Political Film Society - Newsletter #86 - November 1, 2000

November 1, 2000


RatcatcherIn Ratcatcher, Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, Jr., who also plays an acting role in the film, presents a vivid picture of the working class slums in Glasgow with a very different slant from Ken Loach's My Name Is Joe (1999). Before World War II, sociologists used to think that slumdwellers engaged in deviant behavior, lived in a disorganized state, and were alienated. But then sociologists never went to the poorer parts of town, with all the garbage, rats, and other signs of squalor -- that is, until sociologist William Foote Whyte's classic book Streetcorner Society (1943) buried that conception after a year of observation in the Italian working class part of Boston. Whyte marveled at how well slum residents related to one another in a communitarian manner. The social problem, in short, was that mainstream society refused to deal with the "lower classes," and the implication was that "war on poverty" programs had a chance of working. Ratcatcher makes the same point about the resilience of the working classes in the face of tremendous adversity -- deadly pollution, massive unemployment, garbage allowed to pile up for weeks due to a strike, and presumably governmental or societal indifference. Unlike My Name Is Joe, the working class in Ratcatcher does not resort to crime, drugs, or violence. When the film begins, a boy falls into a polluted stream and dies, and later in the film another boy nearly drowns as well. Rats abound, and another boy makes a sport of catching them. But the focus of the film is on James (played by Bill Eadie), a boy of about twelve years of age, his Ma (played by Mandy Matthews), and his Da (played by Tommy Flanagan), who is an occasional visitor until he returns home, saves a boy from drowning, and gets a medal from the Town Council.

James copes with the uncertainties of everyday living by refusing to show outward emotional commitment. His father gives him soccer shoes, but he says that he hates soccer. After four mid-teenage troublemakers throw the glasses of James's girlfriend into the stream, James pretends that he cannot find them, yet sleeps with the girl and only confesses his "love" perfunctorily when she asks him to say so. He accepts his mother's affection but clearly does not show any need for it. His one dream is that the Social Services Department will award the family a newly built townhome alongside a field and freshwater pond. As the film ends, the dream has come true, and his family is indeed moving across town to the new home. Neighbors, demonstrating a communitarian spirit, help by carrying the family's furniture some distance to the new abode. In ecstasy, James plunges into the beautiful pond by his new home, and the film ends. MH

The Film and History League opens a conference, "American Presidents in Film: Hollywood Views the White House," at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, a suburb north of Los Angeles, on the weekend of November 10-12. In addition to panel presentations on all forty-one presidents, conference attendees can visit the Reagan Library, dine with a prominent guest speaker, and view films featuring presidents. Political Film Society officers will be present to greet members at the event. For those flying to Los Angeles for the conference, the Westlake Hyatt offers special accommodations. The registration fee for the conference is $175.00.