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on 28 December 2011
Callous, cruel and cold-hearted best summarises the 1979 British film `Scum', starring Ray Winstone who portrays the role of Carlin; a prisoner transferred to a borstal in London. His character depicts the role of many inmates at the time, where prison systems endorsed a much harsher treatment to their inmates as a form of punishment. The film follows the character of Carlin amongst other characters and exposes what their experiences were like in a strictly controlled prison system by menacing prison guards.

Throughout the film there are explicit scenes of violence, rape and suicide. There is also the continuous use of strong language and racists remarks. The protagonists authenticated such scenes of violence especially the rape and suicide scenes. At the time of filming this too must have been sensitive to film, just as much as it would be in the present day; however this just depicts the true harshness and disturbing behaviour that occurred in borstals. The film clearly depicts the severity of the conditions in which the inmates had to deal with; it is this that demonstrates how prison systems have changed.

Scum's interpretation of borstal system in the 1970's is in contrast to today's prison/ detention centres where the environment in which the inmates are exposed to is of a calmer nature. Some may argue that today's prison systems are much more lenient in terms of punishment received and how they are treated in such places. Thus this asserts the question of whether today's prison systems are lenient; is it true that prisons today offer a more privileged system?

There are obvious signs that there were no appropriate rehabilitation schemes for the prisoners in the film. Instead there was no care for the prisoners at all, as the guards themselves treated the prisoners harshly by using physical violence where they had no right to. The guards may have shown such violence to optimise their authority and simply subdue the 'scum' that were the inmates. The film clearly showed that the inmates did not gain anything from it, there is a point in the film where the inmates finally retaliate by causing havoc in the dining hall, and the guards simply retreat, thus revealing that enforcing violence only leads to violence. Furthermore, throughout the film the guards show no remorse for the inmates who are being attacked, such as the young offender being gang raped or the constant use of racial remarks; the guards do nothing. The most disturbing part of the film was where the guard saw the gang-rape and still did nothing to stop them. However, in the present day, conditions in prison systems are different. There are CCTV cameras thus the guards would not be allowed to get away with treating the inmates so violently, and concurrently the inmates would not be allowed to get away with treating the other inmates inhumanly.

The film showed that there were no sign of reformation, however nowadays at least there are programmes which can have positive effects such as educational and behavioural treatments. Each inmate should be assessed individually not collectively like in the film where they had group discussions, led by the matron; there was no structure to the session and did not seem to be beneficial. Treatment has to be relevant to the individual, in terms of needs and what problems need to be addressed.

Disgusting and disturbing best describes this film; it only reflects the harshness of what it was like in borstal systems in the 1970s. I strongly believe that the disciplinary system of the 1970s should not be brought back; even though the film is dated and only depicts the interpretation of the director, it clearly showed that no benefit comes from a punitive system; it just leads to more chaos. More research needs to be conducted into the treatments of rehabilitation of young offenders.
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on 5 January 2012
Harrowing, cold-hearted and engrossing are just a few words to describe the 1979 film Scum, directed by Alan Clarke and written by Roy Minton. It shows the apparent brutality within a 1970's British borstal, including hard watching scenes of violence, racism, suicide and most notoriously rape. The film follows the experiences of Ray Winstone's character, "4737, Carlin" and other inmates; as they struggle for justice among themselves and from the crooked wardens.

The film starts with three young men in a police vehicle: Angel, Davis, and Carlin, being driven to a borstal. Scum does not reveal the convictions of these three men, but emphasises more upon the borstal environment. In 1902, borstals were introduced for young male offenders to protect them from the influence of older offenders. They were designed to be religious and educational, with a focus upon military routine, discipline and authority. As shown throughout the film, there was a strong belief on the use of corporal punishment as an effective way to suppress delinquent behaviour. Scum portrayed life within borstals as a continual conflict between the inmates and wardens ("screws") through scenes of violence, racism, suicide and rape. Inmates would fight among each other in order to gain hierarchy power, with the top status as "The Daddy". Wardens would take full advantage of their authority, often beating inmates and turning a blind eye to incidents involving "The Daddy", as he was deemed to have leadership qualities. Scum leads viewers to see the matron as a mother figure for inmates, during group discussion sessions, but similar to the wardens; she does not show any compassion or sympathy towards them. Inmates were unable to speak up about the continual abuse, for being known as a "grass" doesn't bode well within this environment. The harsh reality was that the film Scum actually showed incidents that frequently occurred within borstals; yet highlights the ineffective borstal system. In 1982, shortly after Scum was released, borstals were abolished and instead Young Offender Institutions were introduced.

