Riots in suburbia

I’ve been agonising all day over whether to join the people sharing this vid on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+, or any other of the channels Londoners have been using this week to broadcast the events going on around them in their neighbourhood battle zones. This surfaced for me today: it’s a film by Kris Thompson featuring some truly exceptional footage of the rioting that occurred in Ealing Broadway last night.

I’ve lived in Ealing for most of my life. My parents and a lot of my friends still live there, and unsurprisingly, I was awake until the small hours yesterday anxiously scanning the news websites (and Twitter) for news (and conjecture) about my hometown. Of all the internet content I’ve seen (and that’s a lot), this video was by far the most powerful, and, for a variety of reasons, the most disturbing example.

The footage is of unusually good quality, and as you’ll see, the cameraman must have taken quite a few risks to capture the images (s)he did. Yet more striking still is the manner of its presentation. The images have been dramatically slowed, the sound carefully edited, and a pounding Chemical Brothers soundtrack overlaid. The overall impression is that of a disaster movie – something like the final sequences of 28 Days Later. It’s a world away from the jerky, deafening camera phone videos that have formed the basis of so much of the media coverage of the London riots. It’s beautiful film.

My immediate reaction on watching the vid, however, was revulsion – and not just towards the perpetrators of the violence captured on camera. The film’s presentation immediately raises questions about the motives behind its creation. To me, at the time, it seemed ghoulish not only to have captured these hi-res images in the midst of a battle, but then to have edited them in such a way as to make them, let’s face it, kind of cool.  Slowing down the footage has the effect of making something that in real life was probably fairly fast-paced and panicked seem premeditated. The music is insistent and threatening, and thus the mood of the looters is not of naive opportunism, but calculated evil. The teenage hoodies become grinning villains, the frightened police officers growling bullies.

At 2:08, a familiar face steps into frame. P (wearing a red jumper) is a family friend who went to see what was going on outside and ended up tending to an injured man as police and rioters clashed around him. Our friend was alerted to the presence of the injured man by one of the rioters, a young man who was presumably concerned enough about the injured man’s welfare to try to get him some help before running away.  According to my brother, who spoke to P, the overriding atmosphere at the scene that this sequence depicts was of fear on the part of the police.

Does that sense of fear come over in the film? My brother thinks so. I’m not so sure. For me, the film’s professionalism is so complete that I feel I’m caught up in a narrative that I can’t be sure happened, yet can’t quite escape. Any sense of journalistic transparency that the footage might once have had has been lost.

I suppose I’m so used to BBC News 24’s never-ending stream of apparently unedited camera phone footage that anything  remotely stylised comes as a bit of a shock. There’s no denying it’s an excellent piece of work. Still: is naive, opportunistic thuggery in the suburbs something we really want to glamorise? Apparently so.

I can’t be right about everything all the time. Let me know what you think. I’ve been awake for far too long. Over and out.

EDITED at 17:16 on 10 August to reflect the fact that a working day does not actually contain 24 hours, no matter how much it may seem that way.

About Christina Kenny

Christina Kenny is a music journalist based in London.
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4 Responses to Riots in suburbia

  1. letterwounded says:

    I don’t think the film glamourises the violence. It certainly dramatises it, but I think there is a difference. Then again, I’m not a teenage looter, so maybe I’m not the target audience…

  2. A very interesting read! This talking point in particular will serve as primary focus when I post the article to accompany the video. I understand your argument completely and for the time being will leave with this: I’m not a journalist. I’m a film maker.

  3. Christina says:

    Kate, Kris, thanks for the comments. I’ll look forward to reading your article, Kris.

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