part, very little actually happens other than a bunch of characters
who are too thinly drawn and too unpleasant for you to give a
toss about going about their desperate, empty lives to a soundtrack
of horrible Eighties pop that feels like having a nail hammered
into your ear. There’s an impressively brutal no-holds-barred
scrap at the end (all very symbolic) a shoot-out and the chance
to see Martin Landau being slapped by a gay prostitute (he likes
it rough - "but not too rough"), but that is
hardly worth waiting for.
I’d still probably take Empire State over
the ‘gangster-by-numbers’ crap that dominated the
British film industry in more recent years – at his dullest,
director Ron Peck is worth a dozen Nick Loves – but there’s
no avoiding the fact that this is a typical product of British
cinema’s lowest point.
Network’s release does, however, pull out all the stops.
The Blu-Ray / DVD double set offers up a commentary from Peck
and co-writer Mark Ayres, screen tests (is that really
film critic Steve Thrower being picked up in a nightclub? I believe
so!), deleted scenes, audio research interviews and a hilarious
segment from Channel 4’s Right to Reply,
with irate viewers complaining about the language and violence
(both fairly tame by modern TV standards). Slap the DVD into your
computer and you’ll find the screenplay, storyboards, press
clippings and a lot more. It’s an impressive package that
I wish was accompanying a more interesting film.
IT NOW (UK)