Ken Loach, Martin Scorsese and Paul Robeson

Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs

I, DANIEL BLAKE (Entertainment One). A middle-aged widowed carpenter has had a nearly fatal heart attack and cannot get either work or benefits. Ken Loach lambasts the bureaucracy of the benefits system, causing good, honest people to lose their self-respect. “I am not a shirker, a scrounger, “says Blake. “ I don’t accept or receive charity. I am a man not a dog and as such I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I am a citizen, nothing more, nothing less.” Many elderly people who have no idea how to use a computer and the internet are going to identify with Blake, acted so naturally by Dave Johns that you might think you were watching a documentary and not an actor. Good performance, too, by Hayley Squires as a starving single mother.

WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (BFI) Martin Scorsese began filming in 1965 when he was 23 and still a graduate. Working on a tiny budget he went on shooting off and on until 1967.  It was an astonishing debut with virtuoso camera work. The seemingly improvised dialogue was actually thoroughly rehearsed. A young Italian American chauvinist (24-year-old Harvey Keitel, an impressive debut) falls in love with a blonde (Zina Bethune) but cannot cope when she confesses she had been raped. The collage of erotic religious sculpture confirms his sexual hang-ups, his Roman Catholic guilt and confusion. Scorsese had to add an erotic nude scene in order to scrape enough money to finish the film.

ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (BFI). Ellen Burstyn wanted to make this feminist movie about a woman striving for independence and self-fulfillment and she wanted Martin Scorsese to direct it. Her performance won her an Oscar in 1974 for Best Actress. When her volatile husband dies in a car crash Alice decides to leave Monterey for a better life. She wants to be a singer. She ends up being a waitress. On her journey she meets abusive Harvey Keitel (very scary) and charming Kris Kristofferson (very decent). There is an amazing performance by 11-year-old Alfred Lutter who is totally confident in his double-act with his mom and their flirtatious and fractious banter.

THE PROUD VALLEY (StudioCanal) is a slice of heroic working class life in South Wales in 1938. A disaster in the pits is followed by the closure of the mines. The families find themselves on the dole. A deputation walks to London. The film, directed by Pen Tennyson, looks like it is going to lambast the mine owners; but, with war being declared, it ends instead on a patriotic note of solidarity. Paul Robeson, all through his life a Civil Rights activist, had championed the miners in real life during the 1930’s.  Cast as the only black miner in the valley he is instantly accepted and respected. High spot is Robeson singing Deep River and the rousing choral singing of All Through the Night.

To learn more about Robert Tanitch and his reviews, click here to go to his website