The first few months after my son was born were a bit of a blur.
What I remember most is feeling isolated, confused and sleepless. There was a lot of crying (both the kid and me) and an overwhelming sense that for the first time in my life I had no idea what I was doing and no logical, scientific way to figure it out.
The other thing I remember was watching DVDs — often still wearing my pyjamas, with the baby latched on to me. Two of my favourite films from that time are The Full Monty (1997)and Brassed Off (1996).
I have no idea how many times I watched them — often back to back. I do know that they must have provided exactly the kind of escape I needed, and that I can still watch them with a sense of real pleasure.
My reason for including both films in one post is not only about my experience of viewing them, but about the films themselves, which in many ways are very, very similar.
Made within a year of each other, both films tell the story of a group of struggling, unemployed, working-class men in England’s (formerly) industrial heartland who find success and a sense of achievement through performing.
In The Full Monty, a group of ex steel workers plan to make some money by putting on a Chippendale-like striptease show for local women.
In Brassed Off, the colliery brass band in a town that’s about to have its coal mine shut down struggles to continue long enough to compete at the national brass band championship.
Both films focus on the relationships between a group of men struggling with the all-encompassing loss of self that comes from the sort of widespread structural unemployment that gutted whole communities. Yet both are comedies. The Full Monty in particular is very funny, deftly highlighting serious issues like depression, body-image, fathers’ rights and suicide without trivializing them.
Brassed Off is the more overtly political of the two. A major element of the story involves the miners having to vote whether or not to accept a redundancy package or fight to keep the mine operational. Accepting a payout that could keep their families from the breadline is also an abandonment of their identity and acknowledgement that a much-hated government has “won.” The speech in the clip below, delivered by the late Pete Postlethwaite, sums up the film’s politics beautifully.
Gender relationships in both films are interesting. The female characters are portrayed as strong, competent and generally in charge. In contrast with their laid-off menfolk, almost all are employed; indeed both Gloria in Brassed Off and Gaz’s ex-wife Mandy in The Full Monty, have not only jobs, but careers.
Both films have romantic sub-plots; though in The Full Monty the relationship that develops between two of the men — Lomper and Guy — is almost an add-on to the main story. In Brassed Off, the relationship between the colliery’s consultant Gloria, and Andy, one of the miners, is much more embedded. Yet in both, the central relationships are between the men, and the two films offer both an analysis and a celebration of the importance of male friendship.
While I’m not a fan of musicals (really; you have to burst into song to tell me that), the soundtrack to a film is absolutely central to my enjoyment of it. With performance at the heart of both films, the The Full Monty and Brassed Off have really strong soundtracks.
Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is the song most identified with The Full Monty, though whenever I hear What A Feeling, I am taken back to the scene where the would-be strippers are watching Flashdance, supposedly to improve their dancing. Instead, they end up arguing about Jennifer Beals’ welding technique.
Understandably, most of the music in Brassed Off is performed by brass bands. Indeed, the bulk of the band (excluding the main characters in the story) was made up of members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band; the film being largely based on that town’s experiences of the mine closures.
I have to say that brass band music wasn’t really my cup of tea, but this scene changed my mind:
I’ve watched both Brassed Off and The Full Monty quite recently, and still enjoy them.
Have you seen either? What did you think?
I’m including this clip for The Full Monty because the only official trailer I could find was done for American audiences and I felt it kind of missed the point. And besides, this one gives you a chance to hear the wonderful Donna Summer again.
About Film Friday
Sarah at Art Expedition, and Darren, The Arty Plantsman have initiated this great new blogging project. You can find out more and see their chosen films for the week by visiting the latest post by Darren and Sarah.