Another year…


I have been trying to write a novel for a while- I say trying as it is a stop-start thing, with an emphasis on the stop. I have little cameos, pictures, characters waiting for their journeys to unfold. Most of all, I have this feeling for what it is all about- the love I have for people, trying to make sense of life and one another and in the midst of all the mess this thing called kindness, lying like bullion in compost.

I found myself looking through a window into the book I have not written tonight- watching Ken Loach‘s Another Year. Loach always saturates you in a kind of beautiful discomfort. Brilliant acting, improvised scripts, woven together to make the closest thing to political art that British cinema has ever achieved.

The couple at the heart of the film are happily married, heading towards gentle retirement, but their calm centre seems to become an anchorage for all sorts of people for whom life has been anything but happy. At first, your sympathy is all for the couple as their lives are invaded by drinking, sobbing, lonely men and women. Slowly however, you start to wonder whether one lot of happiness must always form a counter point to the brokenness of others- almost as if the couple are some kind of monsters, whose well being depends on their sense of superiority over the lesser beings they are surrounded by…

Watch the film. If the book is ever finished, I only hope that the life in it is half as vivid, half as true.

Pop up cinema and Ken Loach…

I caught the end of a lovely programme this afternoon on Radio 4 all about ‘pop up cinema’- an idea we in Aoradh have been playing with- where you set up your own cinematic happening.

Simon has had this dream of using the old buildings on Dunoon pier as a temporary cinema/discussion space. Others, it seems are doing similar things…

The programme was all the more interesting, as it contained a live (Scottish) audience discussion with one of my favourite directors- Ken Loach. He works in a rather unique way, with actors improvising rather than using a script.  His subject material is often working class Britain, and people marginalised and brutalised by poverty.

His films are always challenging, poignant and saturated with humanity. And some have made me laugh out loud. One of the things he said on this programme really made me smile- he said that he could only make films about people that he liked.

This is film making that is motivated by a set of principles a million miles from those that predominate in Hollywood, and we British people should be proud of what Ken Loach has achieved.

The film being discussed on the programme is the challenging Sweet Sixteen– filmed within sight of my house over the other side of the Clyde in Greenock.

A powerful film, that I have not been able to watch twice- but some of the images still linger with me.

Here is a clip- with French subtitles for all you posh people who can’t understand the accent.

Happiness and Ken Loach

Michaela and I have just watched the Ken Loach film ‘Happy go lucky’

If you have seen any of Loach’s other films, you will know roughly what to expect- beautifully filmed characterisations in intimate detail- with improvised scripts and wonderful acting. This film was no exception. Loach has this way of making you squirm uncomfortably, whilst you laugh indulgently, and in fully sympathy with the characters in all their very human flaws and failings. His films can be bleak, but somehow also kind, and life afirming.

This one follows the life of the main character- the wonderful Poppy, a teacher, whose niceness almost verges on the psychotic. But you come to love her even as you wince at her dizziness.

I heard Loach being interviewed about this film on release, along with a wider discussion about the nature of happiness, both as an individual, and in the collective. This is the source material for this film…

The research basis for the power of happiness is pretty compelling. Here is a quote from a BBC article which is well worth checking out.

According to Professor Diener the evidence suggests that happy people live longer than depressed people.”In one study, the difference was nine years between the happiest group and the unhappiest group, so that’s a huge effect. Cigarette smoking can knock a few years off your life, three years, if you really smoke a lot, six years.So nine years for happiness is a huge effect.”

Happiness seems to have almost magical properties. We have not got proof, but the science suggests it leads to long life, health, resilience and good performance.

Scientists work by comparing people’s reported happiness and a host of other factors such as age, sex, marital status, religion, health, income, unemployment and so on.

In survey after survey involving huge groups of people, significant correlations between happiness and some other factors are repeated. At the moment scientists cannot prove causation, whether for example people are healthy because they are happy, or whether people are happy because they are healthy. However, psychologists have been able to identify some very strong links.

Standard of living has increased dramatically and happiness has increased not at all
Professor Daniel Kahneman, University of Princeton.

There seems to be a strange truth in this research- if you are happy, if you set your life towards good and positive things- if you seek the good in people around you, and look to bring it out- if you spend time with your friends and love well- if you refuse to give up hope for the world around you, and choose to emphasise the good news rather than the bad.

These things will transform life. Even extend it.

This is not the same thing as living under the positive police, and is certainly no promise that you will not be hurt along the way.

So, lets all be Poppys. If not Polyannas.

It seems to me to have something of the Kingdom of God about it…

It is not easy for some of us mind.