2 By Ken Loach: Riff-Raff / Raining Stones
Released by: Twilight Time
Released on: August, 2014.
Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emer McCourt, Ricky Tomlinson, Bruce Jones, Julie Brown
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Director Ken Loach is best known for KES, a 1970 film which routinely shows up in Top 10 lists for the greatest British films of all time. Loach’s beloved film utilizes a seemingly traditional boy-and-his-pet film as an excuse for turning his camera to the low-income mining communities in Yorkshire. Of course, KES’s strategies betrayed Loach’s socio-political concerns; in fact, he had already done a handful of working-class docudramas for the BBC television in the 1960s that set the template for his long filmmaking career. 2 BY KEN LOACH is a double-feature release from Twilight Time that shows the indefatigable auteur – 20+ years on from his earlier triumphs – continuing to explore the travails of the British working class.
The first feature is RIFF-RAFF (1991), an engaging look at construction workers who are building luxury flats in post-Thatcher England. The film follows Stevie (Robert Carlyle), a homeless man who shows up to the work site one day and asks his fellow workers if they know of an empty apartment where he can squat in. After getting set up by his new pals, Stevie quickly starts up a romance with Susan (Emer McCourt), an attractive but untalented pop singer. From then on, the film alternates between this relationship and slice-of-life scenes showing Stevie and his fellow co-workers at the construction site.
There’s not much of a narrative thrust to RIFF-RAFF but this is ultimately to the film’s benefit. The many pleasures of Loach’s film emerge from its laid-back observational style, something that a contrived plot would undermine. As in KES, Loach uses the story as a springboard to his larger political interests, although it is to Loach’s credit that his film never slips into didacticism. For example, one of Stevie’s co-workers is Larry (Ricky Tomlinson), a bleeding heart whose impassioned speeches about the “lumpenproletariat” are greeted with jeers by the other men on the job. Loach is working in the socialist realism mode but the film is unpretentious and never preachy. The film was written by Bill Jesse, a former construction worker, and indeed the film has a convincing air of authenticity about it. Given the film’s episodic structure, what one remembers about it are its better set-pieces, and thus RIFF-RAFF is a great example of a film worth more than the sum of its parts. The film features a great jazzy score by Stewart Copeland (the drummer for The Police, of course, but also boasting an accomplished soundtrack career as well) and performances are strong throughout.
The second feature on Twilight Time’s disc is RAINING STONES (1993), a film that won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Our protagonist this time out is Bob (Bruce Jones), a struggling family man who can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to work. With his daughter’s first communion looming in the near future, Bob is determined to buy a brand new (and expensive) dress for the occasion. Unfortunately, his work van gets stolen and Bob is reduced to scrambling for cash by taking on a series of dubious odd jobs. Although initially played for laughs, these misadventures eventually lead to tragedy as Bob is forced to borrow money from a local loan shark.
Although there’s more of a narrative this time around, the cumulative effect of RAINING STONES is very similar to that of RIFF-RAFF; both films are evocative of a milieu rather than an individual’s story. The Job-like struggle of Bob (the film’s almost biblical title playing wittily off its central idea of a patriarch undergoing these trials for a communion dress) may be the prime focus here but Loach seems just as interested in the characters that occupy the margins of his story. As in RIFF-RAFF, Loach fills his film with a mix of professional and non-professional actors, and the Manchester community that emerges feels true-to-life. Although the narrative perhaps shifts towards melodrama in the concluding act, RAINING STONES earns this pay-off by establishing a series of believable characters and populating them in a realistic working-class community. Copeland again contributes to the film's score, and his work here is a bit more brooding and atmospheric. Although I tend to respond to the more rough-around-the-edges naturalism of RIFF-RAFF, Loach has achieved something impressive here.
RIFF-RAFF and RAINING STONES make their hi-def debut via Twilight Time’s impressive Blu-ray release. RIFF-RAFF is presented in a 1080p transfer in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film is a low budget affair shot on grainy stock, and the transfer reflects this fact. That being said, the print is in very good shape and aside from the liberal grain there is great detail present throughout. There are no glaring errors to report. RAINING STONES is presented in a 1080p transfer in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation on this feature is much more impressive, given the higher quality film stock, although the results are comparable; naturalistic grain, good detail, no glitches. Overall an excellent job on the video front by Twilight Time.
RIFF-RAFF’s audio track is a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track and RAINING STONES’s audio is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. In a situation parallel to that of the video presentation, the audio tracks on these two features reflect the budgetary restraints. As such, RAINING STONES’s stereo track sounds better but both are faithful representations and are free from any noticeable errors. Unfortunately, neither film features subtitles, which is a shame because many of the characters have thick accents that sometimes obscures what they’re saying.
On the extras front, Twilight Time gives us the Isolated Music & Effects Tracks for both features and they both sound great. Stewart Copeland’s jazz scores complement the action of both films very well, although I have a bit more of a fondness for his work with RIFF-RAFF. Julie Kirgo does an excellent job on the liner notes.
The Final World:
Although he’ll always be known as the man who directed KES, these two working-class comedies show that Ken Loach kept making excellent films throughout his career. The liner notes to this double-feature release confirm that Twilight Time are currently working on bringing at least two more of Loach’s features to Blu-ray, which is a cause for celebration. Highly recommended.
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