A friend writes,
I was reading Armond White's review of Fish Tank and I came upon a passage that confused me more than usual. White is of the opinion that Tank director Andrea Arnold's brand of realism lacks compared with that of her forbears, so naturally he brings up her forbears, among them the late great Alan Clarke. Like so: 'Arnold introduces Mia...in a single shot that instantly recalls Alan Clarke's truth-hunting technique in the 1989 film Elephant (about a sullen overweight black girl misunderstood by family and social workers).' Okay, I was with White all the way up to the plot description. Clarke's Elephant depicts a series of separatist killings in Northern Ireland, one by one, without a sullen overweight black girl in sight. So I'm like, 'Well, maybe White is thinking about Gus Van Sant's Elephant.' But that's a Columbine riff; lotsa pretty white teenagers, no sullen black girl. At least for any length of time. Compounding the confusion is the fact that White alludes to Precious...which is about a...well, you know, just before bringing up Clarke and Elephant. I know you're foresworn taking White to task these days, but I have to know: is this just a particularly bad cut-and-paste gaffe, or is something else going on here?
I think White has got Elephant mixed up with R.H.I.N.O.. And no, that's not a bad joke. I mean it is, but not just that. Let me explain. Alan Clarke never made a film about a sullen overweight black girl; white Brit males with violent tendencies was more his speed. One of the most memorable of such types was played by Tim Roth in Clarke's 1982 Made In Britain. Britain was written by David Leland, who would later go on to write and direct Wish You Were Here, which White also believes Fish Tank compares poorly to. And back when Leland wrote Made in Britain for Clarke, he also wrote something of a companion piece to it: R.H.I.N.O./Really Here In Name Only, focusing on a disenfranchised character who's the opposite number of Britain's racist yob: yes, you guessed it, a sullen, overweight black girl misunderstood by family and social workers. It's not as if Precious invented such a characterization, right? Directed by Jane Howell, R.H.I.N.O., which I've never seen, looks to be a pretty inaccessible-in-the-U.S. piece, so I'm impressed that White knows it. Sort of. Any further elucidation on it from readers would be most welcome.