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.