Monthly Archives: April 2013

A short story from Death’s POV: An Ache That Lasts For Infinity

I rang your doorbell. I felt you hesitate before answering it. I knew this hesitation. It happened a lot. I enjoyed it. You flung the door wide open. This surprised me. I liked being surprised. It rarely happened. And there you were. Beautiful. I’d never seen one quite like you. It wasn’t just the way you looked although that was appealing to me. There was something else.

Your initial reaction to seeing me was shock but you regained your composure so quickly that it was I that was caught off-guard. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Well, what I mean is it’s hardly ever happened that way and I’d built up an expectation and you…. you’d gone and exceeded all my expectations.

‘To be honest I wasn’t expecting you,’ you said and then you smirked, tantalising me with that twinkle in your eye.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m here.’

You breathed in deeply, and said, ‘I’m ready. Would you like to come in?’

Suddenly I was overcome with grief. How could you be ready? I wasn’t ready. No! I wanted to run away. To escape the natural law. But how could I do that? What would happen if I did that? Was it possible? And I realised at once that if I ran away something else would fill my place. So I bowed my head and walked in.

You were sensitive to how I was feeling. Even now, I shake my head and all manner of emotions trip each other up when I think of how gentle you were with me.

‘Can I get you anything?’ you asked. I shook my head, unable to speak. I wanted to howl. Words fail me in the description of the grief I felt at what was to come and it was unavoidable, it truly was. You knew it and so did I. Yet I kept hesitating, frozen in my grief.

We sat together in silence for a long time. Your presence soothed me. I thought of the others. And of how I had never felt like this about them. That made me sad. That I had been quite cruel and heartless and had even played with their fears. I cried for them, silently at first and then with heaving sobs. You didn’t rush to comfort me. You sat quietly, respectfully and I felt honoured that you did that.  When my tears stopped flowing you asked again if you could get me anything and I said ‘yes, a cup of tea,’ because I wanted something ‘normal’ to happen. I wanted to fit in to your life.

You placed your hand on my shoulder briefly before going to make the tea. That touch was like being bathed in golden light; so loving. Even now, I touch my shoulder from time to time as a physical aide memoir. You returned with the tea, which I didn’t touch and you asked how I was feeling. I bowed my head again and could not speak for a long time. You seemed to understand and waited patiently.

‘I’m feeling suddenly humbled,’ I blurted. ‘I’ve been doing this for a long time and I got cocky, to be honest. And your presence has reminded me of something. I was not respectful and and…’ words deadened what I had been experiencing. They could never describe perfectly.

‘Is it time now?’ You asked.

I screamed silently but I knew it was pointless to resist. I guess, at the time, I was so greedy for a presence like yours that I didn’t know if it could be possible to feel like this again.

‘Yes,’ I said and bowed my head, suddenly sensing something else: an insight. Now I understood why I had grown cocky. It was to protect myself. How do you think it feels to have every person you ever see react to you with fear and loathing? I felt ugly, unappreciated and unwelcome. Until you. I felt lifted and smiled at you.

‘Thank you. You have changed my outlook.’

You smiled that beautiful smile again. Then you closed your eyes and I took your last breath.

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The film idea I presented at the Reconfigured Documentary briefing this morning was encapsulated in this photo of a mind-map I made. Threads I wish to explore in my documentary are my relationships with John (my boyfriend), my friends, my family, motorcycling and my previous films in connection with empowerment and healing from trauma experienced in childhood. I would like to utilise re-enactments, photographs, archive footage and digital SLR footage.

The bass-line for the film is the narrative of me passing my full motorcycle test by the end of the film. My CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) is fixed for Saturday 11 May 2013; my theory test is booked for Tuesday 14 May 2013, and once I have passed this I can book the Module 1 Practical Test – off-road manoeuvres. John is training me in the Module 1 manoeuvres. I’ll need professional training for the Module 2 Practical Test as this involves riding on public roads. My funds are limited hence the creative approach to training.

As I shared this information with the class, I realised my father is not mentioned in the mind-map. I asked, out loud, “where is my dad in this?” My immediate emotional response was tearful. I wondered about the use of voiceover and who I might address it to – the audience? My dad? Myself? The idea of a voiceover addressing a specific person reminded me of a story I wrote from the point of view of Death as a character. I showed the first fifteen minutes of Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 to the class as an example of some of the things I’d like in my film: Samantha Morton’s voiceover addresses the male lead from the present – the visuals depict the past but we’re seeing it in the present. I like this use of temporal anomaly.

Judy, my tutor, showed an excerpt from A Question of Distance by Susan Tramwell, who uses voiceover that is specifically addressed to the people she has interviewed. Although she speaks with little emotion in her tone, there a sense of poignancy. The film was made in Israel; she was interviewing Palestinians who have been displaced; I realise that was a careless phrase and I notice I used it to avoid feeling something uncomfortable – I will look at this later.

I was also advised to check out Helene Cixous, writer of Stigmata; Jeanette Winterson (a writer whose work I admire); and Luce and Irragary, with regard to voice. It seems this project is about voice and sound for me.

Theatre of War – part 4: A behind the scenes look at The Public Theater’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage”

At 12:42 in this video, Barbara Brecht, Brecht’s daughter, talking about what Brecht wanted from his audiences, states:

“he wanted them to respond emotionally, but he wanted them to think also. I mean, you can do both.”

