They Eat Scum

They Eat Scum ★★★

Anarchic and abrasive. Hostile and antagonistic whilst feeling comedic and sarcastic. Its cheap, no budget, filmmaking that revels in its rough edges and embraces a sleazy and damaged aesthetic. Had this film operated with a highly polished look and feel, it wouldn't really work. The disregard and unwillingness to follow any kind of cinematic code of conduct is just as much the core of the film as is the maddening narrative.

In that regard, it's a difficult and challenging film, and not simply because of its aggressive themes and images - but how it so greatly differs from what we know and expect a film to feel like, to be like. You end up judging it on what it isn't, or what it doesn't do - which seems to be both pretty fair and pretty unfair. The plot delights in spinning into more and more maddening scenarios, giving little regard to what comes before and after - to the point that it quickly begins to feel inconsequential. It's a decision that was clearly intentional, but I don't think that automatically makes it good.

It seems to actively avoid committing to any one idea or theme, to the point that it feels anti-everything, the vulgar cinematic language even feeling somewhat anti-film at times. Of course viewing it today is not the same as seeing it in the landscape of 1979 - and that seems to be where it shines the most, as a dirty indicator of counter culture and transgressive filmmaking. Whilst NY was producing some seminal films and directors that would become masters, films such as this were swimming in the undercurrent.

It's not easy going but it absolutely does not want to be. There are one or two moments in which the film intends to be funny and actually is, but asides from this most attempts at eliciting a response don't quite work.

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