Deputy Culture Editor – Film & TV
Beats is a wonderful curatorial decision for closing Glasgow Film Festival 2019. It comes as a close to two weeks of cinema galore over the city, which brought its lot of prestigious guests, bunkers special events and touching cinematic experiences. The homegrown stint surfs on the cool factor of the 1990s, its questionable cultural highlights and Scotland’s tradition for heroin chic with masteria. Centered around the passing of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, Beats is all about excess. While the government takes action to suppress the loudness of a generation, the youth of Scotland plans an epic rave.
Through nonsensical political discourse and anarchist arguments, they manage to convince main protagonist Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and ourselves that alcohol, drugs and loud music is the way to changing the world. The film opens on starkly contrasted black and white shots of restless highschool boys and fast-paced beats which set a frenetic pace wonderfully maintained throughout the film. Excess is everywhere in Beats from face-paced editing and dead-explicit visual cues to hyper-stylised slow-mo chases and Begbie-type psycho characters. The plasticity of the film is remarkable and culminates, same time the party does in an experimental stint to carry you out of our seat. The film wonderfully bestows cultural worth on a rather bleak decade. Where were you in the 1990s? If you weren’t at the big illegal rave thrown by a pirate radio station than you didn’t do it right!
Beats’ excess is highly cathartic yet it doesn’t overpower the more thoughtful elements of the film. The film’s depiction of class mobility and liberal dreams is incredibly thought-provoking. In an early scene, the promise of a happy family life and better education in a clean neighbourhood is shun by Johnno while Tony Blair vows to make Britain the paradise of the middle classes. New Labour and its sickening pseud-cool liberal Britannia are the antagonist here. And the 1990s a starting point for rebellion against political and ideological ideas which currency is still relevant today. Beats focuses on the people it portrays, who struggle against the social structures imposed on them. It achieves incredibly human portraits of its dynamic duo, best friends Johnno and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald). Their “bromance” is a touching mix of macho pretences and tender care for each other. But even antagonists such as Johnno’s stepfather, policeman Robert (Brian Ferguson) are treated with proper attention and never seem gimmicky. Maybe the film isn’t so kind with its female cast, following at Scottish tradition of male-dominated cultural representations. The characters are given agency and due credit; Johnno for instance, does not blindly follow Spanner into his antics so he can later reject the blame entirely, he constantly questions his actions. So does Spanner, who, despite being a little hot-headed, is not spineless. This allows the film to raise above predecessors, in which reckless children succumb to the call of a night of fun to later regret it. There are not regrets in Beats; it is a celebration of 1990s rave culture which does not hide its darkness but equally does not apologise for it. No matter how decadent, it was all worth it in the end!
While audiences might flock for the feeling of nostalgia and the amazing soundtrack, they will stay for the insightful societal commentary and incredible tenderness of Beats which expertly weaves together hyper aestheticised images and realistic emotions and human behaviours.