Friday, 25 December 2009
The Cantona Mask
Michael Brown's pastiche of Piero della Francesca's 'Resurrection': 'King Eric' (1997)
Knowing fondness for football, son T's present was two DVDs, Looking for Eric and The Damned United. I hadn't seen either of them at the cinema, so C suggested we sit down and watch them - one last night, one this afternoon.
Looking for Eric is sentimental tosh. I say that with regret because there was much to like in it and I wanted it to be good. It isn't terrible sentimental tosh, in fact it is quite decent sentimental tosh but the term 'sentimental tosh' does seem to be recurring. It sentimentalises and intantilises the working class men it wants to promote. The postmen / supporters at the core of the story are really the mechanicals from A Midsummer Night's Dream in modern terms. They all have hearts of gold, but are comically inept in their attempts to declare their souls. They have no knowledge of themselves. They are, as all true working class men are apparently, supporters of Castro and Mandela, but they are, inevitably, fat and balding with bulging castrato (beer) bellies. They are the male sex gone to seed. As for central character, postie Eric, he has never got over over his dad jabbing his finger at him at his wedding. He is a ruined man from then on. He is thin. The others are fat. Blame the patriarchy, I say.
The ladies? The ladies are quite different of course. They are 'nurturing' out of every pore of their bodies, entirely adult and lovely and idealised, and darn clever too, going to university while being single mothers. Not like the blokes, who are either thick as planks and wholly inarticulate or thoroughly bad vicious bastards. The two sons of the central character (who is clearly related not only by occupation but by appearance to Il Postino) are both wasters who come good. The males in other words are ridiculous gormless dwarves waiting to be redeemed by a word of wisdom or an act of courage from mummy/Snow White..
...but then along comes Cantona.
Cantona is interesting in this respect. He is deeply French and talks in French half the time while mumbling in English the other half. He is, however, straight-backed (very straight-backed), has no beer paunch, is proud and clever, unafraid to be enigmatic, and takes no shit from anyone. And he wears his collar turned up. When men put on the Cantona mask they become a proud class dealing blows to the evil. Men recover their self-respect when wearing the Cantona mask.
So the solution to paunch, castration, gormlessness, gun crime, panic attacks, impotence, cowardice and infantilism is to act like Cantona. A little touch of Eric in the night. Go on, you can do it. Turn your collar up, be enigmatic, keep your back straight, take no shit.
Cantona is at the centre of the painting above. There he stands for something between sainthood and military pride. He is still, in most United fans' estimation, the greatest ever. The fact that he was not above kicking opponents or treading on them, or of drop-kicking a spectator, is part of the spell of wish-fulfilment. The weak want to be strong, the conformist wants to be a rebel. In that respect Loach gets it right.
Nevertheless, there is something patronising and sentimental in Loach's film. In A Midsummer Night's Dream we know the hierarchy. In Il Postino the postman is inspired by Neruda (another foreigner). Here the Cantona model is offered far too easily to a class that is far too easily sentimentalised. And the men - all the men - are pitiful infants until they put on their Cantona masks, which only proves how infantile they really are. Unless they're Cantona they're nothing but a sentimental, impotent haze.