More Than Just Film
I took a deep breath, pushed my liberal sensibilities to one side and opened my mind as wide as it would go. It was time watch the Danny Dyer film that I’d been dreading the most, the one that I’d always assumed I’d hate. Really hate. Hate the fucking granny out of.
But that was before I was changed by Danny Dyer.
When I came up with the idea of watching twenty Danny Dyer films I’d planned to spend twenty blog posts (and somewhere between 10 & 20,000 words) inventing ingenious and hilarious ways of saying, ‘Danny Dyer is crap, ha ha ha’.
It soon became obvious though that in Danny I had picked the ideal man to guide me through the less glamorous parts of the British film industry, and it’s a task he’s performed admirably. What I didn’t expect was for him to take me up the road to Damascus and teach me what a wretched hater I was.
My first two blog posts were particularly negative. Yes, both films were prize stinkers – Freerunner & 7Lives – but I said some pretty nasty things. Where had all this hatred come from? Whilst I’d found his turns in Human Traffic and Severance a bit grating, I had no real beef with the man and yet there I was, recycling the ideology of the anti-Dyer brigade.
I started reading Danny Dyer’s autobiography, Straight Up, first guiltily, then ironically and, finally, avidly. He seemed like one of us, a normal guy, living the life of a movie star. The scales truly fell from my eyes when I read a Twitter exchange between Danny and a fan, reprinted in the introduction to The Films of Danny Dyer.
Grace: When I see a film with @MrDDyer in it, I don’t even bother reading what its about because I know its gonna be gooood. #7lives tonight
MrDDyer: Hate to do this to ya Grace. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some shit films but 7 lives is fucking awful. #sorry
If Danny can be self-aware then I can too.
He’s equally honest about his life mistakes, especially the infamous ‘agony uncle’ advice printed in Zoo magazine in 2010 (more on this at a later date when I look at his public persona). This PR disaster actually ties into what many see as his greatest quality (and what makes Straight Up such a good read), the fact he’s open and honest with everyone he meets – no duplicity, no spin, no vacuous Hollywood-style bullshit. He leaves it all out there for everyone to see.
It’s only fitting that this blog aims to be equally honest. I’ve not converted to Dyer uber-fandom nor have I become an apologist (it will be interesting to see what I make of his roles in Human Traffic and Severance if I watch them again) and I’ll continue to call a shit film a shit film. But I’ll also strive to say something interesting along the way and maintain a balanced view and open mind (there-by guaranteeing a readership of about three people).
I’ll also try to be as transparent about my mistakes. I won’t go back and rewrite anything because if Dyer Diary is going to add up to anything at all, it will be a narrative of how Danny Dyer made me a better person.
The Football Factory (2004)
In a nutshell: Members of a football hooligan firm spend their weekends drinking, snorting, fighting and complaining about the state of the country. Our protagonist, Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer), begins to question this violent lifestyle when he becomes plagued with harrowing nightmares.
Cheated, perplexed and smug. Its a particular cocktail of emotions but that’s how I felt after watching The Football Factory. The watered-down lager and heavily cut drugs mentioned by Tommy in his opening voice-over, and habitually consumed by all of the firm members, aptly embody the film itself. There is nothing intoxicating or thrilling here, only a lingering sense of frustration and disappointment. How could a film about violent thrill-seekers feel so flat and conservative?
More than that though, I’m amazed just how bad most of this film is. The plotting is so contrived, the characters so stereotypical and (much) of the acting so rotten, it seems to shift between avaunt guard experiment and 1980’s sit-com.
After giving my balanced state of mind such a fanfare in the introduction, I’ll find something positive to say.
Give me a sec.
Oh yeah, there’s a brief nighttime sequence which looks great and nicely expresses Tommy’s mental turmoil (it also highlights how visually flat the rest of the film is). And, credit where credit’s due, the big confrontation between the Chelsea and Millwall firms at the end of the film feels unlike any other movie fight scene. Both sides meet up on some waste ground, stand and shout at each other, they fight for a bit, the police turn up, they fight the police for a bit and then scatter. Some get arrested and some get away. It’s ugly, messy, fragmented and, refreshingly, devoid of any resolution.
How is it for Danny? In the five years since his breakthough role in Human Traffic, Danny had lived the celebrity, non-stop party lifestyle and had spunked it all away. 2004 found him penniless, depressed and sleeping on his Gran’s sofa. He recalls weeping when he first read the script for The Football Factory, a role Love had written for him but , due to Dyer’s reputation for rolling into work still wrecked from the night before, the film’s producers wanted to give the role to Tom Hardy. Dyer gave the auditions everything and, of course, finally won the role which launched the second act of his movie career and went a long way to cement his cockney ‘hard nut’ reputation.
It’s clear why the role means so much to him but I don’t see why he rates it as the best of his career. As with Vendetta, he’s just too likeable and cherub-faced to play nasty anti-heroes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s perfectly decent for much of the film and more than holds his own as a leading man but he’s never convincing as a hooligan and it’s a long way from his best work.
Post-match analysis: The unenlightened me would have at this point wrapped things up by saying ‘I knew it would be crap, ha ha ha’ and dismissing anyone who likes this film as an idiot. The end. The new me wants more, he wants to understand what people see in this film when all I can see are flat performances and bad direction.
It probably had more clout back in 2004 when it was a (carefully managed) cultural phenomenon. I can imagine the excitement which must have surrounded the release, the book (a best-seller published in 1997) was heralded from some quarters as a state of the nation address for white middle-class males who felt powerless in contemporary Britain. Nick Love seemed to be the ideal director, his visually stunning début film, Goodbye Charlie Bright, had its faults but bristled with life and energy. An early, unrated version of The Football Factory was leaked and shifted an estimated 300,000 bootleg copies. Whilst critics were largely dismissive of the film, Love and Dyer got the blessing of the experts when they toured the country and screened The Football Factory to Britain’s most notorious hooligan firms. Regardless of whether it’s a masterpiece or disappointment, it tapped into a huge audience, making almost £1 million in the cinema and moving 100,000 copies of the official DVD on the first week of its release.
There is one more factor which can have an impact on how you respond to a film, almost regardless of its quality – the thrill of seeing yourself, your politics and your lifestyle on the screen (especially if you feel that your social strata has been under- or misrepresented in the media). This goes double if the film does so in an unjudgemental light. For all his soul searching, Tommy Johnson refuses to renounce his violent past or change his lifestyle at the film’s conclusion. And I admit it, I don’t associate fighting with thrill-seeking (I’ve not had a fight since primary school) so I doubt this film was made with pleasing me in mind.
My final thought: This is Dyer Diary‘s third Love/Dyer collaboration (only The Business to go) and as with Outlaw and Goodbye Charlie Bright, I’ll take a moment to consider Peter Bradshaw’s suggestion that Nick Love should have been on the receiving end of some of the kudos heaped onto Shane Meadows. A comparison of their strengths is straight-forward for this entry as Meadows released the revenge tragedy Dead Man’s Shoes in 2004, also set in a deprived working class estate and covering the same theme as The Football Factory – the bonding rituals of working class homosocial groups. For my money, Dead Man’s Shoes is the better film in every respect – it’s funnier, more poignant, it boasts a seminal drug scene, it’s characters are complex and sympathetic and, unlike Love’s film, it has something pertinent to say about a working class which has been left with neither work nor social purpose.
So the answer is still no.