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Blue Underground presents
Scum (1979)

"Sometimes, some days, I somehow get the strangest notion they're trying to break my spirit."
- Archer (Mick Ford)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga  
Published: February 27, 2006

Stars: Ray Winstone, Phil Daniels
Other Stars: Mick Ford, Julian Firth
Director: Alan Clarke

MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence, language)
Run Time: 02h:54m:00s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 827058104395
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Director Alan Clarke is respected in his native Britain, but he's not as much of a household name here in the US. His most popular works are the gritty English dramas Made in Britain, The Firm, Elephant, and the infamous 1977 film Scum. Produced with the intention of being aired on the BBC, Scum was banned from the network; Clarke and his actors reshot the film following basically the same storyline as the TV version, and released it to theaters in 1979. This time, though, the violence and overall intensity of the picture was ramped up, providing a much harsher perspective to the proceedings.

Both versions tell basically the same story. Carlin (Ray Winstone of Sexy Beast), a juvenile delinquent, is transferred to a remote prison (called a Borstal) strictly for boys. Once there, Carlin and a pair of other boys discover that this prison is fraught with corruption and full of guards who are more interested in pain and torture than in reforming these kids. Carlin struggles to make a name for himself among his fellow inmates, and once he becomes comfortable with Richards (Phil Daniels) and the other boys, he finds himself at the top of the social ladder and the new man in charge.

Scum is arguably Clarke's directorial masterpiece. It's a harrowing look at a prison system gone wrong; a film powered by a group of young British actors whose talent is clearly ahead of their years. Clarke doesn't waste much time with exposition, jumping right into the focal character's first appearance at the Borstal (the TV version has a slightly longer prologue, showing Carlin's capture). From there, he takes us into this center of abuse and never lets us go, resulting in sequences that are terribly uncomfortable, regardless of what you've seen in films before.

A very young Ray Winstone gives us a glimpse of how great his career would turn out, as he is now one of the best character actors in the business. Winstone allows us to care about Carlin's new prison experience by making him as sympathetic as he is cruel. The torture he endures, and his ability to rise through the social system drives this tale of a reserved champion; a boy who knows he has done wrong, yet has no regrets. Carlin is complex, and Winstone brings him to life effortlessly.

There are some differences between the TV and theatrical versions, mostly in regards to the violence, and the slightly different openings. Most of the ruckus about the TV version arose from the political themes that blasted Margaret Thatcher, so that one has its fair share of disturbing instances as well.

When all is said and done, Scum is an important, unforgettable movie that makes its point about British politics, prison corruption, and the intestinal fortitude of youth. That it's held up so well after all of these years, and contains themes that still ring true, says a lot about Alan Clarke, a talented director who left this world way too soon.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: The theatrical version of Scum is presented in its original 1.66:1 ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. The TV version is in its original full-frame, and both transfers look quite good given their age. The former is slightly better, though, as it features sharper, more detailed images and a brighter, truer color scheme. There's still a bit of grain and dirt, but much less than the TV version, which is full of these blemishes at times.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There's a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0, and mono audio tracks for the theatrical version, while only a 2.0 mix for the other. All of these mixes are quite similar, with crystal clear dialogue throughout. The 5.1 gets the slight edge, though, thanks to wider dynamic range and a hint of bass.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 44 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Ray Winstone2. Phil Daniels, David Threlfall, and producer Margaret Matheson
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Poster & Still Galleries
  2. Interviews with producer Clive Parsons & writer Roy Minton
  3. Selected Scenes with Audio Commentary by Ray Winstone
Extras Review: The bulk of the extras consist of audio commentaries, of which there are three. Disc 1 has a feature-length track with star Ray Winstone, where he talks about the differences between the two versions, and director Alan Clarke's approach to essentially making the same film twice.

Disc 2 has the other two commentaries; a feature-length one with Phil Daniels, David Threlfall, and producer Margaret Matheson, and a Ray Winstone track that appears only during two selected scenes. Winstone spends most of his limited time talking about the intense controversy that surrounded this project, while the other track's participants talk about the movie's much-discussed history, and how it was working with each other.

Disc 1 also contains poster and stills galleries, the theatrical trailer, and a 17-minute segment featuring interviews with producer Clive Parsons and writer Roy Minton. These discussions cover quite a bit about Alan Clarke and his directorial achievements. They also talk about working with Clarke, and about Scum, specifically.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

While they've been available for over a year as part of thes Alan Clarke Collection boxed set, both versions of Scum are now available as a stand-alone release for the first time. Fans of the film can decide for themselves which version of the film is superior, as Blue Underground's two-disc set grants a separate DVD to each, and accompanies them with some nice extra features.


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