This film is a visually stunning, cheek-chewing, treat.
It will have you wanting to turn a regular night at the pictures into a night in the club, and with a fist raised in the air.
Beats is set in Scotland during the peak of the 1990s rave scene. It follows the story of Johnno and his best mate Spanner—“the dream team”.
Johnno isn’t ready to leave his friend behind for a boring new suburban life.
They are on an inspiring march to reclaim an abandoned warehouse for their “privatised… minds”, to party and to protest.
The different lives of the two boys are juxtaposed. Johnno is destined to leave the council housing scheme and his “authoritarian” boss, while Spanner is stuck in a dysfunctional home with a violent, drug-dealing brother.
Both are united by their love of music.
Pirate radio host “D-man” plays “revolutionary beats from the people’s streets”. He draws the pair to a night they will never forget.
All the while Tony Blair, leader of the Labour opposition, is seen on TV trying to rally those who have been divided by the policies of the Tory government.
The team are confronted with the Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which banned festivals with music based on “repetitive beats”. It was an attack on alternative culture of thousands of people who refused to dance to the tune of the Tories.
In London, this sparked major protests which saw the likes of Labour MP Tony Benn speaking out in opposition to the Act to a crowd in Trafalgar Square. Clips of police on horseback charging at protesters are shown briefly in the film. There are scenes of Chimneys falling, factories collapsing and cars gliding through production lines.
These are mashed together with psychedelic visuals reminiscent of the stargate sequence in 2001—A Space Odyssey. The film shows the disastrous effects of the Thatcher era and how people reacted by dancing in defiance. There is a brilliant soundtrack featuring The Prodigy, LFO and Inner City.
This is coupled with director Chris Robinson’s skilful use of nostalgic black and white photography.
The removal of colour from the equation allows the audience to focus on the characters’ emotional journey.
Johnno is told in the film, “Sometimes we all just need to jump”. Little did his Mother’s cop partner who gave the advice—PC Billy Moncrief—know Johnno would be jumping to the sound of resistance against the oppressive state Moncrief represents.
Beats is packed with laughs and composed set against the grim backdrop of 1990s Scotland. It shows how rebellion can be a beautiful thing.
A quietly evocative film
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