We’re soaked in social realism. Our country’s independent cinema seemingly erected as a shrine to telling the tales of ‘ard Britain and ‘ow ‘ard it is to live ‘ere. For the most part it’s overkill, and we’re probably not far off a Ken Loach/Asher D grime battle epic which takes place exclusively in Plan B’s mind, on some kind of ketamine time-dilated, 21 Seconds meets The Never Ending Story trip. That said, social realism isn’t always such a bad thing, and I’d look pointedly at some great films such as Made In Britain (1982) and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962) as shining examples of how this style of cinema can work. It is in this vein that we find Black & White. A story of a young man caught up in poverty and the misplaced exuberance of youth.
His story is as simple as they come: he can’t get along with his mother, his Northern council estate upbringing has brought him down, and he’s mixed up in the wrong crowd.
Like pretty much all films this is a story about choice. The choice of the local council to cut funding to the youth centre. The choice of the the education system to give Dean a chance and ultimately Dean’s choice as to whether he gets involved in a robbery. When the community worker tells him that the centre has been closed, that it’s padlocked shut and not even he can get in, you feel finally as if the young man has no choices left. Speaking directly, Dean offers an insight into his predicament;
“It’s one of them things init, you know where they lock us out of here, so they can keep us on the street and get us in trouble… I’m not someone to easily give up on something, but it’s not even worth fighting for.”
It’s the corruption of a youthful mind, fettered by a sense of blamelessness, paranoia and a lack of fight. His life is lit by a blinding white rage, fostered by an underlying sense of inequality and poor education. A story told a thousand times before, it doesn’t offer anything new in terms of substance, but it’s its style that rings true.
Throughout the film we are treated to a ream of camera and editing techniques. The jumping and jutting of shots and styles seem to denote the inconsistencies of the psyche. The cut to cut, bobbing and weaving camera is a mind stretched, compressed, and fundamentally oppressed by the world at large. As Dean walks through a shop, his eyes flitting from aisle to aisle – and as we flit from black and white to a faded yellowed hue then natural lighting – we are watching a cursed kid in a den of affluence, his vision blurred by his desires and his decisions. Peppered throughout with interview-style scenes, it feels at points as if we’re genuinely peering into a world that we can all relate to.
An uneventful script saved by its direction, Ash Morris has done himself justice in the editing room and crafted what I’d consider an accomplished short.