Scum showed the effects of continual corporal punishment on inmates. Most notably when the inmates hear of the suicide of Davis following a rape attack; Carlin, now known as "the daddy", prompts a riot and in the final scenes is seen bloody and unconscious after a thorough beating from the wardens. If these are similar to reality of borstals, then it would show corporal punishment as effective only for short term means; but may increase delinquent behaviour and subsequently lead to re-offending.

This therefore leads to the widespread view of whether the current justice system is too "soft" on criminals. Many of the public have a consensus agreement that harsher and corporal punishment should be brought back; this view has especially been raised due to the recent London riots. Current Youth Offender Institutions have a different take on criminal punishment and is based on restorative justice principles. It focuses more upon offenders taking responsibility for their wrong doings through various means; for example education to ensure offenders fully understand the consequences of crime. Young offenders are examined individually, rather than in groups as Scum portrayed with the matron. This has shown to be much more effective upon reoffending rates, as it accommodates more to the individual needs.

From Scum, it is clear to see how the youth offending system has changed. CCTV cameras are now implemented in modern day institutions, so inmates can not abuse each other and vice versa with the wardens. The current approach has been improved on and seen to be better in reducing reoffending rates. It hasn't completely ruled out crime and reoffending; which is a possible reason as to why the public see this approach as too `soft' for criminals. So, may be a balance between restorative justice principles and corporal punishment will be more beneficial. Scum also highlights violence, sexual and racial abuse; violence and sexual abuse has been reduced, but sadly, racism is still a big part in today's society.

