Emma: OK. So: Green Street Hooligans - how did you like it?
Lauren: It was one of those films, where the things that I LOVED, I really, really loved, and the things that I HATED made me want to walk out.
Emma: Intriguing! What did you hate?
Lauren: First, I want to hear how you felt overall!
Emma: Sure. I, actually, really enjoyed it. But naturally it's a little hard for me to separate my London-nostalgia from an objective assessment of the film's merits. I found the premise to be an original one - an innocent American plunged into the craziness of English football hooligan culture; and I appreciated the way it seemed as if a genuine attempt had been made at authenticity. Those hooligans' outfits were accurate down to the very labels they wore.
Lauren: Wow. That's so cool - I definitely was curious how the film felt to a native Londoner living in America. I guess that it's the familiar, of course, that we notice first. I didn't like how it seemed as though Matt Bruckner (Elijah Wood) was so obviously "slumming." And that the high stakes for others were a vacation to him. There was a certain amount of privilege that he thought he carried so effortlessly or could disavow, but that was precisely what set him apart.
Emma: I know what you mean, but what I found more striking than Matt's apparent slumming was his mixture of awe, fear, and fascination with the testosterone drenched macho dynamic of the gang.
Lauren: Yes! It was amazing how erotically charged it was for a film with no sex scenes.
Emma: Totally! That had to be intentional.
Lauren: It made me think later about whether it's intuitive or learned to associate sex with violence in instances where it seems like an obvious subtext. I mean, they played makeout music during the fight scenes...
Emma: Right. I think it's natural, and then the temptation is to play it up, as clearly happened here. But getting back to what you said you didn't like, about Matt's slumming: I saw it less as his vacation than his search for some kinship or meaning to his life after getting fucked over so royally by his Harvard croney. I don't think he necessarily felt he had much to return to.
Emma: You're right - I did notice that, and wondered what we were to make of it - because certainly at those crucial moments you mention, the camera would linger on his face and the temptation was to consider if he felt guilt, or was questioning the sometimes catalystic role he played in creating drama.
Lauren: Wow - that's a stellar observation. I definitely felt like the tight scenes that focused on his eyes were key, but I couldn't have articulated it quite that perfectly. But other than his rich white boy complex, there was quite a lot to like about the film.
Emma: Complex is a key word! Because although what you say is absolutely true - he was careless, with less to lose - his behaviour stemmed as much from carelessness as a desperate desire to win approval and belonging to the 'firm'. And that idea: how poignantly, recklessly desiring humans (but especially young men) can be to connect with others, is very emotionally resonant.
Lauren: I love that word - desire - and I think it's at the core of the story.
Emma: Definitely. Somehow the visceral, brutal violence depicted emphasized that.
Lauren: Absolutely. Having blood smeared across one's face = oddly sexy, especially if you are a drunk, hard-bodied, football fan in his '20s. Besides desire, the film did an intriguing exploration of 'family,' and all of the different contexts in which it can have meaning in our lives.
Emma: Yes. One of the plot elements that really pulled the film together for me was the fact of the older brother, Matt's brother in law, being the 'major', from the old days, and having vowed to give up leadership of the firm for his wife and child. And when he was briefly pulled back into the violence and loyalty to the firm, you felt his genuine conflict, against expectation that you would.
Lauren: The brother in law, Steve, was a really powerful presence in the film. Matt's sister, Shannon (Claire Forlani) was more of an enigma. I found it disappointing that the only female character in the film was frankly, a witless cunt.
Emma: Thanks - I was just about to say I think enigma is a polite way of putting it! She was fairly underdeveloped, wasn't she - and reacted in predictable ways to everything. Women certainly were conspicuous in their absence. But that was one of the main points, I guess - we were being treated to a slightly voyeuristic glance at one of the more perverse directions male energy can go.
Lauren: Yeah. If there were a major female character, she would have been like Lady Sovereign or something... But seriously, his sister was so annoying! Every single thing she did seemed to endanger other people's lives, which is also another thing about the film that stands out. The heightened dramatic tension was unusually sustained from the first frame until the last, and that's impressive.
Emma: That's definitely one of the things I liked about it. But with Shannon it was almost as if they didn't know what to do with her. They could have done better, at least given her opinions beyond the most obvious.
Lauren: I felt that she became archetypal in her stupidity. Like a Biblical Eve.
Emma: Well, her husband did say "she's my angel", and definitely her role was nothing beyond the stereotypical nurturing, sensitive female presence.
Lauren: Exactly. And she had no history, whereas no one else could escape his.
