How it’s New York: Movie was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Film focuses on recent economic turmoil in UK, which also heavily affected Ireland.
There was a time, not so long ago, where Russell Brand was not that well-known a political activist. Just a few years ago, the comic began adding his name to a number of often celebrity-driven political causes. He protested the 2009 G-20 London summit, and that same year wrote to The Times, in defense of the Baha’i leaders, who were at that time, on trial in Iran. Along with other notable entertainers and literary types, such as: Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Annie Lennox, Will Self, Jools Holland, Bobby Gillespie, Harry Enfield, Bryan Adams and many more, he wrote to The Independent on behalf of The Hoping Foundation, to condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza, and some time later, was selected by the Dalai Lama, to host a youth event that the Buddhist leader staged in Manchester. He’s also spoken before a parliamentary committee about drug addiction, where he shared his personal experiences, and his view that drugs should be decriminalized. He went on to share more of his views on drugs in the BBC Three documentary, “Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery,” in December 2012. a film he says he was compelled to make after the tragic death of his close friend, Amy Winehouse. In March of this year, he financed the establishment of a coffee shop, the Trew Era Cafe, on the New Era estate, in London’s Hackney. So, Mr. Brand, it appears, is far more than merely a tabloid favorite with interesting hair, who curses a lot and dates famous women.
This becomes evident within seconds of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a documentary film about the continued disparity between the UK’s economic classes. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (“Welcome to Sarajevo;””Go Now,” “The Trip”_, it is more than just another depressing reality check, proving to socialists, and suggesting to capitalists, that the rich are indeed getting richer, while the poor are, well, you know the rest. Brand, love him or loathe him, is a charming and charismatic individual. He adds a warmth and humor to proceedings, be it dealing with surly security guards at London’s biggest financial institutions, where he sets out to confront incredibly wealthy CEOs (in one scene, denied an opportunity at meeting a major business leader, he states that it’s no wonder, the CEO in question is probably too busy ‘graftin’ (sic) to grant him a meeting), or speaking in close quarters with ‘victims’ of the UK’s current economic situation. The single parents, the immigrant working two minimum wage jobs to scrape a meager living together, the disabled woman eking her way through life on the tiniest of salaries, while desperately trying to belong to a working society, all get a word in with the eccentric livewire that is Russell Brand.
There is humor, like when he interrupts an intimate meeting with students to inform one of them that he’s wearing ‘murderers’ gloves’, the magnificently over-the-top, when he climbs over the gate of Lord Rothermere’s lavish home, to discuss the Lord’s “non-dom” status (the Lord was away), his obvious affection for children, as witnessed during his ‘house-calls’ to the downtrodden members of London society, and in visits to the city’s schools but also, a passion not always associated with this generation’s comic actors. There are eye-opening nuggets of economic information, which may well make one go, hang on, what’s all this then? Russell Brand, who just a few years ago was not even the most famous Russells in the annals of British entertainment (see Russell Harty (RIP) and Russell Grant), has subsequently become one of the better-known celebrity activists around, and like it or not, a voice for a generation of underprivileged, underestimated and underpaid. “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” hosted by another personality, may have been yet another downbeat social commentary on how we’re all getting screwed, but with Brand’s wit, outrageousness and dare I say it wisdom, it’s a whole lot more.
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Copyright 2015 New York Irish Arts