Undoubtedly the talkiest Alan Clarke production I’ve encountered yet, Road is an adaptation of a successful stage-play by Jim Cartwright unfolding on a derelict street in Manchester during the 1980s. Clarke took the play out from the soundstage and into the real streets to capture something incredibly gritty and vivid.
As is to expect from Clarke, the film is formally experimental and demands your attention in order to decipher the meaning beneath the torrent of words. All of the performances are amazing with Lesley Sharp’s monologue being a real stand-out which still has people talking, even today. The film has real attitude and captures the characters’ frustrations, anger and sadness with a sharp potency. All of these characters are very strange, grimy and stuck in their own little bubble but Cartwright and Clarke totally understand this world and the synthesis of words and pictures are spot on.
It’s funny how all of Clarke’s BBC films feel of a piece. Despite their variety of writers, Clarke’s visual approach is instantly recognisable and by this point in his career he had mastered the steadicam and knew exactly how to utilise it. All of those sweeping shots of characters walking are truly amazing and to use it here, navigating a stretch of road, is an inspired choice. The wide-angle lens stretches the edges into oblivion making every arch around a corner a visual spectacle. Watching characters walking has never been so infectious. You just can’t beat it. Too little is said about Clarke’s gift for using music in his films too. He does it very sparingly but the use of “Be-Bop-A-Lu-La” here or “That’s Amore” in The Firm are gob-smackingly good. Such bizarre choices but undoubtedly correct.
The three Clarke films I’ve seen recently (The Firm, Christine, and Road) have left me thrilled and exhausted. They’re tough going but are formally thrilling and have absolute purpose. I’m not surprised I haven’t gone any further into the Dissent & Disruption set since Road. I needed a bit of a break. But now I’m ready to get stuck back in. Alan Clarke, man. What a master.