Zed Nelson (director)
26 November 2019 (released)
24 November 2019
Although filmed in London’s Hoxton Street the issues of gentrification and neglect observed in The Street are likely to be familiar to communities all over the country. Communities and districts have always changed as people move on, others move in bringing with them new ideas and culture, it’s a natural passage of time.
The difference in the here and now is the sheer pace of change and what appears to be at the altar of high finance, rather than the gradual turnover that sometimes took decades. The Street, over four years’ documents with some sympathy but distance too, the influx of business and entrepreneurs, and the displacement of a community.
The long-time residents who didn’t take advantage of the low-priced council sales that others did and who then sold up years later for massive profits and moved away, are trapped now in substandard housing, with fewer and fewer friends counterpointed by the need for more and more dependency.
Their stories of pubs closing, the names rolled out; they aren’t forgotten just not there. In their place the bijou bars and coffee shops catering to affluent newcomers. Estate agents and multi-nationals leech onto sites co-opting the squares and premises for their own needs.
As the film progresses shops and businesses close. A craft bread shop bustling at the start of the film, featuring interviews with staff and customers is later no more than a shell and a fading façade.
On that point director Zed Nelson is brutal in his depiction of the relentless change, once the business is closed, he moves on; no looking back with the previously interviewed owners or residents. The constants are the elderly, the destitute and the pie and mash shop, that through thick and thin keep going.
The pie and mash shop is interesting and can’t be seen as a barometer as it doesn’t appear to change that much. It survives on its traditional fare, service and custom. The locals are accustomed to it but possibly also has a certain quirkiness that may appeal to patronising newcomers. The owners are practical people when it comes to their business and surroundings with what will be seen as antediluvian views on some issues.
The film doesn’t flag up the four years of filming but there are clear milestones such the 2016 referendum, the election and tragically Grenfell (where a worker introduced earlier in the film died, the local memorial is touching and heart-breaking) that puts the film in a specific time and place. However its almost meaningless to consider the timeframe as the pace of change is outside of that and has its own volition. As a garage closes, it almost seems as if the next day the bulldozers move in to build what are locally unaffordable flats.
There is some absurd humour in all this there’s the preening prize lemon who shows up at a gallery, sort of appearing to give it his blessing. But its fluff as the heart of the The Street are the forgotten residents trying to find a way to deal with changes. For some it’s reached the point where life and time barely matter anymore.
Nelson is mainly recognised as photographer and has established a formidable reputation. This feature debut does at times have the appearance of stills run together rather than a truly flowing film. Nevertheless Nelson does capture the complex nuances of the street with his images and some candid interviews.