Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Scum / Bad Boys

I think anyone familiar with Alan Clarke's Scum who then watches Rick Rosenthal's Bad Boys will notice some striking similarities between the two films, in narrative, thematic, and visual terms.  To me, there are enough parallels that Rosenthal and Bad Boys screenwriter Richard Di Lello (author of The Longest Cocktail Party) probably should have given some direct acknowledgment to Clarke and writer Roy Minton's film (as well as the earlier Scum teleplay that proved to be too much for the BBC).   

Bad Boys is a pretty rough film, particularly for a mainstream American product intended largely for teen audiences.  Scum, however, makes its American cousin look like a preschool picnic and is a much stronger film for it.  Where Bad Boys injects a love story into its narrative, an inspiring, incessant Bill Conti score, a Rocky-like final fight, and a theme of redemption, Scum doesn't attempt any of these softening, conventional touches.

What the American film hints at or suggests, such as male-on-male rape, Scum pulls no punches with and rubs the viewer's nose in.  There are mostly sympathetic guards and administrators in the juvenile prison where Bad Boys star Sean Penn does time; the men who run the borstal in Scum range from cold and unfeeling to unrepentant sadists.

In Bad Boys, the prison is shown to be flawed, but the film still makes it a force which turns bad boy Penn into a better man.  The borstal in Scum is a brutal, inhumane place and the film offers no hope for those inside or for some kind of reform to the system.  A few years after Scum was released, the borstal system was abandoned in the U.K.  Whether the film influenced this in any way and how truthful the film is to the actual borstal experience, I'm not certain.

I illustrate some of the parallels and contrasts of the two films in this video essay.

EDIT: I just found out about a French-Canadian remake of Scum, entitled Dog Pound, via this most informative Scum Wiki page.


Marc Edward Heuck said...

Curiously, for all the American content of BAD BOYS, it was wholly produced by UK-based outfit EMI; Universal picked it up as a result of their acquisition of the failed Associated Film Distribution venture EMI had set up with fellow UK production company ITC. Wonder if they instigated the project intending it as a U.S. vamp on SCUM without actually optioning the previous film's intellectual rights.

Ned Merrill said...

I knew that this was an EMI production, but I hadn't thought of that angle at all. Definitely an interesting wrinkle. Haven't watched the BAD BOYS DVD or listened to the commentary by Rick Rosenthal in years...I wonder if mentions SCUM at all in his comments.

bill teck said...

Holy cow, that was brutal. I have never seen either film, I heard about BAD BOYS from all my friends but personally did not get cable till the late 80s. SCUM looks freakin' crazy intense. Thanks for bringing this strange double vision to my attention, i dug the video essay too - perfectly edited to the great atmospheric music. In another vein, I've never been hit with a pillowcase full of 'Cola'.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Bill! I'm surprised BAD BOYS passed you by. Loved it when I was growing up and caught up with SCUM only later; the latter is leaner, meaner, and more effective. Pillowcase full of cola or sock full of billiard balls...not sure if one would be worse than the other.