Colin Revolting reviews the new film from Russell Brand, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
“Some people have soo much, and some people have nuttin,”
Russell Brand divides opinion. Including among the left.
This film is about a far more profound division, that of wealth and power. In the film Brand sets out to speak to people on both sides of the divide. The 1% (who he admits being part of) and the overwhelming majority. He attempts to doorstep the CEOs and bankers, hiding in their glass towers, who caused the crisis, barely managed the occasional “Sorry” and who continue to receive astronomical riches in bonuses, golden handshakes and pensions.
He has a more welcoming reception amongst the low-waged working people who sometimes hold down more than one job and are paid so badly they have to rely on benefits to get by.
A group of supermarket workers describe how they are all too aware of the rising “price of beans”, which they handle everyday, at the same time that their wages have not gone up for years. The film shows that if the average wage had increased in line with the “earnings” of the 1% it would be something like £400,000. (It’s now that I should admit I was munching popcorn rather than making notes during the film, so you may want to check the figures yourself.)
But it is that kind of film. It has great pace, drama, characters, a star (of course), plus humour and emotion.
But Brand is looking for something more. In the middle of the film he stops and says, “If you’re not angry enough to kick a pig into a ditch, you just don’t get it…” and proceeds to expose even more outrageous injustices in modern capitalism.
His last film, Messiah Complex, had many moments that made you squirm – and I should know I watched it squashed between my activist mum and my teenage son. This had almost no squirmy moments – one that sticks in my mind is when he shakes hands with a policeman and says something like, “we’re both doing the same thing.”
For someone notorious for his massive ego, Brand appears to be learning to use those two, sometimes underused, weapons for revolutionaries – his ears.
Contrasting the treatment of the bankers, where not a single one has been sent to prison, with that of the rioters of 2011, he speaks to a young man who stole an iPod dock and was “sentenced to 18 months, lowered from 21 because I am a teacher.” The man bravely says that the only thing that made prison bearable was that some many other people (well over 1000) were inside because of the riots, “for things like stealing cartons of juice.”
Some of the most interesting things were said in the live Q&A which followed the showing. More than once Brand was asked directly “what should people should do tomorrow?” He pointed to the film and its wealth of details exposing capitalism, when pushed further he was unusually silent and then said, “don’t make me say something live on TV.”
Watching with me, my 16 year old son commented, “Everyone will think that he means something different and therefore they will all have their own ideas and therefore they could all go out and do those things…”
Director Michael Winterbottom explained that he made the film with Brand because they were “looking at central economic questions and issues that are difficult and obscure and we wanted to make them dynamic and fun and interesting and accessible.” They have succeeded.
The film travels from Essex to New York, East London to Kenya, and in the Q&A Brand said, “Everywhere I go I find people are sensitive to the need for change.”
When asked what motivated him personally, Brand was clear. Capitalism had held up the dream of individual attainment, success and glamour which he had bought into . He achieved the dream, “got into the paddock”, as he put it, but that had left him feeling bereft and conflicted and unfulfilled. So what had he found instead?
He contrasted this directly with what he has done in the last couple of years, his supporting the tenants of the New Era estate, campaigning with the FBU, meeting all the people who are actively working together, combining creatively to challenge the effect of neo-liberalism on their homes, jobs, lives, communities. “I love talking to people, being involved in their campaigning, participating in their communities…” He joked that some of the women on New Era were “becoming bored having won their battle, and were now helping others”.
He was describing what has been portrayed brilliantly in Pride and Selma, two of the other most powerful films in the last year, activism.
My comrade Regan, who saw the film in another cinema, summed the film up, “He wants to amplify struggles and encourage activism in whatever way people see fit. The film’s limited in terms of revolutionary strategy but still very welcome. The audience I spoke with seemed uplifted.”
When asked yet again, “What should we do?” Brand quipped, “Have I mentioned revolution?” Ironically in the film he hadn’t and didn’t really in the Q&A. But when pressed he referred to the mad world that the film had graphically shown… “We’ve got shit to deal with…”
To book a ticket so there is a screening at your local cinema go to