Blazing conviction, clad in tattoos and a T-shirt, Britain's comic-turned-anti-capitalist activist Russell Brand looks like the antithesis of a politician in his new documentary, The Emperor's New Clothes. But some young Brits, thirsty for change, may just be seeing in him the kind of leadership they crave.
The poster for the documentary, made with Michael Winterbottom, shows Brand in a messianic pose with a megaphone in one hand and London spread out behind him. "He looks like Christ, he's probably taking the p**s," laughed one 23-year-old from the audience.
"Bits of the documentary are presented like a party political broadcast. I wish he'd just be honest and say he's interested in running for political office."
"I'd like him to see him in politics," said another, in her late twenties.
"Would I vote for him? Yes, I would. The documentary's brilliant, it shows how f**ked-up everything is in this country. I knew it before, but the film really captures it."
In the documentary, Brand spits out facts and figures straight to the camera with a staccato delivery that reaches out and grabs the audience by the throat, in between pulling stunts like scaling the outside of Lord Rothermere's mansion, while hammering home the importance of taxing the rich effectively — even though, as Brand acknowledges, he himself is one of them.
"Watch out, fellas — we're coming for your money!" he warns with his trademark blend of humour and humanity.
Brand goes deep into people's homes and lives, slumped on their sofas, cuddling their kids, hearing out about their struggles on poor wages.
Emperor's New Clothes with @rustyrockets is a must see. Makes you angry at the downright crimes being committed by the elite.— Andrew Jazaerli (@Andrew_Jazaerli) April 23, 2015
Armed with staggering stats and punchy presentation, Winterbottom, 54, and Brand, 39, throw a stark light on the social injustice created by the "free market fundamentalists" they are excoriating. But, says Brand, at least "capitalism's done a good job in giving us the tools for the revolution".
He says that Michael put the stats and the story together. "I just do the showing-off bit. I'm just an amplifier."
"He's right about doing the showing-off bit," said a 22-year-old who's training to be a doctor.
"But he does put substance behind it, the figures. I wasn't too convinced by him before I saw the documentary, but now, yes, I'd vote for him."
"Politics Is Dead! They Know It!"
Brand, who's previously denied any aspirations to running for Mayor of London, impatiently bats off the notion he may have political ambitions. "We need servants, not leaders!" he exclaimed at a Q&A session after a pre-release screening of the documentary, which is due to hit cinemas nationwide on April 24. "People who serve others."
Can @rustyrockets new film The Emperor's New Clothes power an activism revolution? http://t.co/yyCGiDrdbX pic.twitter.com/C7i6gPcwxb— HUCK (@HUCKmagazine) April 22, 2015
Dismissing voting as irrelevant — Britain goes to the polls on May 7th — Brand called on people to take personal responsibility, get together and start controlling the social agenda.
"Politics is dead!" he yelled.
"They know it, that's why they're militarising the police in the US.
"Our disempowerment is an illusion. When did we lower the horizons? We can do what we want!"
Ironically, while the young seemed galvanised by his clarion call to action, it was one of the few grey-heads attending the Q&A who asked what they wanted to know. "Yes, but Russell, what exactly do you want us to do?" asked the politically active Brian May, former lead guitarist of the band Queen. May, 67, says in his Common Decency campaign: "We want the biggest turnout of the electorate ever to overturn the rotten status quo and give us back our democracy."
His question, calmly put but firmly repeated, appeared to discompose Brand, disappointing at least one audience member, who told Sputnik afterwards: "I've changed my mind. I wouldn't vote for him after that. Things need to change at root level, but we need something to grab onto, a manifesto."
It appears that Russell Brand, who cultivates a Che Guevara look and invokes the legendary revolutionary in the documentary, is being squashed into a political framework no matter how hard he pushes back. "The system itself is broken. No political party can change that," he says, hanging on to his identity as a fierce campaigner and a compelling catalyst.
Bloody hell. Emperor's New Clothes is full of this stuff http://t.co/UsHofXXLJ5 #ThingsCanChange pic.twitter.com/9RkP1BPxGw— Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) April 19, 2015
Disciples can hear his rallying cry but they want a rallying point, a leader, while Brand, appearing almost exasperated by the adulation and the expectation, urges them to take action on their own account. "What do we have to see to actually do something, to participate?" he challenged.
It seems that nobody has the answer.