Scum Screen 97 of 8 reviews

Scum

1979

Scum Poster
  • Ultimately, beyond the filth and fury, Scum is a starkly powerful critique and condemnation of the very idea of imprisonment, rehabilitative or otherwise. In an age of mass incarceration, it is as relevant today as it was in late ’70s Britain. Bring thick skin.

  • Alan Clarke’s once-banned, twice-filmed Brit scandal, Scum, stands as one of the great films about boys and violence, about the allure and horror and inevitability of young toughs seizing power by smashing some skulls — and replicating, in their own private hellscape, the societal structures that have ground them down.

  • The scenes of Davis’s rape and subsequent humiliation at the hands of the brutal Mr. Greaves (Philip Jackson)—who, instead of punishing Davis’s attackers or offering any kind of consolation, berates him and tells him to “keep [his] subnormal head down”—are so painful that they achieve a degree of sympathy that cinema is all-too-rarely capable of. These alone make Scum one of the most ethically revelatory films I’ve seen in a long time.

  • Disaffected malcontents can rage against the machine all they like, the film seems to say, but whenever they come up against it, it's still going to grind them down to dust amid its cogs and pistons. Clarke and Minton don't pretend to offer any easy answers... Like one of the downtrodden serfs in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Scum invites you to come and see the violence inherent in the system.

  • The youngsters on the bus to juvenile prison are introduced in close-ups so tight the camera can only pan down to their shackles; later on, a reverse tracking shot roams spaciously as Ray Winstone fills a sock with billiard balls, walks to fellow inmate Phil Daniels, and smashes his noggin in, one single take. To Alan Clarke both movements are equally entrapping -- the camera moves, but there's no escaping the systematic maws of soul-crushing regimes.

  • The story of a juvenile delinquent’s rise to power in a borstal, Scum proved a powerful crystallisation of Clarke’s themes, style, and direction. Eliciting through rigorous rehearsal excellent performances out of a young cast in such difficult scenes as rape, riot and suicide, he seals his ability to treat threatening subjects without exploitation or melodrama, but rather with crisp economy.

  • Scum, a bar-rattling expose of Britain's Borstal system for youthful offenders, defies these restrictions. The intent is not that different from the American television feature Born Innocent with Linda Blair, but the new British team of director Alan Clarke, writer Roy Minton, and producer Don Boyd adhere to a more austere balance between well-made play and docudrama. The film is constructed with the inevitability of a time bomb. The purity of its fatalism achieves a kind of blue-collar tragedy.

  • Details are often arresting... And performances are first-rate across the board, even though a couple of the screws are so cartoonishly evil that they seem to be on the verge of feeling for a mustache to twirl. Whether Scum ultimately did British juvenile offenders any good is an open question, but it unquestionably put Clarke on the map, and that’s legacy enough.

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