Tag Archives: 1990s

Following (1998)

Following (1998)

“The following is my explanation,” begins our narrator (Jeremy Theobald), as he looks to give an account of his recent shadowing exploits to an inquisitor (John Nolan). The shadowing involves picking people at random on London’s streets and following them around, seeing where they go and what they do. However, for the main character in British noir Following (1998, 70 mins), a struggling writer looking for inspiration in people, his following becomes an obsession and, even with self-imposed rules in place, he can’t help getting involved further, which leads him into a shady underworld of crime.

With no budget, the film is financially a million miles away from the budgets Christopher Nolan would later work with in Inception (2010) and his Batman trilogy (2005 – 2012), but here we see that his interest in identity and non-linear narrative was already well developed. The narrator shows up one minute with long hair and beard and then is clean shaven the next. In one scene his face is beaten up, and the following scene sees it intact. As a straight narrative it is arguable that Following may not have worked as well because the jumbled scenes give hints at what is to come without ever implying where we are in the narrative and creates a sense of mystery. For a story being recounted, this format may be an accurate portrayal of such a telling, as the mind does wander, hinting at what it to come or shooting off at tangents to fill in the back story.

The narrator (credited as The Young Man, although he gives his name as both David Lloyd and Bill in the film) gets in too deep when one of his tails (Alex Haw) turns out to have known he was being followed. He introduces himself as Cobb, a burglar, and begins mentoring him on how to break and enter. Cobb, however, gets his kicks not from stealing but from invading lives, understanding them, and messing around with them. In one house he tucks a pair of woman’s underwear into some trousers for the imagined fallout it may cause. “You take it away and show them what they have,” he says, on the subject of interrupting lives.

The Young Man returns to the scene of one crime, finding himself more and more intrigued by a blonde woman (Lucy Russell), especially now that he has stolen photos of her. While they begin a relationship, there is always, lurking at the back of the mind, her previous partner, a club owner (Dick Bradsell) with interests in operations criminal. How Cobb reacts to his student getting involved with their targets is to be expected, but the overarching narrative is far more complicated and Following becomes a game of who knows who, who’s following who, and who, ultimately, will come out on top.

While the overall story may seem a bit contrived, it works on its own terms. It feels reduced to the barest bones it need be to tell its tale and that is likely due to budgetary restraints. This is, after all, a movie made before a career was born. Shot completely in black and white on 16mm film, the cast is presumably friends and family, some of whom would go on to acting careers while others would never act again. There’s no money for special effects (what’s off camera is infinitely more horrific anyway) but what there is is a whole lot of heart and playfulness. Its limited locations never inspire a sense of claustrophobia and its non-linear nature leaves clues for repeated watching. When the ending comes all the strands knot together and these interrupted lives are shown what they had.

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Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

Fifteen years after the events of Juvenile Liaison (1976), Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill returned to Blackburn in Lancashire to trace the children they had filmed. Although the premise of returning to subjects is nothing new — Michael Apted‘s Up series had been doing that for years — this was not just a dropping in on old friends but a means of again exploring the legacy of both the scheme and the original film upon the lives of those featured. The result was Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990, 78 mins.), which in a marked change from the original saw Broomfield insert himself prominently into the film. From observing the interrogations he had now become the interrogator.

In all but one case the children, now grown, remained in Blackburn. Glenn, the young boy terrified by the bullish Sergeant Ray, lives in London, stacking shelves in Safeway. Asked about that infamous encounter he admits it had an effect on him in that it kept him out of trouble. Interestingly, fifteen years on, his responses are terse, practically monosyllabic as he stares reflectively beyond the camera. There’s the sense that the first encounter left some traumatic mark. However, there’s little meat for whatever narrative the directors wish to create, and so they move on.

There’s more enlightening interviews with the other children. Some, like Glenn, have left their misdemeanours behind, while others’ lives have been miserable thenceforth. One guy, Russell, is facing prison on twelve counts of burglary. Saddest however is the life of George, the crying boy dragged from his bed by Sergeant Ray. Now thirty and estranged from his family, he clearly has a mental disability and has been receiving psychiatric help for voices.

While we meet a number of participants from the first film, there are others that decline to be involved but closure is still given to, what in a narrative, may have constituted loopholes. In one scene we see Broomfield sitting on a hotel bed, microphone strapped to a phone receiver, calling Sergeant Ray. While the policeman, now retired, seems amiable enough to chat, he declines the chance to participate in the film, citing the original’s editing (“It made me look like an ogre, most of the time.”) and how it never showed the pleasant side of the scheme.

As we learn at the beginning, the original film was screened twice — in the House of Commons and also to those filmed — and from there it was banned. The great public debate it was expected to kickstart never happened, becoming only an internal police enquiry that found in its own favour. If there were questions to be asked of officers’ skills or suitability, they were never to be answered. If the film was “unbalanced”, as Ray suggests, can the unseen treats for children really bring parity to the acts shown? Sergeant Ray was seen as leading the way in the juvenile liaison scheme, so what’s shown is that it’s not just questions of individuals actions that are questionable but of the system also.

When it comes to asking those involved to stop looking back and instead to reveal what their futures hold, some have it worked out. Go live in America or buy a house. But there’s the sense that there are some dreams that will never come true. For Russell, with both ambitions and a criminal record, he’s under no illusion as to his future (“I’m a loser. That’s where I’ll go. Down, down, down. I know that for a fact.”). His life is a nightmare from which he will never wake up.

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