David Thomson says it might be a fault of his that he can’t find too much enthusiasm for Ken Loach, despite his obvious merits, and the same no doubt extends to the Great British public at large, or certainly to me. In a certain pessimistic perspective Loach shares all the problems of the British left at large: empiricism, moralism, humanism — or so the antagonists in this fascinating interview from the greatest interweb film resource of all time seem to think.

This exchange between two seminal members of the filmmaking leftgeoisie on Loach’s Family Life (1971) contains the root of the hostile relations between theory and filmmaking that obtain even now. In terms of historical materialism, it’s possible that Loach really has the edge here: isn’t Wollen making the neo-Platonist argument that individual lives are mere ‘instances’ of a greater truth, named capitalism?

Peter Wollen: ‘By making it these particular people, and by making it so perfectly realistic, in the end it either becomes just those particular people, and you lose sight of the general, theoretical points which were what you started with.’
Ken Loach: ‘I tend to see it as the inverse of what you’re saying. It’s possible from observing individuals reacting on one another to make some generalized statement, and that in fact you’re looking through the other end of the telescope.’

Afterthought: In theory, Wollen should prefer Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose left-inflected tales of petit-bourgeois woe make an interesting ‘Brechtian’ counterpart to Ken Loach’s work: Ae Fond Kiss and RWF’s Fear Eats the Soul will almost certainly appear as a double-bill somewhere in the course of time. But it seems to me that, if Fassbinder ever did acheive that elusive ‘alienation effect’ in his films, it’s absent now, and his work is just as affecting, in the contentious ‘humanist’ sense, as Loach’s best.