Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Faceless + Emily Richardson shorts

Barbican cinema
1 October 2013

Trailer for Faceless, from here.

Poetry and nightmare derived from images of everyday London, with mixed success.

One of the few events in the Barbican’s Urban Wandering cinema season to not be sold-out, this was also one of just two events dominated by women.

The film-makers were keen to stress afterwards that they didn’t feel their work was gendered, and indeed I wouldn’t have known the gender of the director by watching these.

There wasn’t much else to link the two artists either, except that both used London. 

Emily Richardson’s three short films (Nocturne, Block, Memo mori) were that form of documentary we’re familiar with through the psychogeography that has dominated the season. 

Nocturne showed empty London streets at night; Block displayed images from a tower block in Bermondsey. The result was absorbing and reminded me of the Romantic dictum that our imagination can make beauty from anything. 

The other side of that belief, that our imagination plays a negative role in our life, through fear, was hinted at in the other films.

Memo mori, with a voiceover from Iain Sinclair, focussed on a few scenes around the building of London’s recent Olympic Park (doesn’t that seem ages ago now?) Gleaming computer-generated imagination is pitted against an imaginative approach to the piecemeal of old East London.

Sinclair’s narration repeats his familiar complaints against the rise of the Olympics, but at least with Richardson’s images, we can more easily sympathise. The destruction of a series of makeshift allotment sheds does indeed seem a high price, after they have been apotheosised in this way.

Transfiguring the commonplace is an important aesthetic achievement, and is not easy, despite its popularity at the moment, and I was grateful to see it done so well here.

By contrast, Faceless by Manu Luksch struck me as a failure. An ingenious idea, to compile a fairly long narrative film using footage from the CCTV cameras that dominate London, was crippled because Luksch could only obtain a very limited amount of this footage, as she revealed afterwards.

The result is that what we saw became annoyingly repetitive, as if limited to just a few locations (which I assume it was). The quality of surveillance footage is also extremely poor, making the whole experience a struggle.

Luksch and her collaborators cobbled together a zany futuristic quest fantasy from the footage, making a virtue of the need to obscure everyone’s faces except Luksch herself, who is sadly no actor. Something interesting is hidden here, about our understanding of time and space.

Nightmare quests are a staple of art, but it’s still a great pity the project couldn’t use more locations and present greater variety.

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