Paul Elliott
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Non-naturalist realism
Sound and image in Alan Clarke’s Road
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This chapter examines Alan Clarke’s TV version of Jim Cartwright’s play Road (BBC, 1987). Part of the BBC’s Screenplay series, Road was both harshly realist and non-naturalist; especially in its deployment of sounds and images. Heavily dependent on its soundtrack and its use of Steadicam, Road is a searing indictment of Thatcherite Britain but also an assertion of the aesthetic possibilities of television, in what was perhaps, for Britain at least, the last period of popular experimentation. Importantly (given Kennedy Martin’s assertions), Clarke turned a piece of theatre into a memorable piece of TV.

Road exemplifies what is an underexplored area of realist screen drama: the soundtrack. In the canon of critical writing on social realism, sound appears very sparsely and the analysis of music even less. This lacuna is understandable given that social realist films and television texts themselves often eschew non-diegetic music due to the distancing effect it has on an audience. Many of Clarke’s films and TV plays begin without an opening soundtrack, the viewer being plunged into the narrative without the comforting signifier of music to underline the meaning.

This chapter looks at a key scene of Clarke’s drama and explores how the play’s visual experimentation is matched by its sonic landscape. It also explores the relationship that both have to canonical definitions of realism.

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Sound / image

Moments in television


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