A story about a troubled boy growing up in England, set in 1983. He comes across a few skinheads on his way home from school, after a fight. They become his new best friends even like family. Based on experiences of director Shane Meadows.
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I was not expecting much from '16 Years of Alcohol'. Perhaps an overly sentimental look back at Scottish urban life, perhaps a neo-realist bleakness. But when it started with hypnotically beautiful images of Edinburgh and a voice-over in that recognisable cadence, with repeating cycles of words drawing out every ounce of meaning from clichés like "hope"... well, I knew that I was firmly in Richard Jobson territory, and that maybe he has always been a film-maker at heart. He skirts cliché while playing with it, trying to show the violence endemic in that society and making many references to other films ('Clockwork Orange', westerns, 'Trainspotting', Martin Scorsese, etc.). It is larger than life and demonstrates how the mythic archetypes shape the characters rather too small for the roles they want to adopt.
Kevin McKidd is brilliant as "Frankie", a character the amalgam of Jobson and his brother; I kept forgetting he was not in fact Jobson. The women are incredibly beautiful and yet have a depth of character not commonly seen in films that make women into such visual feasts. They are saviour archetypes but again somehow avoid cliché. How is Jobson doing this? There is some subtle artistry at work here. The cinematography is gorgeous and I was glad for the snippet of Skids on the soundtrack, though 'Love is the Drug' gets the best treatment in a scene that is both scary and hilarious.
The film is dedicated to Jobson's brother, who did not escape the life of alcohol and violence and was murdered a couple of years ago. In the post-film talk at the Dublin Film Festival, Jobson revealed he had in fact run with the most notoriously violent of Edinburgh's youth gangs, until Skids took him away from that. This is quite obviously a very personal film and yet a highly aestheticised interpretation as well.
I did not want the film to end, and would gladly have sat through it a second time immediately. Maybe it's just where I'm at in my life right now. Maybe it's because I have spent so many hours over the years infiltrated by Jobson's aesthetic. Maybe it's just a damned good film.
'16 Years of Alcohol' won Richard Jobson the award for Directorial Debut at the British Independent Film Awards. It has received glowing reviews from Time Out, The Guardian, and Sight and Sound. It has played at festivals the world over. Forget the dismal comments of those too cynical to enjoy real film-making. See this poetic triumph for yourself.
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