May 05, 2015

Russell Brand’s new documentary is worth a watch

This post was first published on glamourmagazine.co.uk.

I had high expectations as I made my way to Soho Screening Rooms to watch Russell Brand’s Emperor’s New Clothes. As a regular viewer of Brand’s YouTube series The Trews, it’s clear that Russell Brand is on a political mission. He’s not holding back. He normally tackles a controversial news story in five minutes, so what point is he bound to make given 90 minutes of airtime? Not to mention the fact that Brand had joined forces with legendary British director Michael Winterbottom. There was no way it wasn’t going to break some boundaries and leave an audience fired up.

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The documentary of course is incredibly timely, hitting cinemas only a few weeks ahead of the 2015 general election, tapping into heated opinions and conversations already circulating online. Everyone’s got a different opinion on Russell Brand. Maybe that’s his power, because whatever your view, right now he can’t be ignored. Even in the GLAMOUR office there is a sliding scale of “love” to “loathe” and it’s interesting to hear where each opinion differs. I’m not keen on his suggestion that young people shouldn’t vote, but I do think in a roundabout way, he is getting young people into politics. He’s making politics cool again; he’s bringing back the importance of the on-foot protest.

The film opens with a close-up of Russell Brand in front of a stark white background, and it’s hard to ignore his similar aesthetics to Che Guevara (who he namedrops during the film). His motto is “things can change. Things do change.”

Brand’s focus is all about the gross inequality of the current financial and political landscape. He recaps on Reagan’s and Thatcher’s policies during the eighties and how they’ve come to dominate the western world. He’s not afraid to call out individual members of our UK political parties who send their money to off-shore bank accounts.

Brand revisits his hometown of Grays, and mourns this old town he grew up with describing it as “sadder”, “depleted” and “full of food banks”. Brand takes the problem into his own hands to get to the bottom of why the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. A CEO of a major British company used to earn 10 times the average wage of his workers, now he earns 200 times. It would now take 300 years for the average cleaner, cleaning the offices of his senior boss, to earn the same salary taken home by the same boss last year.

The main point of Brand’s documentary is to prove the banks as corrupt as he revisits historical moments of the financial crisis, and brings to light certain examples of how the banks have seemingly broken the law. He compares this to the London riots with a contrasting montage of images. The bankers get away scot-free, whereas the London rioters went to jail for six months for stealing a pair of £10 trainers. A clip of David Cameron says “they must go to jail for their actions”, with Brand pointing out that Cameron is talking about rioters, not tax-avoiding bankers. He asks the audience, is this fair? Brand changes the “shop a looter” vans into “shop a banker” and drives it mercilessly around Liverpool Street with a megaphone.

He parodies everyone. He mimmicks Thatcher, he cuts together repeats of George Osborne’s phrase “we’re all in this together”, he shows bankers walking into glass doors and the documentary ends on a Cassette Boy special of Nigel Farage saying the words “blame immigration”.

The documentary is also full of tactics. He used young children in school to divide up their fake money amongst their peers. You could say it is a modern day re-telling of a Robin Hood utopia. Brand asks these youngsters: “is it fair that you lot at the back have £20,000 and this one man (disguised as an 8-year-old girl) here has £1,000,000?”

“NO!” the children innocently yell.

This is a new kind of political documentary with serious elements, but it is although light-hearted and funny in places. Of course it is. Brand is a comedian. We found ourselves giggling through half of it.

Tactics or no tactics, love or loathe Russell Brand, his new documentary is to be watched, and dare I say it, applauded.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is in UK cinemas from 24 April. It’s also screening in cinemas around the UK tonight (21 April), followed by a live streamed Russell Brand Q&A.

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