Scum brings to light the corruptive justice system in the 70's. The film depicts the harsh reality of borstals from the director's perception; it highlights the extreme rivalry within the inmate hierarchy and wardens taking full advantage of their position. From watching this film we learn that juveniles within a borstal do not take responsibility for their actions and due to the disturbing environment, inmates are led to commit more crimes; as seen through Carlin using violence as a tool for self-protection. Therefore, bringing back the borstals would bring no benefit for the justice system, in fact may make it worse and lead to higher re-offending rates. Scum is still seen as very controversial and valuable, however, the graphics are deemed as out-dated so a remake of the film may be more enticing for viewers.
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on 21 April 2016
Prompt dispatch by seller and well packaged. It was like watching a who's who with all the well know faces that were in this film. It was fun trying to name them all as this was probably a debut film for a few.
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on 25 May 2000
As films set in borstal go this has to be one of the best. The cast includes a young Ray Winston and a number of extras from the Bill. The comedy of Archer and the despair of Davies make this a stimulating and disturbing portrayal of life in a young offenders institution. Carling's ascension to the role of 'Daddy' is swift and violent with those who have conspired against him being clinically dealt with. Carling's methods are cold and calculated, but in turn extremely effective. Other characters include Archer, a man whose sole aim in life is to make life difficult for the 'screws' by not conforming to the strict borstal regime.
If you enjoy disturbing British cinema from the seventies then Scum is for you. The violence is graphic and the language is strong, but there is also humour and a genuine insight into the disturbing world of Borstal life.
Back grass..................
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on 19 January 2015
British, gritty, realistic. This film is well written and acted with intense and cringy moments but keeps you watching as it is that gripping. If you're fed up of over the top hollywood gangster films this one brings everything down to Earth. It shocks and awes. 5 easy stars.
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on 28 May 2014
An epic warning about the penal system. The story was originally made for the BBC, who have refused to screen. Alan Parker remade it, this is the result.
Ray Winston plays Carling, there is wall to wall violence, so viewer discretion strongly advised.
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on 27 March 2016
There are certain events in your life which, for better or worse, leave an indelible mark. Watching this in the Cinema on its release left me horrified, and a little scared. If that really was what that institution was like I wasn't going anywhere near it.
It's directed and filmed in a really low key, earthy format, with no melodrama from the actors or intrusive music. When the drama explodes into incident, usually involving savage violence, it does so with a shocking suddenness. The brutality of the system, those that operate it, those that find themselves lost within it, those that surf it for their own ends, is stark, uncompromising, and unremittingly oppressive. Officers with a sense of entitlement, bitter old cynics, Old School authoritarians controlling the feral uncivilised mass of lost humanity by rigidly, and summarily enforced rules. The "Daddy" of the inmates, using similar methods to maintain status, assuming and protecting his position with no mercy. A clear pecking order where the weak are ruthlessly sacrificed to the strong.
Not a lot of laughs, then.
This film is, unapologetically, down beat, grim and horrible and concerned only with the hell that Borstal was.It has no moral standpoint. It does not attempt to bring any redeeming lightweight upside to balance things out. It has humour, but this itself is dark, and cynical. The message is that both sides, the inmates and the authorities, are very similar in so many ways, each justifying their actions by their own twisted morality, or sometimes not attempting to justify it at all. Both use violence and power to achieve what they need, which is, essentially, control, and both are absolute in pursuit of their agenda, with no thought for human consequences. To say they are both as bad as each other is an over simplification. They do what they do for different reasons, which are inextricably linked, but what they do is essentially the same thing.
There are some notable stand out performances. Ray Winstone was electric in this film, sheer class, magnetic, and compulsive. No one else would have come anywhere close. Phil Daniels, as his weaselly sidekick was excellent. They were in Quadrophenia of course, a film out about the same time. They were young, and brilliant. Mick Fox, who played the laconic Archer was really really good. His character shone a little light relief into the murk, but his reward was, as with others, swift and not nice.
A number of scenes in this film are hard to take. After a gap of nearly 40 years it is still difficult to watch some of it. The last time I tried I turned away at the pivotal scene in the greenhouse. It still shakes me now. What followed next was incendiary, the final scenes depressing. It was a masterclass in direction, in production, in writing and acting. It may well be dated now, and we are used to our brutality being served up in nice polished chunks, but back then, this knocked the wind out of me. A hell of a movie. I doubt much has come close (although Made In Britain with Tim Roth is worthy of mention). Fantastic. Hard going, but fantastic.
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on 14 March 2016
In 1984 the pious campaigner Mary Whitehouse took the Independent Broadcasting Authority to the High Court for allowing this controversial 1979 film about life in a borstal to be shown on Channel 4. The Lord Justice Watkins agreed with her case stating that: “It is, I think, gratuitously offensive and revolting without the slightest attempt to introduce any element of fairness or… to provide a balanced view of Borstal.”

With its brutal, and almost completely unrelenting, mix of gang rape, casual racism, and corrupt and uncaring officialdom, you could make a case for Watkins’ moralistic judgement. Nonetheless, I have to say I still find this low-budget, 18 certificate – which came out at around the same time as the spin-off film of the hugely popular TV comedy Porridge - uneasily compelling viewing for a number of reasons, including: perhaps Ray Winstone’s career-best role as the swaggering “daddy” Carlin, the hard case who uses snooker balls in socks and an iron bar, to acquire and entrench his power; Mick Ford’s equally impressive, yet far too often undervalued, performance as the overaged, atheistic vegetarian Archer, and director Alan Clarke’s ability to corral performances, from a largely young, mainly unknown, cast featuring untrained actors who hadn’t necessarily been through drama school, to advance Scum’s provocative standpoint.
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on 12 February 2013
This film is entertaining and very sad. Obviously that is the film makers messing around with the viewers emotions but it is certainly an eye opener as to what used to go on in borstals and what probably goes on today. Hidden behind walls and covered up, same today as yesteryear no doubt. Great acting from a young and old cast too.
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on 19 July 2013
Ray Winstone in one of his best films.

No mamby pamby in this prison, you live or you go under.
If you like a little bit of revenge then this is for you, no holds barred and knocks your socks off for a classic British made film of the old type.
Keeps you on the edge of your seat and possibly a film such as this could not be made now.

Great viewing.
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