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  Scum Just going for a burn in the greenhouse sir.....
Year: 1979
Director: Alan Clarke
Stars: Ray Winstone, Mick Ford, Martin Philips, Davidson Knight, John Blundell, Phil Daniels, Perry Benson
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 6 votes)
Review: I have learnt two things from prison dramas:

1. If I was ever facing jail I would fill every waking second of my bail time benching weights, shaving my head and growing a beard.

2. If ‘The Baron’ asked me to put on his wife’s perfume and paint my nails, I’d transfer to solitary. Mind you they say it only hurts the first time.

Originally made for the BBC in 1977, Scum was initially banned but remade as a feature film in 1979. I have never seen the original and it would be interesting to see how it compares to the remake.

The film centres around a British Borstal and the arrival of three new inmates; an Afro-Carribean boy named Angel (Davidson Knight), the timid Davis (Martin Philips) with Ray Winstone reprising his original role as Carlin, a shrewd and experienced young man, whose reputation for violence precedes him.

The old Borstal system contemptuously contained its inmates in a human zoo with little or no programs to rehabilitate the directionless and confused young boys, supervised by Warders who were equally frustrated by rigid and counterproductive rules. What then ensues is a power struggle between the Borstal’s various hard men or ‘Daddies’ for control of the institution’s lucrative black market. The Warders run a slick ship and already have their own ‘Daddy’ in place. Pongo keeps the other inmates in check when the Warders aren’t around and in turn receives a few privileges. Naturally the Warders are anxious not to have their man usurped by a volatile new inmate such as Carlin. But, alas, Carlin’s adversaries grossly underestimate who has just arrived at their Borstal and his ascension to the role of 'Daddy' is swift and violent with those who have conspired against him being clinically dealt with.

No matter how uncomfortable it is to watch, Scum looks to expose the faults in the system. Initially the self-assured Carlin just wants to get through his time, but he is drawn into the violent undercurrent which is a created by a combination of inmates, staff and the inflexible rule system.

I’ve always thought Winstone was a legend ever since I saw him beat Kathy Burke into a miscarriage in 'Nil By Mouth' and the skilful way he adapted the word ‘cunt’ into ‘cunting’. Only Winstone could deliver a line like "You’d better rub some coal dust on those wounds!"

Made at a time when black people were awkwardly struggling to find an identity with bad hair and tight arse trousers (keep an eye out for the Will Smith lookalike), director Alan Clarke and scriptwriter Roy Minton created an environment ruled by fascistic white people where racial abuse is disturbingly casual, almost throwaway, demonstrated by the way the young black inmate Angel impassively accepts the slurs without complaint. But you’ve got to admit the kick-about in the gym between A-Block and B-Block is a classic and reminds me of my old P.E classes; it was completely adlibbed by the young actors who seem to be having a whale of a time, and I can’t help thinking that Winstone and co carried on rucking long after the director anxiously screamed cut.

You can pass time between the beatings by playing ‘Spot the soap journeyman’ or ‘Whose got the biggest afro?’ but there’s also some interesting moments featuring the intellectual Archer (Mick Ford) who is the liberal voice of reason amongst the insane violence. There’s also the pitiful scene in which Woods (Tony London) hopelessly offers one of the Warders a puppy which is actually quite sad when you think about it.

But enough sentimentality – let’s get onto the infamous butt-raping scene!!!!! No music, no cutaway and from my detailed analysis; no lube, and lets face it Davis must have an arse like a mouse’s ear! Unfortunately the first time I watched this my dad happened to be in the room in what I now remember as the most awkward few minutes of my life. Another thing I don’t get, if my memory serves me correctly, one of the boys just ‘holds’ and doesn’t jump in on the action. What’s that about? If you’re going to commit a random act of sexual deviance, at least get your money’s worth! But I suppose some days there’s only so much juice you can squeeze out. Personally I think Davis got off lightly, at least they didn’t go to work on him with a broom handle, or spit roast him, or rim him, or feltch him, or wolf-bag him. Er, anyway, I would have laughed my arse off if instead of crying hysterically, Davis had just picked himself up and carried on potting the plants as if nothing had happened! Critics often express their disgust at the voyeuristic prison Warder Mr Sands (John Judd) who looks on with a smile during the rape, but after that scene I turned to see my dad sitting there with exactly the same smile on his face (I stopped letting him shower me after that!).

The film generally offers a semi-realistic insight into prison dynamics, a place so insular that small wars can be fought over a few pence. Despite this, the villainous prison staff often come across as a bit panto, Carlin essentially is a psychopath and the comradeship during the climatic riot doesn’t quite ring true. In reality I doubt any of the inmates would have given a shit about Davis’ suicide, worrying more about who was going to get his empty cell.

Like the film Sleepers, the Borstal depicted in Scum, out in the middle of nowhere, inescapable and unremitting, is surely one of the most realistic and depressing incantations of hell on earth you’ll ever find and if you didn’t laugh you’d cry. Though the system has changed over the years, individuals such as Carlin, Pongo and Mr Sands have not so I’m off to cancel my child porn subscription and pray I never get sent down.
Reviewer: Phil Michaels

 

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