‘Brighton Rock’

Running Up In Front Of The Hundred Faces

I laughed so much I thought maybe I’ve become psychopathic. This is a great tribute film masquerading as a Grahame Greene adaptation. I knew the film was set in 1964 as opposed to its original period, and people have been wondering why it had to be, just to accommodate the youth riots. The quick and dirty answer is that this film has less to do with recreating Grahame Greene’s novel so much as retracing ‘Quadrophenia’. It’s blatant, but knowing it helps you really enjoy this film. I know I did.

If you don’t know or like ‘Quadrophenia’, this film is likely to fall on blind eyes, so to speak.

What’s Good About It

There’s plenty to like in this film. It looks like they made this film out of off-cuts from Quadrophenia in parts and then it segues into its own thing just beautifully. The cinematography, the production design, the editing, are all lovingly rendered. The performances are great and there’s really never a dull moment as you watch Pinkie the psychopath cause havoc.

Also, the moment pictured above, where Pinkie on his stolen scooter with Phil Davis’ Spicer in tow, finds itself leading the mod’s scooters is priceless. Phil Davis of course was in ‘Quadrophenia’ playing Chalky. There is also a shot of the hotel steps which is the same angle as the one in ‘Quadrophenia’. It was so close, I expected Sting – or somebody who looked like Sting – to come bounding out dressed as a Bell Boy. It didn’t happen, but my heart quickened in anticipation. It’s that kind of film. If you know and love Quadrophenia, then ‘Brighton Rock’ is a must-see film.

What’s Bad About It

I think that for a film that works so hard to work in the riots and the Quadrophenia look, it might have y’know, slotted a Who song in there somewhere.

What’s Interesting About it

Alas, I should have done a movie double with ‘Quadrophenia’. Oh well… For instance, the landscape relationship apparently doesn’t make sense, but only if you don’t know ‘Quadrophenia’. The reviewer above complains most bitterly that Dover makes an appearance for no good reason. Well, in ‘Quadrophenia’, Jimmy the personality-afflicted mod rides the lambretta he stole from Sting’s character, right up to Beachy Head where he destroys the scooter in a gesture of identity suicide. So in this film, the psychopathic Pinkie takes his young wife Rose up to Beachy Head on a stolen lambretta to urge her to suicide. While I’ve never been to Brighton, I know the Brighton Beach in that movie fairly well. Once the riot breaks out, I kept expecting to catch glimpses of action that matched ‘Quadrophenia’. The shot where some youths break a shop window shot from inside, clearly is in reference to the earlier picture.

There’s Crazy And Then there’s Psychopathy

What really pops out about both films is the apparent hands-off attitude to insanity. In ‘Quadrophenia’, it is quite possible Jimmy has gone schizophrenic because of his drugs, but it’s never made explicit as an explanation. In ‘Brighton Rock’, it’s never quite explained how or why Pinkie comes into the world, but it is clear that from the beginning, there is something deeply wrong with this character. Indeed, Pinkie is at once a total misfit from the get-go. He’s a young hoodlum, raised by a hoodlum, who witnesses the death of his father figure, as well as getting facially disfigured.

Psychological problems always make for good drama, and in a sense this is why drama queens we meet in real life might be people harbouring a personality disorder or an outright insanity of some kind. One other thing that can be said for certain is that having crazy characters means he writer does not have to delineate a motivation that we find logical. In other words, you don’t know what they’re going to do next because if there’s only crazy logic to it, then it means it’s not going to be rational.

Still, the film works very carefully as to why Pinkie does certain things. The father figure in the photo is dressed in a war time parka, so he puts it on on the important day. He steals a lambretta scooter, which combined with the war time parka makes him look the part of the mod. Clearly it’s a gag. It’s totally crazy-reasoning for the character that somehow lands Pinkie at the head of the mod crowd, who are in  one sense the expression of the dysfunction in British society; but the film works very hard to get him there. Now, the deeper question to ask is whether the craziness of the rioting youths and the hoodlum violence of Pinkie and his gangster life are interchangeably equivalent in English culture.

Is Pinkie violent because he’s just born that way? Or is it a social problem of England that manifests itself as both the senseless youth riots and the psychopathic killer that is Pinkie? And that question might be the reason why the film makers decided to update Brighton Rock to the era of the riots. The cathrsis of death at Beachy Head in ‘Brighton Rock’ is not only evoking ‘Quadrophenia’, it is symbalically raising the issue of why there are such people. Is society headed over the cliff with Pinkie?

In light of the recent riots in the UK, it does make you wonder if there’s a lot more crazy out there than we thought.

Teenage Wasteland, It’s Only Teenage Wasteland

Pete Townshend made a million out of singing about how awkward being an adolescent can be. Indeed, the phrase “teeange wasteland” sums up so much of the angst and inadequacy of feeling these characters growing up and coming of age in the 1960s.  There’s a little alleyway in Brighton that has turned into a shrine because of the sex scene that was shot for ‘Quadrophenia’. It’s all part of the emotional terrain that is worked hard in ‘Brighton Rock’, for both Pinkie and Rose are awkward adolescents who have only ventured into adulthood with the minimum of emotional equipment. The kiss in the rain is particularly awkward and strange, and it harks back to the awkward sex in the alley from the earlier film.

One of the unstated issues in the film is the inadequacy of both Pinkie and Rose in their inability to express their inner turmoil. Rose thinks she has made a connection with Pinkie, simply because he tells her they have a connection. She nary searches her own feelings before she’s decided that she is going with him to the ends of the world. Pinkie doesn’t even know how he feels because he’s too traumatised and he’s a psychopath. His stated reasons for doing things are ironically at odds with what he really seems to want. This dynamic of two inadequate people groping for a relationship finds a connection with the abortive sexual encounter in the alleyway in ‘Quadrophenia’. Phil Daniels’ Jimmy thinks he’s the problem while he worships Steph, and it turns out Steph can only be described as a feckless girl with personality problems of her own. Rose and Jimmy are both yearning for the other person without knowing who the other person is, and in both films they finish up not knowing.

Is Pinkie Evil?

The world that is presented in ‘Brighton Rock’ is tangibly limited and the horizon for its characters are nowhere near as wide as the ocean. They swim in a small pond of a community, and are largely incapable of change. The gritty social realism in the film is enough to make you recoil in horror, just looking at the council building flat or the ugly backstreets. The England of 1964 is nowhere near as glamorous as the swinging 60s ought to feel. It is in this cosseted world that Pinkie has grown into being, perhaps like a tumour.

On the face of it, there’s no arguing the fact that Pinkie is evil. But it’s also pretty clear that Pinkie is a psychopath. It brings up the point whether criminality is a function of society and mental illness. Pinkie is at once a belligerently hostile young man who earns his angry young man epithet easily, but he’s also incredibly recessive for his obvious moral weaknesses. Similarly, Rose is only socially normative to the degree that Catholic guilt has shaped her into a cowering woman, but we find in her alliance with Pinkie against Ida that her morality doesn’t run all that deep. It falls upon deaf ears that she could be charged with being an accomplice. They’re both far more crazy than they are criminal, although their criminality does cause problems for them; it’s almost as if it is a side issue. They’re rebels without a cause and without a clue.

It might seem like the same old depressing film making to some but this film does offer up some interesting insights into the socius of 1964 England. I guess my best advice is that you take in ‘Quadrophenia’ before you sit down to watch this film.


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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies, Pop, Prog Rock, Rock

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