Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Ocean Song

I am sat by the water; scribbling these words in a notebook to be transcribed at a later date. The light is growing dim; a soft blue light, like the kind found in old European-horror movies - something like The Devil's Nightmare (1971) or Requiem for a Vampire (1973) - where the filmmakers would try to give the impression of night in a scene originally (and quite obviously) shot during the day. This technique is called Day-for-night, and as a look, it's often incredibly beautiful...

There is music playing. Not just one song, but several, all overlapping in an aural collage of voices and notes. The sound, attractive as it is discordant, pours from the open doors of various bars and restaurants; catching the breeze and travelling down, along the bay to where I sit, slumped and content in a kind of coastal loneliness; a seaside melancholy usually reserved for the greatest films of Neil Jordan.

Outstanding films like Mona Lisa (1986), The Miracle (1991), The Butcher Boy (1997) and The End of the Affair (1999); each one contains a key scene in which a central character attempts to escape from some great abuse by retreating to the coast. Perhaps it's the sense of being on the edge of the world that appeals to these characters; the past is behind them, only the water and the endless possibilities that exist beyond the horizon lay in front.

Perhaps it's a purifying thing too; the water not only offers the possibility for reflection, it washes everything clean.

The Jordan film that stands out the most in my mind is the beautiful Ondine (2009). Every scent, sight and sensation felt on the edge of this water brings the memory of the film closer to my heart. Specific images repeat and spill over my own thoughts and personal recollections until the film becomes more than just a passive experience, but something that needs to be lived. It's a remarkable film; one that I've seen four times this year, and I keep promising myself that I'll write about it, and maybe one day I will... but for now the impression of it, here, with the sea before me, and that same blue light, is entirely overwhelming.

Transparent almost, this blue, like the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen; a soft watercolour light, like a wash of seawater has splashed back, across the promenade, with its seafront bars, hotels and nightclubs, and stained the whole thing in a beautiful shade of sadness.

Image of Douglas by Night, photographed by Lights in the Dusk:

The thing that keeps Ondine in my heart more than any other Neil Jordan film (and really, I love them all, to varying degrees; he's an outstanding filmmaker) is the use of the song All Alright by Sigur Rós. Finding an almost perfect unity between sound and image, All Alright is a strange, ethereal ballad; a love song from an alien planet, where the emotion expressed is universal, because the presentation is so vague. Occasionally we might catch something that seems to make sense; a particular word or phrase that creates an immediate image in the mind of the listener... but then it's lost again.

Each new change or movement within the structure suggests a new emotional landscape. It's impressionism of sound to compliment Jordan's impressionism of storytelling; where each development of the plot - each new twist and turn, sometimes light, sometimes dark - suggests the impression of a story being invented for the benefit of a sick child.

Ondine directed by Neil Jordan, 2009:

Really, it's the song that keeps reminding me of this place. Perhaps the real reason why I love Ondine more than say The Butcher Boy or Breakfast on Pluto (2005) or The Good Thief (2002) (all incredible films) is because of this song. And maybe I only love this song because it reminds me of her...

When I peer into the dark mirror of the sea, it's not my own face staring back, but hers. Somewhere, the same bright stars, reflected here, on the still of the water, watch over her as they watch over me. I'm reminded of Woolf's epitaph; or more appropriately, the quotation of it by Godard in his short film, Dans le noir du temps (2002): And in me too the wave rises. It swells, it arches its back. I am aware once more of a new desire; something rising beneath me; like the proud horse who's rider first whispers and then pulls him back. Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished, and unyielding...

If the sea is a mirror, then perhaps Jordan's characters are so attracted to it because it offers them a chance to really look at themselves, away from the suffocation of home, or the depravity of a criminal underworld, or the responsibilities of having to hide painful emotions in order to protect the husband of the woman you love, so as to finally see, beneath the bravado and the veneer, the yearning of the heart within. Against this infinite void, where the blue of the sky meets the blue of the ocean, these characters can see, for possibly the very first time, who they really are.