Monday, 3 January 2011

The Working-Class Hero in International Cinema: in Memory of Pete Postlethwaite

The bottom line for Danny [Pete Postlethwaite] is [his son] Phil’s emblematic loss of ‘the will to live’. He addresses the Albert Hall audience for all the world as if he were the holy ghost of Scargill and the militant miners of 1984, telling the punters, the press and us that, ‘I thought that music mattered. But does it bollocks; not compared to what people matter’. Charging the government with destroying an industry, a community and its people, he refuses the prize, calculating, as the flash bulbs pop, that ‘then it becomes news. And I won’t be talking just to myself, will I?’ In this scene the shot-reverse-shots of father and son, Danny and media, band and Grimley fans, and band and approving urban audience (its cosmopolitanism symbolised by two black faces) works as much as Danny’s polemic to argue that the old-fashioned working-class values, the local, British loyalties of community, family and labour -contrasted satirically by Danny to the fashionable liberal campaigns to save ‘seals or whales’ - can cut through Tory brutalism and reconstruct progressive priorities - to be the bearer of new national hopes. [Cora Kaplan, 'The Death of the Working-Class Hero', New Formations, 52 (Summer, 2004)]
Film Studies For Free was shocked and saddened to hear of the death yesterday of much loved British actor Pete Postlethwaite. David Hudson's set of links to tributes to Postlethwaite may be found here. 

Postlethwaite was a highly versatile actor, far from limited either in his life by his English working-class background, or in his career by his talent for the working-class dramatic roles in which he was so often cast. But it is the case that some of his most memorable roles were, like that of Danny in Brassed Off, ones that set themselves in the kind of tightly-knit, but, under political attack, all too easily undone, northern English communities he came from.

FSFF's tribute, below, focuses on this aspect of Postlethwaite's work: his class act, that was not just an act. It's a rich and hopefully rewarding set of links to online and openly accessible scholarly discussions of the (usually, but not exclusively, male) "working-class hero" film character - quite a transnational cinematic trope, as it turns out.

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