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PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 8:03 pm 
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Two films by Marc Isaacs

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All White in Barking: Isaacs' compassionate and illuminating documentary probes the attitudes of Barking's white residents toward their new immigrant neighbours, characterized by unexamined (and often comic) prejudices about their dress, religious beliefs, and strange cooking smells. Isaacs is an unseen, but prominent, presence, questioning prejudices and prying at preconceptions with remarkable results to produce a vivid picture of the attitudes and preconceptions at the heart of an increasingly multicultural Britain.

Men of the City: In his latest film, Marc Isaacs chronicles the fate of several Londoners from various social classes during the current economic crisis: a rich trader whose family have left him, a spiritually oriented street-sweeper seeking peace in his soul and a Bangladeshi immigrant whose greatest wish is to find a different job, while an apparently well-balanced, cigar-loving insurance agent desperately longs to escape his daily grind. Using footage from the seemingly eternally rain-sodden British capital, as well as an impressive and audacious use of music and sound, Isaacs fluidly balances sensitive portraits of people striving to find their place in the swarming city of London.

Release date: 11th October 2010


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2010 6:06 am 

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Final sleeve artwork:
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DVD contains an all-new interview with BBC Storyville Producer and Series Editor, Nick Fraser who succinctly and eruditely describes why Marc Isaacs is such an important filmmaker + a new essay by writer Noel Megahy.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:28 am 
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Beaver.

I've got my own copy now, and I'm looking forward to seeing All White in Barking again - not least because when I first saw it just under a year ago, Barking was one of the openly racist British National Party's main strongholds, and considered the most likely place for them to have a major electoral breakthrough in the form of them either controlling the local council or even conceivably a Member of Parliament.

But in May's general election, to everyone's surprise and most people's delight, the BNP was absolutely hammered. Few people expected them to win a Parliamentary seat, but I imagine no-one expected them to lose every single one of their existing seats on Barking Council. So I'm guessing the film will play somewhat differently second time round - more as a snapshot of the recent past than a worrying portent of the future.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 22, 2010 7:50 pm 
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Thanks for the little summary Michael. I'm having this disc be my introduction to Isaacs and really know nothing of the subject matter. While I'm sure the release does some contextualizing the little bit you wrote has given me a better idea of what I'm getting into (not having read a summary before I thought this was going to be something like White Dog). If you've read the booklet could you say what level of introductions for those out of the know it provides.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 4:36 pm 
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Two great films here.

All White in Barking provides an extremely complex and nuanced look at the mechanics of everyday racism, something that is almost always lost in 'hot button' documentary looks at the subject. There's no sensationalism here, just the ever-perplexing and endlessly contingent mystery of human psychology. Dave, the BNP guy, is a study in cognitive dissonance, so disabled by his prejudice that he apparently can't even see the colour of his daughter's nice-guy boyfriend's skin. His is the most hair-raising behaviour on display, but Isaacs calmly gets everybody on the hook, his deft montage netting most of the situation's deep ironies without harping on about them.

It's heart-breaking to see how fragile the tiny baby steps Sue and Jeff make towards tolerance really are (one baby step forward: they are surprised to find that their African neighbours are nice after all, even if their food's a bit odd; two big grown-up steps back: but they're the exceptions, you see, most of 'them' aren't like that at all; another one forward: let's invite them to our barbecue with that Albanian couple anyway). There are no heroes and no villains, and even the victims of prejudice are happy to victimise others.

Actually, the mixed race 'couple' Monty and Betty probably emerge as the heroes by default, simply because they've got the most perspective on the central conundrum. Not that they can exactly rise above such ingrained social behaviour. When Monty is asked if he's been the subject of racial abuse while he's lived in Barking, he happily says he hasn't - oh, unless you count the time he was nearly killed by a bottle-wielding thug screaming "fucking Jew!" in his face.

Men of the City is just as good in a different register. It's more associative and montage-driven, rhyming several lives of varying degrees of happiness and despair in between little film-poems on the rain, or the architecture, or the night. It's also rather playful in the way Isaacs picks up stray gifts (such as a hunting story) and works them up into leitmotifs. Though there are some finds where you just have to stand aside, as when the Bengali immigrant worker's minimum wage job turns out to involve being strapped to a cross on the high street for ten hours a day (for the sins of Subway!)

Yet another great release from the most reliably surprising DVD label in the world.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:34 pm 
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zedz wrote:
Men of the City is just as good in a different register. It's more associative and montage-driven, rhyming several lives of varying degrees of happiness and despair in between little film-poems on the rain, or the architecture, or the night. It's also rather playful in the way Isaacs picks up stray gifts (such as a hunting story) and works them up into leitmotifs. Though there are some finds where you just have to stand aside, as when the Bengali immigrant worker's minimum wage job turns out to involve being strapped to a cross on the high street for ten hours a day (for the sins of Subway!)

I agree, a very nice film. I liked the contrast between these multiple screens of share information flashing away inside offices (even home offices, leaving no escape!) leaving me with the impression that it didn't really matter whether any employee was actually watching them or not - they would continue to display whether watched or ignored - and the characters toiling away on the streets in all weather, doing jobs that have been devalued but not yet had the human element removed from them entirely.

Though the breathtaking job that the chap zedz mentions above spending hours a day holding a sign, seemingly a more static version of a sandwich board, seems to be the epitome of a pointless, demeaning task similar to that moving rocks from one pile to another one in a film like The Hill or Bent. Presumably he is there as much to stop someone from removing the sign as to actually keep it upright (I've heard of situations where competing businesses even in my local small town complain about signs on the street being hazards to pedestrians and that they should be removed, which incidentally and handily cripples the competition, so I guess similar practices would take place in London also, necessitating the sign to be attached to an employee!), implicitly suggesting that the sign is worth more than he is.

