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1974 David Peace Critique Essay

The second movie, “Red Riding: 1980,” glossed up with 35-millimeter film and directed by James Marsh with an elegant, self-conscious visual style at odds with the grunge milieu and desperate crimes — dead bodies are as attractively framed as some clouds reflected in a window — pivots on Peter Hunter (a solid Paddy Considine). An outsider brought into Yorkshire to conduct an internal review of the police investigation of the so-called (true life) Yorkshire Ripper murders, Hunter soon enough becomes the hunted. At the same time, a local detective, Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey), who appears in the background of the first movie, steps closer to the center, while a clergyman, Martin Laws (Peter Mullan), edges further into view. Both men become focal points in the final movie.

As the trilogy unwinds, the violence keeps the action hopping and you occasionally gagging, either in revulsion at its severity or at the tender, loving care with which it has been art directed. Meanwhile, some of the actors, notably Mark Addy, who plays a lawyer unkindly named Piggott in the third movie, and Rebecca Hall, who plays a grieving mother in the first, firmly hold your attention, which is striking, given that the story’s totalizing worldview doesn’t allow for much variation in human behavior. In a universe populated by victims and victimizers, there is screaming and shouting, but no joy, little laughter, barely any pleasure: when Piggott tells a joke, it proves more of a jolt than any death because it’s comparatively rare.

If the characters are generally deprived of life’s small and large pleasures, there is some enjoyment for the viewer, who can admire how different characters melt in and out of the trilogy, gaining and fading in importance, as supporting players in one movie become the star attractions in the next, and vice versa. A relatively minor player in the first film, for instance, a male hustler, B J (Robert Sheehan), steps forward in the second chapter only to jump into the spotlight in the third, becoming a force of change, an intermittent narrator and (weak) voice of conscience. Several members of the police force remain constants, including two professional sociopaths, Bob (an excellent, terrifying Sean Harris) and Tommy (Tony Mooney).

If you stick through to the end of the trilogy, you will be treated to further brutal displays, now in digital, as Anand Tucker, the director of the third movie, “Red Riding: 1983,” attempts to tie up the ragged ends through the combined efforts of B J, Maurice and Piggott, who each hurtle down to their own private hells via flurries of flashbacks. Although Mr. Tucker brings welcome warmth and unexpected humor to the series (thanks mainly to Mr. Addy), he stumbles badly when, after a teasing buildup, he reveals the marble-white body of a murdered girl who, while grossly disfigured, also looks as beautiful as a carved Della Robbia angel. The murderer has turned her ravaged body into an aesthetic exhibit, an assault Mr. Tucker mimics.

The “Red Riding” trilogy looks fine blown up on the big screen, though it’s easier to watch at home, where the remote offers fast relief from a grim fiction that, with its murky palette and unyielding cruelty, serves up a nihilistic vision that is unyielding, hermetic, unpersuasive and finally self-indulgent. What matters most in the books is Mr. Peace’s scatting prose and imaginative hijacking of real tragedies for his Grand Guignol fantasies, which brings to mind James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), but danker and without the obvious glee that Mr. Ellroy takes in his own work. What matters in the movies are some of the performances and the slickly packaged sadism. Nothing else on screen is at stake, certainly not life or hope.

In 1940, a year after Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Orwell wrote that ours was a “shrinking world” in which, the “ ‘democratic vistas’ have ended in barbed wire.” In the “Red Riding” movies that world has shrunk to the size of a pebble: it’s hard, unblemished by variation and very, very small. And the democratic vistas aren’t behind barbed wire: they’re nonexistent, which makes for entertaining nightmares but not dreams.

“There is less feeling of creation and growth,” Orwell continued, “less and less emphasis on the cradle, endlessly rocking, more and more emphasis on the teapot, endlessly stewing. To accept civilization as it is practically means accepting decay. It has ceased to be a strenuous attitude and become a passive attitude — even ‘decadent,’ if that word means anything.”

RED RIDING TRILOGY

Red Riding: 1974

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Julian Jarrold; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, Rob Hardy; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by Adrian Johnston; production designer, Cristina Casali; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Sean Bean (John Dawson), Warren Clarke (Bill Molloy), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven), Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas) and Rebecca Hall (Paula Garland).

Red Riding: 1980

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by James Marsh; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, Igor Martinovic; edited by Jinx Godfrey; music by Dickon Hinchliffe; production designer, Tomas Burton; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Paddy Considine (Peter Hunter), Maxine Peake (Helen Marshall), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Tony Pitts (John Nolan), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven) and Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas).

Red Riding: 1983

Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Anand Tucker; written by Tony Grisoni, adapted from the novels by David Peace; director of photography, David Higgs; edited by Trevor Waite; music by Barrington Pheloung; production designer, Alison Dominitz; produced by Andrew Eaton, Anita Overland and Wendy Brazington; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Mark Addy (John Piggott), Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Robert Sheehan (B J), Sean Harris (Bob Craven), and Tony Mooney (Tommy Douglas).

