A Movie A Day #3: The Firm (1989, directed by Alan Clarke)

the-firm1The Firm, which should not be confused with the John Grisham novel or the Tom Cruise film adaptation, was a 70-minute film about football hooliganism that was made for the BBC’s Screen Two in 1989.  In the United States, it has never really been understood just how big a problem football hooliganism was in the United Kingdom in the 1980s.   That’s because, despite the best efforts of ESPN, most Americans don’t care about soccer.  In America, “soccer riot” sounds like the punchline of a bad joke.  But in Europe, it was a very real problem.  If you want to understand why some people call football hooliganism “the English Disease,” The Firm is the film to see.

Clive “Bex” Bissell (Gary Oldman) has a nice home, a well-paying job as an estate agent, a loving wife (played by Lesley Manville, who actually was married to Oldman at the time), a newborn son, and a large circle of friends.  He’s also the head of the Inner City Crew, a violent group of football hooligans (known as a firm) who follow West Ham United across Britain and pick fights with other firms.  (Bex is actually a second-generation football hooligan and his father is constantly complaining that the new generation isn’t tough or violent enough.)  Bex does it for the buzz.  As another member of the ICC puts it, after listening to a fatuous television commentator going on about how football hooligans are actually searching for some sort of larger meaning in their lives,  “Why doesn’t he just say that we like hitting people?”  With the 1988 European Championships coming up, Bex wants to unite all the regional firms into one national organization, with himself in charge.  To do that, he’ll have to defeat two rival firm leaders, Oboe (Andrew Wilde) and Yeti (Phil Davis).

For a film about people about who are willing to kill over association football, very little soccer is actually seen in The Firm.  The ICC plays a game, which is interrupted by Yeti driving across the field.  Later, Yeti and his lieutenants walk through a stadium, looking for a fight and ignoring the match being played in front of them.  Bex’s childhood bedroom is covered with newspaper clippings about West Ham United but Bex is more interested in the buzz than in football.

The Firm is full of classic scenes, from Bex initiating the newest member of the ICC to the disturbing moment that Bex’s son gets a hold of his knife to the final bar brawl.   For me, my favorite scene is when the three rival firms hold a meeting in a posh hotel room:

Along with featuring one of Gary Oldman’s best performances, The Firm was also the last film to be directed by the great Alan Clarke.  Making good use of the steadicam walking shots that he was famous for and taking an unflinching approach to the story’s violence, Clarke not only directed the definitive film about football hooliganism but also provided a portrait of life in the final years of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, we stay in Britain as Anthony Perkins fights terrorists in The Glory Boys.


Rally ‘Round The Flag: Errol Flynn in VIRGINIA CITY (Warner Brothers 1940)

cracked rear viewer


VIRGINIA CITY is a big, sprawling Western, filled with action, humor, and star quality. It’s the kind of movie they used to show around these parts every afternoon at 4 O’clock on DIALING FOR DOLLARS (George Allen was the local host), helping to spark my interest in classic films past, a flame which still burns bright today, two hours of pure entertainment, with square-jawed Errol Flynn going against square-jawed Randolph Scott backed by a Civil War setting and yet another sweepingly epic Max Steiner score.


We’re told “only the characters are fictional… The story is true” as we watch Union Captain Kerry Bradford (Flynn) and his two buddies Moose and Marblehead (Errol’s frequent co-stars/offscreen drinking compadres Alan Hale Sr and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams) attempt to tunnel their way out of Libby Prison, aka ‘The Devil’s Warehouse’, when they’re caught by commanding Captain Vance Irby (Scott). He tells them Confederate troops…

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Music Video of the Day: Waterloo by ABBA (1974, dir. Lasse Hallström)

I’m glad I am doing this as a retrospective. That way I can build upon their previous videos. What do we add this time?

We get the quick zooms at the beginning that people who grew up during the 1990s probably remember from the music video for the Rock Version of Ready To Go by Republica. Also, I know I will say it again when I get to a music video directed by Michael Bay, but one of the most important reasons that music videos are not to be ignored in the history of cinema is because they changed the way editing was done. This video is a good early example. Elected by Alice Cooper from 1972 and Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees from 1977 are better examples, but it’s still worth mentioning with Waterloo because it will become more noticeable when we get to videos like Take A Chance On Me and SOS. As you watch any of those videos, notice how it isn’t just a song played over a film, but a film and a song transformed into an integrated whole. That’s a big change from many films that came before music videos that used music in service of the film rather than it being a two-way street.

Also, while the phones were kind of stupid in that alternate version of Ring, Ring; the Napoleon bust nicely ties the band, song, and their costumes together with him to immediately set the theme and speed of the song.

There’s something subtle in this music video that is easy to miss. You still have the profile shots where they aren’t looking at the camera. You still have the shot through the girls to Benny on the piano. You have the addition of the girls looking at each other to sing. The thing that is subtle and easy to miss is that during the low angles, the band is all looking straightforward whereas they do look up when the camera shoots them from a high angle. You’ll see that featured prominently in SOS, as if they are looking up to you for help. Here it looks like they refuse to look down, but only straightforward and upward towards their future. The crane shots are also more impressive in this one, than Ring, Ring.

One of my favorite things about the video is the ending. Ring, Ring ended on a cheesy freeze-frame. This one has the camera move further and further between Frida and Agnetha until you are left with a blank white shot that it lingers on even after the song has stopped. It is a nice way to visually match the vocals drifting off because the camera is also drifting off of the subjects (the band). It also visually matches the song coming to an end.

One negative thing I can say is that an edit was left in at about one minute-and-five-seconds that feels like it is there to cover up a goof.


ABBA retrospective:

  1. Ring, Ring by ABBA (1973, dir. Lasse Hallström)
  2. Ring, Ring by ABBA (1973, dir. ???)