I came away thinking that there was a nice contrast made between the way that the most 'useless' jobs in societal terms are actually the ones that, however small the contribution, keep the day to day life of the society ticking over or which, in their utter contempt and lack of interest in the employee, allow a greater room for an internal life or family concerns. While the lives of the traders who appear to have every advantage involve a sacrifice of their private lives and total commitment to an illusory promise of 'progression' (I guess at least dead end jobs let you know where you stand!)

Along with, you know, the slight issue of these more celebrated careers involving causing the collapse of society itself. But at least we can be grateful that there will always be a need for cleaners!


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 8:48 am 
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Haven't got this disc, but I saw All White in Barking when it was broadcast on television a couple of years ago. While it certainly displays an intelligent approach to the subject, I remember thinking that it was less formally engaging - more obviously 'televisual' - than the striking Lift (which can be appreciated as an experimental short as well as a doc). Isaacs is clearly one of the better British documentarists currently active, but it might be argued, as the work of the Grierson era demonstrates (and as the BFI's new post-war set may confirm), that the most innovative work tends to be done in shorter forms (in this country, at least: I don't know of any British counterpart to Wiseman). Will have to watch Men of the City, though.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:04 pm 
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You're right that Barking is much more visually straightforward than Lift, but I think you'll appreciate the visual playfulness of Men of the City, which has a lot of fun with reflections, water in motion and the impressionistic distortions of rain on glass (including the camera lens). I don't know if this is just something Isaacs found in this particular subject or if it's a new mode for him, but some passages in the film reminded me of experimental montage-based documentaries of the 20s through 40s (whereas Lift's structuralist conceit struck me more as a 70s / 80s thing).


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:45 am 

Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 4:09 am
A wonderful and in-depth appreciation by L.K. Weston at DVD Outsider


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:51 am 
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The Digital Fix


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2010 6:45 pm 
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zedz wrote:
Actually, the mixed race 'couple' Monty and Betty probably emerge as the heroes by default, simply because they've got the most perspective on the central conundrum. Not that they can exactly rise above such ingrained social behaviour. When Monty is asked if he's been the subject of racial abuse while he's lived in Barking, he happily says he hasn't - oh, unless you count the time he was nearly killed by a bottle-wielding thug screaming "fucking Jew!" in his face.

At first I thought he was saying fat jew. That scene though is for me the most important, especially when later in the movie they bring up his true history with racism. It almost makes me think his view of the world has been so tremendously skewed by that event that something like the drive by violence of the scene means nothing to him. That he gets to live as a human is enough for him. I think though that the ingrained behaviour you speak of has presents some negative views. I may be misremembering the scene, but when he goes to explain why he'll never bother going to visit Africa it resembles the old couple's own excuses for avoiding their neighbor to some degree.
Actually that old couple's story really surprised me as that storyline seemed to be the most pedestrian, but ended up with some of the most complex spots. When they see their African neighbor speak the way their faces contort, realizing that he may be as human as them, is very subtle characterization for documentary. The words only exacerbate those feelings rather than adding something new. Their first meet is also fantastic for what it means for the people, but also is a filmic sense. It really came across as a Kiarostami like setup to bring the story to the next level. It's really the only moment where I got that question, probably because that is the only moment that plays like a typical movie. It's also a great moment of the absurd. It pushes an awkward comedy that would make Larry David blush.
I really can't phrase Dave's story any better than Zedz did, but it could have been the whole movie and still have the complexity that practically no works of fiction have ever matched. The way he 'excuses' his grandson, but at the same time has a racism so powerful it's driving him to the ocean is almost unbelievable.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 01, 2010 1:41 pm 

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Ed Lawrenson interviews Marc Isaacs and discusses his work in the newest Sight & Sound


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:43 pm 

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Listen to Marc Isaacs interviewed at UK's Resonance FM's Lost Steps


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:08 pm 
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Marc Isaacs' new film is on BBC4 tonight.

(Sorry about the ultra-short notice: I've only just found out myself!)


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:25 am 
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Isaacs' latest, The Road: A Story of Life and Death, comes to UK cinemas on February 22nd with a DVD due mid-April. Here's the trailer.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2013 12:09 pm 
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It's kind of sad to see him graduate from Second Run.I doubt anyone will do his films as good.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2013 4:29 pm 

Joined: Wed Aug 17, 2005 4:09 am
knives wrote:
It's kind of sad to see him graduate from Second Run.I doubt anyone will do his films as good.

Thanks, dear knives, for saying such a nice thing about us.
But we are really happy that Marc Isaacs finally gets a theatrical release in the UK... and, of course, whoever takes theatrical rights automatically folds in the home video rights too. It's great for us to feel that we may have helped raise Marc's profile with his wonderful early work and to see theatrical distributors come on board now.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:33 pm 

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As I understand there is no subtitles. Is there a lot of spoken conversational exchange between two or more?


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 4:11 pm 
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Yes, dialogue is very important to All White in Barking though less important to Men of the City.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 10, 2013 1:42 pm 

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Tomorrow, Monday 11th November one of our favourite documentary filmmakers Marc Isaacs will be in discussion at the Tricycle Cinema, Kilburn following screenings of his films All White in Barking (6.30pm) and Calais: The Last Border + Lift (8.45pm) as part of the 2013 Jewish Film Festival


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