Academic journal article CineAction

Are You with Me? Unemployed Negativity in Mike Leigh's Naked

Academic journal article CineAction

Are You with Me? Unemployed Negativity in Mike Leigh's Naked

Article excerpt

Judging by his output so far, Secrets and Lies is in many ways a much more typical Mike Leigh film than Naked. As we can see when we note some of the things Leigh has to say about his work in the interview he granted to Graham Fuller in 1995. Thus, for example, after claiming that "what Life is Sweet [1990] and High Hopes [1988] have in common, in one way, is faith," Leigh elaborates as follows:

You can draw some parallels between Shirley and Wendy: the positive spirit in women who have faith and who have trust, and who inculcate that in other people.

In discussing Life is Sweet, the character that tends to be neglected the most is Natalie, the plumber. In her own quiet way, she's as much a nonconformist as Nicola. The difference is that the nature of her nonconformity doesn't preclude getting on with living and working and in some way fulfilling herself, within limited parameters...what is important to me about her is that she is out there, roiling up her sleeves, getting on with it. (xxxi)

This gives us a fairly clear idea of what Leigh values: faith, trust, a positive spirit and "getting on with living and working." In the light of which we oughtn't to be too surprised to find that when Leigh offers to tell us what his films are actually about--"things like work, surviving, having an aged parent or whether it's a good idea to have kids" (xxi)--it is "work" that heads the list. This is more or less what one might expect of the kind of "ordinary socialist..." (xx) Leigh describes himself as being, of someone who claims that his films "are primarily motivated by (i) a sense of how we should behave toward each other in terms of sharing and giving" and (ii) "by a compassion for people" (xl).

It is true that in the same interview Leigh can be found expressing sympathy for "the anarchist" (xxxi) and claiming that if, on the one hand, he hasn't "made a film, including Naked, that doesn't include moments of warmth and compassion and sharing and giving," on the other, he also hasn't "made a film that does not include plenty of the opposite" (xxxiii). But the fact remains that this doesn't come close to preparing us for the sheer explosive force of Naked, all of which resides in the powerful way in which it relentlessly calls into question Leigh's own basic values.

From this point onwards I will be focussing exclusively on Naked but I have started off in this way because I believe that we are more likely to be able to appreciate this extraordinary film if we have Secrets and Lies--which also seems to me an extraordinary film and a major work of art in its own right-- somewhere in mind as we reflect on it. This may be difficult to do, however, since it means keeping in mind two radically different, even opposed, perspectives. So that if, for example, Naked offers, through Johnny, a scathing critique of the kinds of work performed by Brian, the poster man and Louise, Secrets and Lies--in the midst of offering a resounding affirmation of precisely those values to which I have just referred--movingly celebrates those who roll up their sleeves and get on with whatever job they have been able to find for themselves. Nevertheless, before turning to concentrate on Naked's perspective, I do want to make it clear that the other perspective seems to me necessary also.

One further proviso. Just how powerful an achievement Naked actually is is only likely to become fully clear to someone who takes the opportunity provided by the published screenplay to study the dialogue with the kind of close attention it deserves. This doesn't mean that the experience of reading the screenplay can substitute for the experience of being exposed to the film: it obviously can't. It simply means that this film's dialogue deserves the kind of scrutiny that used to be (and sometimes still is) given to literary texts, to a play by Shakespeare or Beckett, for example--the main difference being that in this case constant reference to the experience of seeing the film is absolutely essential, whereas in the case of any theatrical piece, reference to any particular performance of it is optional. …

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