It was disappointing to see that the great Ken Loach had joined Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe a good kicking this week.
It appears to be open season on Marvel films. Loach is the latest auteur director to brutally dismiss the hulking superhero movies for sullying the good name of cinema.
I am a big fan of the legendary 83-year-old auteur’s work -–he is after all responsible for The Greatest Film Ever Made – but I think he has created a false binary.
We cinema-goers are being offered, it seems, a stark choice.
We can either indulge in hours of mindless, escapist fun by watching the adventures of Iron Man, Thor and Wonder Woman. Or we can watch thought-provoking works of art which have important things to say about the condition of human existence.
This is a false dichotomy. We can do both.
Ken Loach reflects on Kes half a century on from classic Barnsley-based film
ake The Greatest Film Ever Made, aka Kes. 50 years after Loach’s masterpiece was released, the Yorkshire-based film about a working-class boy’s obsession with a bird of prey can still be enjoyed, on one level, as an escapist fantasy.
On top of a deserted hill overlooking a grim Barnsley council estate, Billy Casper – half boy, half pigeon – seeks solace in his soaring kestrel.
Billy is not too different, however, to Peter Parker – half boy, half spider – the shy misfit who is bullied, tormented and humiliated by his peers and escapes by climbing up walls, slinging the odd web and bringing bad men to justice.
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At the same time, both Kes and Spiderman have important things to say about the human condition.
Why, then, has Loach decided to dig his ideological claws into the superhero genre and condescendingly declare that it has “nothing to do with the art of cinema”? Why, indeed, has Scorsese likened the comic-book films to “theme parks”, also adding they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, to be described as cinema?
Why has Coppola gone even further than his fellow veteran directors, berating Spidey and co as “despicable”?
I’m not, it has to be said, a huge fan of the genre. It’s not my cup of tea. But, like Westerns, conspiracy thrillers and gangster movies, there are some wonderful examples of Marvel movies and some complete turkeys.
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A few years ago, I taught a group of children who attended the school where Kes had been filmed. Some of them were into Marvel comics, others were into football. Several were into both and I encouraged them to look at the themes, mythologies and fantasies that connected their two great passions.
One session was taught by the poet Ian McMillan, my fellow Yorkshire Post columnist, who argued that Kes had “the power of a parable or a folktale.”
The Bard of Barnsley explained: “It is our town’s defining myth. Our Moby Dick, our Great Expectations, our Things Fall Apart. Our Great Gatsby, our Grapes of Wrath. It’s our creation myth and the tale we tell each other to remind ourselves that we are worth writing about, that our story is worth telling. Here is our little town presented as a place where epic things can happen.”
Although they originated on different sides of the Atlantic, both Casper and Parker were created in the 1960s as the voices of disenfranchised, disconnected anti-heroes trying to navigate an increasingly individualised, divided, atomised world.
For this reason the characters both retain an important place in popular culture and promote a message that still resonates to this day.
It’s not an overtly political message. Nor is it simply about the ultimate supremacy of good over evil. It’s far more complicated than that.
It’s about how so-called misfits – society’s outsiders – are able to overcome life’s obstacles and make emotional and psychological connections with other human beings and not be dismissed by “the establishment” as freaks of nature.
Loach might loftily dismiss Marvel movies as “boring…capitalist commodities…like hamburgers…a cynical exercise” and so on.
But the great man should know that, to the Barnsley boys and girls Ian and I taught on our creative writing course, Billy Casper was just as much a superhero as Spiderman.