1974: The Red Riding Trilogy Part 1

  • DirectorJulian Jarrold

  • WritersDavid Peace (Novel), Tony Grisoni

  • StarsAndrew Garfield, David Morrissey, John Henshaw

  • RatingNot Rated

  • Running Time1h 42m

  • GenresCrime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

  • Movie data powered by IMDb.com
    Last updated: Nov 2, 2017
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Red Or Dead is a masterpiece. David Peace already has a considerable reputation but this massive, painstaking account of the career of Bill Shankly towers above his previous work. It's usual when praising a sports novel for critics to claim that "it's not really about baseball/running/beach volleyball – the sport is a metaphor". Make no mistake, this book is about football. Unremittingly, uncompromisingly about football. It's what Shankly would have wanted. For Shankly, ephemera such as life, love and death could be metaphors for football, never the other way round. Football was the thing itself.

Red Or Dead tells the story of how an unambitous, conservative board of directors, concerned only with ensuring a profit clicked through the turnstiles, inadvertently hired a charismatic, visionary socialist who revolutionised the game and would like to have revolutionised the nation. Inexplicably – maybe he was bluffing – Shankly tendered his resignation in 1974 while still only 60, and at the height of his success. On YouTube you can find a clip of the young Granada reporter Tony Wilson breaking the news to passersby in Liverpool. They're disbelieving and heartbroken. The board too were disbelieving – in the sense that they couldn't believe their luck. In retirement Shankly was cast aside, made more welcome at Goodison Park than at Anfield. He had no role in the future of the club he created. The phone never stopped ringing but it was never the call he hoped for. Peace gives the rejection of Shankly a Shakespearean grandeur. There are echoes of Coriolanus and Lear but also of the experience of every Premier League fan. For of all the forms of love there are in this world there is none so cruelly, gleefully unrequited as the love of a fan for a Premier League club. Fans will go to the grave decked in club scarves, the club anthem their eternal ringtone. Clubs reciprocate that love in ways that make Enron look like the Salvation Army. The Premier League is not a metaphor of a dysfunctional society, it is its fullest expression – a grotesquely overpaid, underperforming elite utterly disconnected from the communities from which its clubs take their names.

Of course, it wasn't like that in Shankly's time. Part of the appeal of Red Or Dead is our collective yearning for those "jumpers for goalposts" days so beautifully evoked in Gary Imlach's book My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes. Here is Shankly living modestly, close to the ground, working out his strategy with cutlery on the kitchen table, cleaning the cooker to clear his mind. Here he is replying to every piece of fan mail, answering the door to kids who want him to come and referee for them, giving them their bus fare home. Here he stops the team's official bus to pick up hitchhiking away fans, ordering his players to share their sandwiches with them. Is this nostalgia? We live in a country in which huge chunks of the public utilities and infrastructure are run for the benefit not of the nation or the customers but for shareholders slumped in front of Antiques Roadshow. Is it nostalgia to remind ourselves that there was once a man who ran a football club not for the sponsors, not for the board, not for himself but for the fans – or, as he called them, the People? And that this worked?

There have been more successful managers. Shankly's not even the most successful manager of LFC. The difference between Shankly and, say, Paisley or Ferguson is the difference between Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. Lewis ran faster but Owens ran for a reason. Shankly's reasons could not be more relevant. Red Or Dead is radical not just in the narrow political sense. I can't think when I last came across a serious piece of fiction or TV drama in which the working-class characters weren't busy killing or abusing one another. Peace himself wrote the novel on which the beyond-parody C4 series Red Riding (aka "Gritty Bafta") was based. Here he has changed tack and written a book about what it means to be good, about the sheer work it takes to be good, about the challenge of staying good when the world treats you badly. Like the Book of Job or The Little Princess, it's a game of two halves. Will Shankly retain as an outcast the grace and integrity he showed when he was a deity? There's a heartbreaking scene in a cafe on Eaton Road. It's raining outside. He hands a stranger his umbrella, not out of magnanimity but out of respect for the fact that the man has to go to work whereas he himself has time to sit and wait for the rain to stop.

This is an openly hagiographical work. There are scenes here of Shankly remembering each of his players in his prayers, almost as shocking to the modern reader as Leopold Bloom masturbating must have been to the reader of nearly a 100 years ago. Like most hagiographies, it's monumental. Team sheets, match reports, the full texts of interviews with Harold Wilson and Shelley Rohde, everything is in here. I didn't feel qualified to say whether it was all accurate so I went to visit my friend Peter Hooton – one of the founders of the Liverpool supporters' union the Spirit of Shankly – who said the only mistake he could find was that they keep leaving the "k" out of Kirkby. This level of detail, coupled with Peace's usual schtick of short, repetitive phrases can make the book a tough read. "In the ninth minute, Ian St John scored. In the 72nd minute, Roger Hunt scored. In the last minute, in the very last minute, St John scored again."

When it's good it sounds like Homer. When it's bad it sounds like an infinity of goal alerts. I know that when my dad reads it he will gorge himself on that exhaustive list of remembered goals but others will find it too much. The temptation to skip pages is enormous. I asked Peter, as a football fan, what he thought. He said: "I want to go out and knock on doors like a Jehovah's Witness and read this book to people." Which is surely the point. For a long time now literary fiction has concerned itself with telling it like it is – with power, corruption and lies – or telling it like it was – Tudors. This isn't a book about the way things were or the way things are. This is a book about the way things should be.

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