Sunday, 20 March 2011

Artefacts

I wanted to share a few thoughts and images from a film I'd been working on, tentatively titled 'A World Between Worlds', but also at various points called 'Artefacts' or 'Transmissions from The End of the World' It's a project I initially began when I was at college, though very quickly had to abandon, as it proved too ambitious and possibly even too dangerous to complete in the appropriate time given. Eventually I made a different film instead...

Nonetheless, I continued working on 'A World Between Worlds' after completing my university degree; shooting hours of landscape footage around England, Ireland and the Isle of Man, all the while attempting to make sense of the story I was developing across several different notebooks. In one, "a story of existence…" was written in black biro. In another, "O, revoir..." (a terrible pun) was written in felt-tip pen.

I started thinking about Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and the image of Thomas Jerome Newton; wandering the earth like a ghost of a stick-figure still haunted by a childhood trauma. I started thinking about specific images; an image of the earth that looked like a distant planet; faces, almost human, reflected in pools of murky water; an image of some archaic artefact to the days of global communication, pre-Internet.



A World Between Worlds, 2006-2010:

The radio tower suggested, by association of name only, the idea of radioactivity, and the sense that the film should take place at least 78 years after the end of civilisation.

As the film begins, an alien anthropologist named Rector wanders the charred remains of an unidentified European country. The images are black and white; like charcoal drawings, or promises written in water. The anthropologist thumbs through scattered remnants of lives, finding old toys, food cartons and fragments of old newspapers. Creating a home for himself in an abandoned communications centre, Rector begins to piece together these fragments, creating a timeline that points, ever forward, to the moment of our demise.

In the first glimpse of this event, a four-minute panning shot shows the morning fog roll back, off the waves, like the fog of memory retreating. Transmissions from the final days of earth, glimpsed, like dreams, Prince of Darkness (1987) style, as Rector wanders derelict buildings and decayed promenades. As the mist recedes further, revealing more and more of the surrounding mountains, a flash of light flares on the horizon.



A World Between Worlds, 2006-2010:

This is the beginning of the event; the first stage. It's not the job of the anthropologist to find out what happened to civilisation, but simply to find out enough information regarding the species; how we lived, our strengths and weaknesses. But in poring over the relics of our existence, Rector becomes mournful. He wonders how a species capable of creating such extraordinary works of art, music, design and engineering (images of which flicker to life on the banks of television monitors configured to record and playback these transmissions from the earth's final days) could also be capable of such violence and brutality.

This part of the film is essentially very close to The Man Who Fell to Earth; Rector trying to make sense of the 21st century culture while growing ever more disconnected from his own. I tried to convey loneliness through images of old buildings - thinking about that song by Tom Waits, House Where Nobody Lives, as a metaphor - while also wanting to capturing the same feeling of melancholy present in my favourite films; Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger (1975) and Wim Wenders' Kings of the Road (1976). Films where a general disparity between characters is conveyed through a restless observation of the landscape (which, in both films, is as alien as anything in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968).



A World Between Worlds, 2006-2010:

For the scenes of the unexplained event and the moments leading up to it, I knew I wanted a specific look. Colour images as an obvious contrast, but not like reality. I started thinking about my own impressions of the past. As Francis Coppola noted during the making of his recent masterwork Tetro (2009), our ideas of the past are often coloured by the nostalgia of home movies. That sickly, over-saturated, not-quite accurate to life look of Polaroid cameras or Super 8 film.

This is the look I eventually settled on; however, a few years later and with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems almost entirely too aggressive. It should have been more natural; raw DV stock with no manipulation. The home movies of the future will not be shot on Super 8, but captured on Hi-Def video phones. This is the stuff of the 1970s...



A World Between Worlds, 2006-2010:

It's only during the last six or seven months that I decided to finally terminate this project for good... already my second great failure as a filmmaker! Ultimately, the film was too derivative of greater films, like La jetée (1962) by Chris Marker, Anti-Clock (1979) by Jane Arden & Jack Bond, The Falls (1980) by Peter Greenaway, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991) by Jean-Luc Godard and The Happening (2008) by M. Night Shyamalan. It didn't have a voice of its own, and as a result, the creative ambitions felt pretentious.