Until watching this, I had understood it that he wanted to distance the audience from identifying emotionally with the characters in his plays in order to think about the ideology they are caught up in. Now, I understand the importance of his work: without the emotional response it is hard to change dystopian reality and you need to think in order to create options.

Reconfigured Documentary: the brief

Today at uni we were given the brief on the documentary project, which is the final project of the first year of my course: BA (Hons) Moving Image. The deadline is Friday 24th May. The name of the brief is “Reconfigured Documentary”. It’s about breaking the traditions of documentary.

We watched excerpts from three films:

The Arbor by Clio Barnard

This is a documentary about the playwright, Andrea Dunbar. Dunbar grew up on a council estate in Bradford, West Yorkshire, and her life was tragic; she died, aged 29, from alcoholism. She had three children; the first, Lorraine, was born when Dunbar was 18. Dunbar’s first play, The Arbor, was crafted when she was 15; a teacher helped her polish it to performance standard. Barnard interweaves the play into her documentary about Dunbar. The play is a piece of realist drama taken from Dunbar’s life experiences, although Dunbar’s stage directions ensure the audience know they are watching a play; for example, the character The Girl introduces each scene by directly addressing the audience before performing her role.

In the documentary, the play is staged outside on the council estate where Dunbar grew up, with local residents standing around watching the performances. Barnard recorded interviews with Lorraine, Dunbar’s daughter, and other members of her family, and used actors to lip sync their words; whilst this did create a sort of distance between the truth of what the interviewees were saying and the performance of the actors playing the interviewees, I found it a deeply intensive emotional experience: I cried as Lorraine spoke of her mother’s emotional absence that partly created the conditions that allowed Lorraine to be sexually abused (Lara, my classmate, did a really lovely thing at this point: she placed her hand on my shoulder and kept it there until I stopped crying). The actors playing Lorraine and her sister were middle class which created another piece of distantiation – they were both playing working class women.

Lorraine and her sister take different stances on the legacy left them by their mother’s behaviour: Lorraine blames her mother for all that is wrong in her life; her sister takes control of her life and is determined not to let her childhood experiences get in the way. A childhood story the girls tell, in their different ways, demonstrates this: Lorraine and her sister are trapped in their bedroom and Lorraine sets the bed on fire. They are trapped in the room because the door handle has been removed by their mother on purpose – this was, apparently, a regular occurrence. Lorraine acknowledges this but her sister laughs at her mother’s checks to make sure the girls don’t have any items on them that could allow them to undo the handle on their side of the door. The fact that she laughs at her mother’s behaviour suggests she is not capable of feeling the emotional pain this may have caused her. It seems that both girls take oppositional extreme views on their mother’s behaviour.

The door handle scene, along with other scenes, takes place inside a house on the Bradford housing estate where the girls grew up, but the parts of the girls are played by the adult actresses which creates a sense of unreality. Ultimately, Barnard used the distantiation techniques to demonstrate the fact that “documentary narratives are as constructed as fictional ones” (see interview with Barnard here).

The Battle of Orgreave by Jeremy Deller

Art Angel commissioned this site specific re-enactment of the 1984 clash between police and miners at Orgreave. Deller sent out an invitation to those involved in the 1984 violence to take part in the re-enactment. Many volunteered to participate and, in some cases, switched roles. As well as showing the re-enactment, the film documents the process of the filmmaking and there are interviews with Tony Benn and other political figures. It’s an important film in that it highlights the propaganda put forth by Margaret Thatcher in order to achieve her aims, and the BBC’s involvement in editing footage of the clashes between police and miners to support her, rather than showing the events as they happened temporally correctly. Deller’s aims did not include creating space for healing to happen by allowing dialogue between those involved on opposite sides during the 1984 events, but I do wonder whether this may have been a by-product of making the film. Those involved found themselves in a situation that allowed them to talk about what happened and how they felt about it at the time and this, in itself, is a powerful act. Judy, our tutor for this project, wondered how it might be to revisit this community to find out what changes have occurred since this film was made.

The Benin Project by Uriel Orlow

Orlow’s work encompasses memory, archive and trauma. The Benin Project was a video installation that critiqued British colonisation by exploring the context of the Benin bronzes that are held in the British Museum. The Visitor is a video showing Orlow’s visit to Benin, and his meeting with the King of Benin, to discover the effect of the absence of these artefacts on the citizens of their country of origin. The film uses stills rather than moving image and the narrator is a female with a Nigerian dialect. I felt tired whilst watching this film, partly because of the aggressive tone of the accent of the narrator and partly, I think, because of the strong emotions I’d been feeling earlier in the day. I found this film harder to engage with than the previous two, perhaps because of the less emotional, for me, content.

Photos taken at Kensington Gardens

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Rock on Top of Another Rock (2010/13) by Swiss artistsFischli/Weiss Serpentine Gallery

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Rock on Top of Another Rock (2010/13) by Swiss artistsFischli/Weiss - close up, Serpentine Gallery

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Gnarly tree in Kensington Gardens

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Patterned fence at Albert Memorial

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Albert Memorial silhouette

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Seagulls on the Serpentine

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Peter Pan statue

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Peter Pan statue

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Detail of Peter Pan statue

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Detail of Peter Pan statue

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Detail of Peter Pan statue