While the Queen‘s Silver Jubilee Year saw the finest flowering of punk, we don‘t hear quite so much about the nascent soul scene of the era. With his first commercial feature Young Soul Rebels. up-and-coming black British director Isaac Julien has put on screen the conflicts and the contradictions of a heady period. Trevor Johnston reports.
oung Soul Rebels winning the International Critics‘ Prize at Cannes this year really was good for us.‘ comments Isaac Julien. in defiant mood. ‘It gave us something to show for it all. something to hit the critics in Britain over the head with. The whole history of black filmmaking in Britain. from Ilorace ()ve's Pressure in 1974. my own Passion of Remembrance in 1986. and even stuff like My Beautiful Laundrette. all along its been at the cutting edge. Not Chariots ofFire. You know what I mean. I‘d hate to make a boring film. To my mind Young Soul Rebels is the most exciting British film about young people that's gonna come out this year.‘
Even allowing for a pretty massive Director’s Hyperbole Factor. Isaac isn‘t entirely wide ofthe mark. Maybe it‘s because E. M. Forster really wasn‘t much of a George Clinton fan. but there simply aren't that many movies from the UK that deal with the cultural experience of young people in this country. Amongother things. Young Soul Rebels is about how getting hold Ofthe latest 12-inch. or being at the right club. or beginning to develop some kind of political conscience are the kind of experiences that mean the most when you‘re hitting those troublesome late teens.
Part buddy movie. part murder story. part socio-political tapestry. Julien‘s film follows the fortunes oftwo young black pals (‘hris (Valentine Nonyela) and Caz (MoSesay). seeking wider exposure for the DJ-ing skills they‘ve developed on their pirate radio station. Soul Patrol. At the same time. the duo are investigating the death of a friend.
» whose body has been found in the park after ' a fatal gay assignation. Meanwhile. as the
romantic intrigues underlining their differing sexual preferences threaten to break up the Soul Patrol partnership. the long. hot summer and the jingoistic fervour of the Jubilee looks set to bring racial and political tensions to a violent head.
Julien appears to have had some difficulty moving from the experimental style of his
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Langston. to the demands of a more 1 commercial undertaking. 'l'he thriller narrative of the new film doesn‘t quite come off. and there are more than a few moments of uncertain characterisation. Nevertheless. Young Soul Rebels brings to a head so many provocative issues that it still demands our attention.
The institutionalised marginalisation of blacks and gays across British society: sexual versus ethnic loyalties. the complication of political commitment by the forces ofclass. race and culture. the thin line between homoeroticism and homophobia — we’re talking a substantial ideological burden here. In the end. you may feel that the film doesn‘t quite manage to weave all this material smoothly into the texture ofthc storyline. but we should surely admire the ambition on show rather than carp about it being no model of l lollywood slickness.
llis conversation might be ‘discourse‘. his vocabulary studded with the catchwords of heavyweight theorising. but Julien does have a fair amount to say for himself. ‘()ne of the things that made 1977 interesting for me. and that I‘ve tried to get into Young Soul Rebels.‘ he recalls. ‘is that as a black soul boy I identified with punk rock as a kind of political movement. I think there was far more exchange between soul boys. soul girls and punks than has ever been generally acknowledged. Iispecially in terms ofstyle and styling: I mean. I laugh now at the stuffl Used to wear. but style as a form of political resistance seemed to be quite important then. Resistances through youth culture were quite important moments and I think the kind of movement I was involved in really influenced things in the 80s. You can see it in Soul II Soul or The Young Disciples. the whole residue of that 70s club culture is just so much more in evidence now. It proves that black culture did actually exist before hip hop.‘
‘Sure. it‘s set in London. it has two black protagonists and it revolves around a black cultural scene. but does that necessarily make it a ‘black' lilm'.’ I think Young Soul Rebels is a film about young people growng
up at a particular moment. Being seventeen in 1977 and getting into stufflike Parliament and Funkadelic. l was always astonished by the way in which the. you know. expressive signifying practices of black culture were hardly represented in the media at all. There was nothing that was notably black and British. The music was an important thing to relate to because it gave us that really strong connection to black America. but somehow the .lubilec cut across all that and made our whole scene seem really redundant. Young
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