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Ken Loach Thinks We Should Fire Critics and Replace Them With "Ordinary Punters"

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 30, 2014 at 1:04PM

Ken Loach has generally had a good time of it with critics. But with what may be his last movie opening in the U.K., he says the feeling isn't mutual.
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Jimmy

By and large, Ken Loach has had a good run with movie critics: Not one of his films has an average lower than 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and three -- 1969's "Kes," 1993's "Raining Stones" and 2003's "The Navigators" have a perfect 100. But with his latest movie, "Jimmy's Hall," opening in the U.K., Loach has made it clear the feeling isn't mutual. In a video interview with the Guardian, he suggested doing away with them altogether: "Sack the critics and get ordinary punters in," he said. "People experienced, who know life."

By and large, critics are people who live in darkened rooms. They don't meet the people who are running campaigns to save hospitals or save community centers or are engaging to in that political struggle in the real world.... If they did, they'd meet people who from their own experience can articulate their own ideas, can articulate a strategy for a political campaign or whatever. And they'd find people have a richness of language and a use of language that is very vivid. It's like it's a fantasy for them. 

The odd thing is that "Jimmy's Hall" got fairly good reviews across the board. Perhaps he's talking about Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, who called it "an odd, only fitfully engaging hybrid of 'The Quiet Man' and 'Footloose,' which neither packs much of a punch nor is particularly nimble on its feet," or the Playlist's Jessica Kiang, who said "The complexity of the political landscape in Depression-era rural Ireland... is not so much shown as told, often in awkwardly polemic speeches poorly disguised as casual conversations between acquaintances." Maybe it's Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, who called it "less a portrait of the Irish communist leader Jimmy Gralton than a big, dopey kiss blown at him." Or Robbie Collin, who writes in the Telegraph

This is exasperatingly thin stuff from Loach and Laverty, who have in the past built far more textured narratives, peopled by far richer characters, even while maintaining a fierce, politicised charge. This story, though, is so dramatically facile – working classes good, ruling classes bad – that it all but evaporates on contact with air. Which makes you wonder: why tell it? And why now? Loach and Laverty have both suggested that Jimmy, a threat to the status quo and a man whom the authorities want to do away with at all costs, might be viewed as a surrogate Julian Assange-figure (the director is a prominent supporter of the WikiLeaks co-founder, and helped to raise his £200,000 bail), but Jimmy’s character is so flatly and uninterestingly noble that the parallel feels half-formed, even naive.  

But in Variety, Scott Foundas praised the film's " talky but stimulating ideological tennis matches." Alan Coor at RTE called it a "lovely and lyrical folk history." At Indiewire, Eric Kohn said it "captures more than simply the early stirrings of a cultural revolution. It situates them in the tense, claustrophobic world where any secular form of expression was an automatic taboo." In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote:

The movie is at its best when it simply expounds an idealism, with its own distinctive frankness. There is a wonderful sequence in which people just sit in a circle in Jimmy's hall for a sort of practical criticism session: they discuss WB Yeats's poem "The Song of the Wandering Aengus," and talk about what it means to them. I could watch simple, thoughtful scenes like this for hours on end.

You understand why someone like, say, Seth MacFarlane might rail against critics. But Ken Loach? Despite his proletarian sympathies, his forty-plus year career offers little evidence that his movies are of much interest to "ordinary punters," who've give them far less attention than critics have. Don't be a hater, Ken Loach.


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