25 August 2011

Kes vs. Terri

I woke up in today's early morning hours with a thought on my mind: it seems fair to compare and contrast Ken Loach's Kes with Azazel Jacobs's Terri. I terribly wanted to return to my sleep and consider the matter again at a later time, but I could not fall asleep again and remained restless. Similarities and dissimilarities kept popping into my mind, and the cinematic kinship seemed so urgent and important that I felt a little rush of excitement in even considering it, which was counterproductive to falling back asleep. I also could not pinpoint, to my satisfaction, the fundamental distinction.

Sorry, but I still don't have the answer.

Part of me thinks that Kes is a more authentic film because of its relaxed dramatic structure and use of more non- and semi-professional actors, but another part of me thinks I can't make this claim without having lived and breathed in its time and place, and also because the film has a lyrical and sometimes literary quality that prohibits it from being completely naturalistic. It's based on a book; adapted by the author, Barry Hines, with credited contributions by director Ken Loach and key collaborator and producer Tony Garnett.

In these two films filmic technique and thematic intention are intertwined - each necessary for the other's full shape. It doesn't seem fair, despite the use of more professional actors, to accuse Terri of being more artificial. Both films are composed of dramatic sequences, and though the sequences are breathing, and wish to capture the feeling of reality and being, the fact is that deliberate dramatic tools are used to achieve this, and I don't think in one film more than the other. Both films temper their dramatic forces with sprinkles of characters who and moments that represent oppositional or clarifying elaborations - part of a structural design that takes additional steps to avoid on-the-nose-ness. I won't give away specifics, but, to address crucial final moments, it's true that both films depict tribulations of powerful emotional importance that are achieved by film-long buildups to catastrophic moments.

Some characteristics that I considered are difficult to give relative values. I like that Kes is bereft of a sentimental love subplot, but I like that Terri includes a troubled, complicated love subplot. In my opinion, Billy Casper (David Bradley) from Kes is simply a more lively and interesting kid, his environment has more beauty, and training hawks is more captivating than killing rodents. But then, that's to say that Kes is really a film about sometimes escaping and always wanting to escape harsh conditions, and Terri is a film that meshes misery and hope. The components of Terri that are awful or boring or ugly are part of the film's chemistry, and to remove them would be to falsify, ruin. In Kes there is terribleness too, but the strength of Billy's spirit is so radiant, so like pure and gorgeous, that it's him we remember most of all. Does that mean Terri is the more honest film then, or does it mean that Kes is the better film, or does it mean something else or nothing at all?

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