Tag Archives: Isaac Julien

Thinking Aloud About Film: Pressure (Horace Ové, 1976)

In last week’s discussion of Med Hondo’s SOLEIL Ô (1970), we asked what was being done in Britain in this period? The answer is Horace Ové’s PRESSURE (1976), the first British feature film made by a black filmmaker. It’s a more inward looking film then Hondo’s  or ALI IN WONDERLAND (Djouhra Abouda, Alain Bonnamy, France/Algeria, 1975) or MANDABI (Ousmane Sembène, 1968), in that it focuses on racism and familial, social, and inter-generational relations in Ladbroke Grove, rather than making explicit links to colonial regimes or international revolutionary movements. It’s also less formally experimental than the other films and, perhaps because of that, more accessible. We discuss this film in relation to the above and also Sidney Poitier’s work in the US (BUCK AND THE PREACHER, 1972) plus trace links through this work to the Sankofa film collective, the films of Isaac Julian and those of Steve McQueen, particularly the latter’s SMALL AXE (2020), which seems to be having an ongoing cultural conversation with PRESSURE, our favourite of this grouping of films. It can be seen on BFI Player and is also available on DVD. The podcast may be listened to below:



The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


Click on the hyperlink  to the Barbican interview between Ové and John Akomfrah, and the source of the Barry Norman quote Richard refers to in the podcast.

Richard also adds the following:

‘ this is a connection few people will have made . I was digging around for information on his children’s series “The Latchkey Children” – this is the most detail I can find although its mainly about the original novel rather than the TV series http://markwestwriter.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-latchkey-children-by-eric-allen.html “The group later expands to five with the arrival of Duke Ellington Binns, who helps Froggy escape from bullies and slowly becomes his friend – Binns likes England well enough but misses – and talks often of – his hometown Port Of Spain, in Trinidad. ” And like Pressure it’s also about learning the power of protest … “The Latchkey Children of the title are a gang of kids (who are around 11 years old or so), most of whom live on the St Justins Estate on the Thames Embankment and meet in the park after school. Their focal point is an old tree so when the council decides to get rid of it – and replace it with a concrete railway engine (“but that’s for kids!”) – the children decide to mount a protest. The story follows them on this protest – and in various adventures along the way.”

Also – Duke in the TV show is played by Ian Roberts in his first acting role, he later changed his name to Kwame Kwei-Armah, and he’s apparently said that the money from doing this show funded his – I guess otherwise he would have perhaps left school at 16 and so wouldn’t now be running the Young Vic…

José Arroyo and Richard Layne


‘Ten Films in Ten Days’- Looking for Langston

looking for


Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, UK, 1989).


A dream of a movie, structured as a revery. It’s full of striking images one still remembers (the couple in bed, the men with tuxedoes in a golf course, angels over a nightclub, the cruising in the cemetery, the beautiful man wafting through Mapplethorpe photos projected onto flowing sheets) but was commissioned by Channel Four for ‘Out on Tuesday’. Rarely has the question of ‘Is it film or television?’ mattered less. I was drawn to it for the velvety texture, the sheen, and depth of its images: the film looks like a mixture of the b&w lighting of Hurrell, Beaton, and Mapplethorpe, with a dash of Ven Vechten thrown in to pepper up the look. Rarely had black men been photographed more beautifully to that point. Moreover, the film had a chic, a quality that pointed to Europe. Poitier and Belafonte were beautiful and sexy, and they had a natural elegance, but the only black men I’d seen wear fashion with elegant nonchalance to then was Terence Trent D’Arby. The film itself and the people in it were thrilling to just see. And then there were the sounds: Bessie Smith singing, Langston Hughes reading his poetry in front of a jazz orchestra (‘The day is coming this is gonna be my song… I could be blue but I been blue all night long), Jimmy Sommerville, Essex Hemphill; all layered over images, archival and imagined, structured as a dialogue on diasporic queerness between the past and the present, the UK and the US. If the film tried to make sense of the past, it did so to understand its present: questions are dramatised visually around representation, racism, desire, power, AIDS. It’s theoretically informed too with the writings of Stuart Hall, Kobena Mercer and others acknowledged in the credits. So a queer, black, avant-garde, medium-length film designed to spark the mind and fill the senses. A rarity that filled mine. On a personal level, whilst I had already been writing on film for a decade, and indeed already awarded the national prize for film criticism, an article I wrote on the film for Jump Cut was my first scholarly essay to be published, and the process of writing the piece itself led to many life-long friendships.

José Arroyo