Added to this realisation, there's the unavoidable downside of spending too much time on a project. During the last five years, my sensibilities have changed drastically, and unfortunately this is no longer the kind of film I want to make.

I still have the original ending; never filmed, but there amongst a box of old notebooks on a recent visit to my grandmother's house in Port St. Mary. I still have the storyboards too. The ending of the film was always intended to be something grand; something beyond words. While the first part of the film was about loneliness, and the second part was about destruction, the final part would've been about love as a physical act of forgiveness.

In discovering this old footage (and accompanying notes, storyboards and, most surprisingly, even some original soundtrack recordings), I found a more interesting idea for my next project; something that will no doubt be indebted to the great lineage of films that play with self-conscious references to Antonioni's masterpiece Blowup (1966), but with a greater emphasis on the nature of photography in the 21st century.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Lotus Flower

The new...ish (hit YouTube two days before my last birthday) Radiohead video, Lotus Flower - the first single from their already available to download album The King of Limbs - continues the band's interest in promoting themselves via simple, low-fi, low-budget promos that seem positively homemade in comparison to the celebrated, high-concept videos for Street Spirit, Karma Police, Pyramid Song, etc. Having first discovered the notion of music as something more than just a soundtrack to childhood family outings during that particular period of the band's creative evolution there's still a lingering sense of warm nostalgia for the days, pre-access to the Internet, when coming home from school and flicking through the music channels to see the new Radiohead video (or Björk, or Blur, or Eels) brought on a rush of excitement unlike anything else.

It was the whole cultural communicative thing too, which probably still exists, but like everything else these days is accelerated; no longer something to actually wait for, discover or stumble across when you least expect it, but there, at your fingertips, and on-demand. The playground buzz of the next few days when you'd ask your friends "did you see it?" no doubt has less of the same sting of anticipation that it used to have in the pre-millennium days when the thought of using a computer to simultaneously link your friends with the relevant clips and information was the stuff of older kids, or science fiction.

Lotus Flower begins, in back-lit black and white, in a severe looking service tunnel reminiscent of the one featured in Philippe Garrel's silent post-May '68 psychodrama, Le révélateur (1968). It could be described, with total straight-faced honesty, as a "performance video", though not in the industry jargon sense of a band or musician sitting in a room hitting their instruments in-sync with a studio backing track. This is the performance video as a work of legitimate performance art; where the movement of the body, in time and in step with the beats, melodies, counter melodies and chord changes of the song itself creates an expression that articulates, not necessarily what the song is about, but the mood, the atmosphere and the way the song makes us feel.

The feel of any Radiohead song is unmistakable: nocturnal, restless, desolate and claustrophobic; with the sense of technology as both a liberator and facilitator in our own glorious downfall. A cultural year-zero in the beautifully Ballardian notion of consumer meltdown; kingdom come and the myths of the near future. Though the dance is typically a kind of celebration, it is here a solitary expression, performed for the benefit of an audience no doubt alone or connected to the world only by that thin invisible thread that links us, from one machine to the next. As the video develops, moving with each new change in rhythm and tone, the hypnotic convulsions on screen become as mournful and sombre as Yorke's wailing falsetto. At the same time they possess a freedom and a lack of self-consciousness usually reserved for the inner-city drunk or the roadside lunatic. Someone like Denis Lavant's character in the Yorke affiliated Rabbit in Your Headlights video, who finds strength in absolute abandon.

Lotus Flower may not have the immediate awe-factor or something like Just or Street Spirit or Knives Out, with their unanswerable questions, technical virtuosity and endless imagination, but there's something quietly overwhelming about this video that at first seems to be almost thrown-together as an afterthought, but reveals, with subsequent viewings, to be something quite remarkable, fascinating and total alien to anything else currently being produced.


Lotus Flower directed by Garth Jennings, 2011: