Evaluation of Fade To Black: a conversation with my mother

The movie, Fade to Black: a conversation with my mother, was made using a process of random choice and using whatever was happening in the moment. It contains pieces of my side of conversations with my mother, music written by my son, and a visual study of the environment in which I live including the ordinary sounds that occur in and around it.

It felt self indulgent to make this movie. Some of the clips are long (over a minute) periods of nothing much happening, which goes against what I imagine most people want to watch. The Hollywood movie tends to favour slick, plot focused action. The second clip of my movie has the camera watching the rain make rings in a puddle on the roof of a derelict building. It is accompanied by natural sounds – birds, machine noises and then my voice cuts in with “hi mum, it’s me”.

I taped two conversations with my mum that I thought were going to be difficult in order to listen to myself later to find out if what I was saying was reasonable. It was stuff I tended to hold in and avoid saying and, because of many years of doing that, it seemed very important to me to take the risk of saying what I really thought. The first conversation was the most nerve wracking and I wrote down the first sentence of what I wanted to say in my diary. I had to read it out because I felt so frightened. But once it was out it was fine and we discussed it further. I finally began to take on board, through stating it to my mum, that it was okay for me to state the truth of my experience as different to hers without making her wrong. We continue to have conversations and I continue to feel nervous and want to avoid saying the hard things but that causes me to resent her. I have discovered the way to love her is to go to the difficult places and say what they are. These soundbites are edited close together which does not represent the reality of the conversation: there were large spaces in the audio where I listened to her experience.

My son’s music track In The Shadows cuts in after I greet my mum. It’s a track he wrote with an end of the world scenario in mind: a few humans scattered around a metal bin containing fire in a desolate city wasteland. When I asked myself what or who was in the shadows, I realised it was me in the relationship I had with my mum and I wanted to bring myself out.

There are three sound effects encased in a wildlife kind of sound (like crickets chirping) in the music track that I wanted to match using video effects. The first is a swipe sound and I used a fade to black. It reminds me of something blinking – I say “something” rather than “someone” because it feels like something not human. I’m not entirely happy with it because it doesn’t quite match the sound, unlike the third sound effect on which I used a fade to white which was faster and matches perfectly. The second effect also matches well. The sound is a sort of clang / clunk and I split the film and took a second out to make it jump as the sound occurs. I like this effect – the sound and film are working well together. Then the melodic instruments kick in creating a sort of sad yet searching feeling.

The third clip is the camera focused on my kitchen window. It’s raining outside. Out of focus is the block of flats opposite. At first it seems nothing much is happening. The music rises and falls and then you notice the way the rain creates slugs of wet that suddenly move down the window. In other areas drops hit the window. It makes the shape of the balconies distort. As the music progresses it creates sweeping highs. When the music begins to fade out sounds of a washing machine blend and become the main auditory focus. I love the way it blends and makes the washing machine part of the music briefly. I’d like to do more in this area with ordinary sounds. I’ve just discovered John Cage’s work in that area, which I find exciting and interesting: giving ordinary objects space to air their voices. The window scene cuts to another window and the washing machine sounds continue.

The south facing window of my lounge shows a tree in spring (it was actually May – spring was very late this year if you consider previous years’ examples to be the norm). The camera pans down the balconies of the block of flats behind the tree. The branches are reaching for the sky with the tiniest of buds on them. The clip is slowed down and the camera is shaky. The clip feels melancholy because of its slow motion. The camera pans up the tree and block of flats seeming to move to the left and the brickwork of the block but then moves right again and captures a seagull flying across the sky before it moves left and fades out. I like this clip. It felt strange, initially, to include it because it’s so shaky. But its melancholy quality adds to the film. The seagull flying correlates to the next clip perfectly which is of a seagull sunbathing on the wooden railing of my balcony. It looks alarmed at my closeness to it. As we approach it there are sounds of a cup of tea being made: spoon stirring and clinking a cup. The washing machine is still going. The seagull stands, still uncertain, and the camera wobbles again. We approach nearer and the seagull flies off and we are faced with a view of Brighton and the sound of a motorbike noisily making its way across the scene before the scene cuts. I think the seagull represented how I perceived my mother at the start of the filming and editing process: when I tried to get close to her she seemed alarmed and flew off.

The sixth clip is of the inside of a cupboard. In the top left hand corner of the nearly black screen you can see light molecules dancing. Initially I was going to let this clip play without sound. There is a version of this (also without movie effects in the second clip) on YouTube. But then I had the second conversation with my mother and decided to use the same process to pick sound clips to use in this section as I used to pick video clips for the film. I listened to the conversation and typed it out. I broke it into numbered pieces and selected seven at random using numbered pieces of paper in a cup. I like this approach because it creates a sort of serendipity and means I don’t have to take responsibility for the whole thing. 🙂 It also mirrors life in that there are things each of us can do to guide ourselves towards what we want in life and there are chance happenings that we could never have brought about by ourselves.

The sound of my voice continues into the seventh and final clip which makes its appearance by suddenly flowering into the blackness of the screen. The clip is the same as the first clip: two wood pigeons nesting in the tree (now in leaf) outside my south window. In the first clip the camera is already zoomed in and slowly zooms out. In the seventh clip it is reversed: the camera slowly zooms in on the wood pigeons as my voice cuts away and the noises accompanying the video fill the sound space once more: birds and machines. I was surprised and bemused to pick this clip out of the cup twice. That it should be the first and the last also amused me. What are the chances of that happening?

Titles and captions were a bit difficult to fathom in iMovie 09 due to a bug: it crashed every time I tried to use them. A google search showed me the answer: reduce the viewing window so as not to include the far far away title page. Originally my film was going to be called In The Shadows and this is the title that comes up after the last clip. I edited it several times to change it to Fade To Black but I didn’t realise until after I rendered it that it hadn’t saved it. I’m still not sure why this is.

I used iMovie 09 for this project so I could learn how to use it. I feel much more at ease with the program now than I did at the start. There was an uncomfortable learning curve involved in the process, along with some minor frustrations at the limitations of the software. I’d like to be able to insert words wherever I like over the film as if I were using a pen or paintbrush but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. In hindsight perhaps I could have taken stills from the movie and edited them in Photoshop. It would have been incredibly time consuming and created a whole new set of problems to solve in relation to editing and smooth transitioning of stills to moving image (profound fractal thought about my own process of moving from still photography to moving image). I’m looking forward to starting my BA(Hons) Moving Image course so that I can use 16mm and 35mm film and draw on it by hand, using repetition and chance to create lovely accidents.

Overall I see this film as marking the transition of my growth from scared child in relationship with my mother to tentative adult. Even though the clips and voice were picked at random they create a coherent and truthful piece of art. Watch the film here.

What do you think?


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