Fat Hands

she used to sit in this cafe, and just face the wall. And it wasn’t coffee she was drinking

Films Down The Barbeque

Posted by Alix on 8 December 2005

We went to see St Etienne’s ‘What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day’ last night, at the Barbican. It was enjoyable but I left feeling a bit uneasy at the way the lower Lea Valley was portrayed – I felt it was over romanticised; that the sense of a traditional past being eroded was overplayed. I know that the notion of disappearing London was thematically important, and that a nostalgic romanticism can bring a degree of poignancy to this sort of subject matter, but it felt wrong here. Perhaps because I am becoming increasingly familiar with the area, and perhaps because it was acknowledged that the filmmakers were not especially familiar with the area, which made it feel that there was an element of bourgeois tourism of a traditionally working class area – sort of taking pleasure in the quaintness of east Londoner’s lives, but lacking genuine engagement with the community. I know I am guilty at times of viewing some places at a remove from their full reality – with a tendency to enjoy the neglect and dereliction in isolation from the reasons why neglect occurs in the first place, and the lives this affects, but I think that when you start trying to include the experiences of the people and communities involved it is too easy to slip into voyeurism and possibly unwarranted sentimentalism. In its defence while it did focus on the decrepit parts of the Lea Valley that no one apart from filmmakers will miss (burnt out cars, abandoned warehouses) it also highlighted, quite poignantly the cafes, recreation grounds and allotments that are proper treasures which will be a sad loss for the local community when they vanish in the Olympic redevelopment.
I think it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film, which wouldn’t be true. It’s just that there were a few tiny niggles that appear to have grown into something more. And, apropos of nothing, I’d like to point out that I find Sarah Cracknell’s voice annoying at times.
They also showed 2 shorts – Today’s Special, which was about London cafes, and one from the 50s about the Festival of Britain, which looked like great fun. I wish the South Bank was still like that.

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