Emma: Right! Now, you said that you found some of the accents almost incomprehensible - was this a problem?
Lauren: At first it took me a moment to grasp the words, and then occasionally, later, I missed the meaning of certain exchanges that happened quickly. Especially if they were "slangy". What did you think of Bover (Leo Gregory)? His betrayal seemed inevitable from the first scene between him and Matt in the mens room at the pub, where he grabs his cheek and intimidates him.
Emma: The accents/slang: Well, at one point you asked me what someone said, and I didn't know the meaning! Something about "on deck". D'you think subtitles would help, like in Trainspotting?!
I enjoyed the character of Bover - mainly because it was such a devastatingly convincing performance. As you say, he was a bubbling threat from the get go. And his attitude was a likely combination of jealously, xenophobia and insecurity.
Lauren: I think subtitles would have been a little over the top (a la Kept and Jerry Hall!), and also hard to add to the scenes with that highly specific to this film style of blurred, tightly framed shots.
Emma: I agree. As you know, the main flaw overall for me, though, was how painfully bad Charlie Hunnan's London accent was. It was excruciatingly, horribly bad.
Lauren: Hilarious. I love that you hated his faker accent (which of course, I didn't pick up). You mentioned thinking the film might be set in the late '80s at first, but later Pete (Charlie Hunnan) mentions the early '90s as ancient history. Did timing affect the story at all from your perspective?
Emma: They certainly seemed to take poetic licence when it came to the likelihood of events. For example, the brilliant central scene where they're travelling down to Manchester to the Man. United/Westham match, and the Manchester firm are waiting for them at the station: such calamitous confrontations, as far as I know, don't really happen anymore as so many police would be deployed to keep the groups apart. So a train station on match day would be crawling with coppers. But it didn't bother me, really. Even though the kind of passionate violence depicted was commonplace in the eighties and is rare today.
Lauren: True. What did you think about Pete as a central character?
Emma: Pete (Charlie Hunnan) was something of a caricature, I felt (even accent aside). Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed his macho swagger and heartfelt camaraderie - but it was a little overacted. I would have liked to have seen more about his other life, as a teacher. Because as it was, the fact that he was a teacher was too quickly passed over to be believable.
Lauren: Right - it was a punchline, and then the basis for a short "culture clash" scene.
Emma: Right - I think also we were supposed to see that football hooligans are not necessarily stupid. Just violent!
Lauren: I did like that idea, that it was possible to separate one's hooliganism from one's regular life, even though no one seemed to do it well. Knowing what you know now, how do you feel about the fact that Steve bribed Pete to take Matt to a football game? It seems like such a fucked-up proposition by the film's end.
Emma: Oooh, excellent question! Indeed a fucked up proposition, and one I'd forgotten about by the film's end. There are several ways to look at it: he was being selfish, because he wanted his wife's brother out of the way for romantic night he'd planned; or that he didn't conceive of Matt's susceptibility to the life of a football hooligan; or that he misguidedly trusted Pete to keep himself and Matt of out trouble. Whaddya reckon?
Lauren: I think it's a combination of all of those things, but it seemed innocuous at the time, because you know so little about the characters and their relationships. But when it becomes apparent that Steve is himself a reformed hooligan - sort of obvious from the beginning, anyway, and aggressively more so as the story progresses - it's harder to believe that he couldn't have imagined the potential consequences.
Emma: OK: the conclusion, where Matt has 'grown' and learned from his experiences. Cliched or touching?
Lauren: Great question! The last scene left me feeling cold. It just didn't feel real. The revenge fantasy wasn't even realized.
Emma: I have to disagree! It worked for me. My only problem was that the voiceover as Matt travels back from London, where he reflects upon the impact of his trip, was a little bit "I would never be the same again after that summer", you know?
Lauren: Totally. Maybe that's when I turned off. I guess it didn't convey enough to me about the outcome. It was definitely "everything has changed," but I didn't see how much in concrete terms. Although he does care more, so I guess it's effective in that sense since his passivity is utterly striking as the story begins.
Emma: In a way I think it was brave: the film aimed to show the positive impact on an innocent protagonist of kinship with a violent disfunctional gang. Tall order! The fact that it was just about achieved, is, I think, pretty impressive.
Lauren: I agree. It is an extraordinary film in several regards. The intense violence often overshadows a very well crafted, original story.
Emma: And this is not a sentence I would expect to hear myself utter, but the fight scenes were quite beautifully choreographed.
Lauren: It was a sexy, brutal film.
Le Cineclub Rating:
(four out of a possible five peonies)