Saturday, 13 February 2016

On demand: "Out Of The Rubble"

A glass-half-empty viewer might perceive Out of the Rubble as a snapshot of the British film industry in this austerity moment: a twenty-minute item cobbled together out of old images gleaned from the national archive, partly because there's precious little money left in the cultural purse to facilitate the creation of new ones. This has become a common pastime among filmmakers these past few years - think of Bill Morrison's The Miners' Hymns, Martin Wallace's The Big Melt, Kim Longinotto's Love is All and, most recently, Benedikt Erlingsson's The Show of Shows - and it's hard not to think of the practice as a way for creatives to keep their hand in without incurring vast expense, the cinematic equivalent of foraging for scraps in the bins round the back of Sainsbury's. (In our brave new freelancing world, we are all beggars of a kind.)

The director Penny Woolcock has been here before, surveying British coastal life in 2012's From the Sea to the Land Beyond. With this latest collage, she's addressing the pressing issue of national housing policy, and venturing an instructive contrast between the building boom of the post-War years and what's going on today; the rubble of form (handfuls of material sourced from bigger constructions) will come to align with the rubble of content. Some of this content will be familiar to anybody raised on the Government information films of the 1950s onwards: again, you can't help but be struck by the naive enthusiasm displayed by our founding fathers around the creation of new towns like Stevenage, or the official attempts to paint Birmingham's Bull Ring as exotic, and Milton Keynes as a model of diversity. Yet by stitching together the evidence of these projects, Woolcock and her editor Alex Fry shine a light on the utopian ideals underpinning each one: this was a moment when the powers-that-be were minded to at least try and do something for the people.

Woolcock establishes her own seriousness of intent by ditching the droney-ambient scores that have traditionally been a feature of these collages, the better to hear out a variety of voices that reflect historical and contemporary attitudes to the places we live in. You can not only hear but feel that post-War optimism slipping away as the film reaches the mid-1960s - the moment of Cathy Come Home - when the authorities' preferred solution to the swelling population (baby boomers, a sudden influx of migrants) was to throw up unprepossessing concrete blocks; if you think that's grim, it pales beside the current regime's preference for selling off public housing, either to private landlords, or to developers keen to convert the country entire into luxury flats. Though possessed of a comparatively short running time, Rubble offers plentiful, potent illustration of the miserable drift from neighbourhoods and community to faceless corporate superstructures, ivory towers surrounded by slums as far as the eye can see: here, as elsewhere in her filmography, Woolcock's images capture something of the deep and deleterious division Britain now appears to be heading towards. 

Out of the Rubble is now available to view for free on the BFI Player.

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