First things first, if you haven’t seen Rich Hall’s ‘Dirty South’ then stop reading now, and go watch it. You have until 3:14am on Sunday 25th July 2010 to catch it on iPlayer, you’d be a mug to miss it.
Why? Because it’s a brilliant personal treatise on cinema, a very particular strand of cinema close to stand-up comedian Rich Hall’s heart. As a proud Son of the South he’s more than a little fed up with the generalisations the region has suffered under the lens of Hollywood, and is tired of having to rebut himself against a stereotype which isn’t half as clean cut as would first appear. Did you know it actually rains in the South?
And it’s true, the notion of the South is almost wholly coloured by the films he cites, and the literature behind it. That and the ‘I SAY, I SAY’ of Tex Avery’s Foghorn Leghorn, but maybe that’s just me. Anyone who has any kind of spiritual connection to a city or a region will be all too familiar of having to kick against the clichés entrenched by popular media through the ages. And I say this as a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Swede sitting in a grey and miserable Sheffield in July. Things are a bit more complicated than how they first appear, are we clear on that?
There really is some unbound pleasure in just seeing someone knowledgeable and witty just riffing on some really great films, and the pillars of literature they are drawn from. Informative AND funny is a big ask, but Rich Hall brings a degree of irreverence and sincerity to carry it all off.
Heartfelt personal paeans to cinema are nothing new, and I’ve sat through a fair few looking for guidance on what should be sought out, and what should be avoided. The rather explicitly titled, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, is a fine example but for all the anecdotes and personal outpouring it’s still a little stilted, and perhaps too grand in its scope. Scorsese whips through the hundreds of films he touches on, but to criticise, it does exactly what the rambling title promises. Personal to the point of autobiography, and anathema for film fans not falling over Ol’ Marty in the first place.
To indulge on the heady fumes of nostalgia, what I really long for is the good old days of Alex Cox and his short, sharp and to the point Videodrome introductions. A curated series of films, introduced at nigh-god-forsaken hours, with a pinch of cool reservation and a pinch of insight. It’s as true then as it still is now, for the channels are awash with more films that you could shake a PVR at, and there’s great value in just having someone go ‘Oi, watch this, it’s good. Why? Because I said so.’
Rich Hall ultimately has come to serve this function, as two films mentioned in the documentary found a slot later on BBC4 on the same evening, namely God’s Little Acre and In the Heat of the Night. A repeat of another Hall documentary this week, How the West Was Lost, was also accompanied by a screening of John Ford’s Fort Apache. Unfortunately neither the doc nor the film is on iplayer, but the marriage of insight and relevant film should really be encouraged.
Much hoopla was made when the BBC announced that Claudia Winkleman was to take over the vaunted Film 20XX reviewers chair, the sceptics howls being hushed by the corporation’s desire to get away from the ‘old man in a chair’ approach to film reviewing. Some further hoopla was made by David Puttnam, when he criticised television producers for not capitalising on the growing hunger and interest for film that is being demonstrated at UK box offices.
It’s hardly rocket science to see a simple equation where you take the likes of enthusiastic profiles (Rich Hall, Mark Kermode, Alex Cox, a woman perhaps? Channel 4 news’ Samira Ahmed tweets and writes enthusiastically about her love of westerns. Someone give her a call) to either spend five minutes hyping an overlooked gem they love, or even perhaps going on a further exploration of some the bigger tropes in cinema. Charlie Brooker’s gotten good mileage tapping Stewart Lee and the like to reminisce about old televisual treasures for Screenwipe, would it be so hard to extend this into the realm of film?