Embodiment 1: Tactility and engagement through the commonplace and mundane

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Trying to explain the plot or narrative of this film before I could simply show them, has been a very telling and interesting exercise, It goes a little like this: “well essentially the film follows a guy having a cup of tea in a cafe and then he walk around a bit in an off season seaside town, then he sees a boy and his dog on a beach and then he strips off and either goes for a swim or potentially drowns himself”….”Errrm not much happens really”

I have never been very good at describing or vocalising my work and it must be said this film has not made the task any easier! However when faced with reactions that range between glazed incomprehension and mildly indulgent sympathy, It does focus one back onto this question of what is this film about? what constitutes it, and how and why does this fairly mundane sequence of events describe anything?

My influences are in this post, post modern world of constant and violent media assault, quite eclectic, I am able to trace and keep track of the major ones, but it must be said that just occasionally some of them slip past the net of comprehension un noticed and worm there way into my consciousness to emerge later in my practice, this I think it is fair to say is normal (whatever normal is) and It makes for interesting connections and discoveries in more formalised research later on down the line.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog this film has been in my head for a long time now, its earliest mind fragment possibly emerged in 2014 whilst I was still finishing my under graduate studies. So I had feelings and influences that have fed back into the mix for a long time. This means when I make a connection like the one I want to explore here it is impossible to entirely separate the timings and reactions, and say with absolute certainty which came first the chicken film or the egg inspiration. They are of course bound up in life and intertwined into the context and making of this film.

I really want to look at one of the most simple elements of the film, which is the mundane and everyday activities shown, in particular the tea serving and drinking sequence. I hope It is true that I have chosen to shoot it in an engaging way, however the main point is not the shot or movement itself, this is designed to lead the viewer into this world, yes, but it is not even the baton passing of the tea to our character or the imbibing of the liquid symbolising the shift from external to internal that I want to discuss here.

No, It is the common place activity of sitting in a cafe and drinking a cup of tea, this mundane activity broken down into its constituent parts has more to say than just ritual, (and ritualistic I wanted it to be). In essence it is trying to locate within the common place a connection visually to the audience, the mundane itself acting as an agent to alignment, to comprehension, and  hopefully to an instinctive tactile sense of engagement.

The idea of looking at everyday objects within film to produce this effect is not new Toni Ross looks at this very thing in an engaging chapter of Framing Film: Cinema and the visual arts.

In the chapter entitledResonances of Nineteenth-Century Realism In Steve McQueen’s Hunger, He discusses a particular scene in the film in which a prison officer in protective clothing mops the floor outside the prison cells of the infamous maze prison, the camera is fixed and this long take shot where we see the prison officer moving from the end of the corridor slowly and methodically toward the camera. Ross Observes; 

“During these moments, all of our attentions channelled towards the flows of liquid, the mechanical movements the anonymous sweeper, and syncopated sound of this activity. Such close observation and     temporal distension of uneventful rituals of life in the Maze intermittently interrupt those passages of Hunger where the actions of characters take centre stage.” (Allen and Hubner, 2012, p172)

He goes on to look further at how the use of abstract close ups in the next shot of the liquids on the floor which McQueen called later the ‘battle of the liquids’ focussing on the proximity to the object of scrutiny this being the liquids themselves has the effect of not just distilling the human struggle into abject excretions fighting the bleaching power of state internment, but a deeper connection reached for;  “McQueen Sacrifices optical clarity and depth vision in order to immerse the viewer in visual and sonic sensations” (Allen and Hubner, 2012, p172)

Ross goes on to discuss the effect of the infamous Speech of Margaret Thatcher over this image, powerful in its ability to hold back its judgement and allow us to make our own connections. It is for me in the close ups and the banality of detail that I wish to make my points, I remember watching this film some years ago again as an undergraduate, and what struck me most about this scene then, was its temporality, The power still lies for me in holding that shot of the sweeping guard for a painful amount of time, we are not just subjected here to a painful and mundane act, we literally feel we have our noses rubbed in it, the smell emanates from the screen.

The time McQueen allows for this shot to play out also had one other very powerful effect, and here I disagree slightly with Ross, it doesn’t or shouldn’t mesmerise us merely with the liquids as they swish up the corridor, our focus is deliberately but slowly brought back to the doors that line the corridor, the guard swishes the liquid under certain doors and not others. It is my suggestion that this break in rhythm is our clue to the humanity that lies hidden behind every cell door, and this combined with the realisation that these men are dying, adds up to an incredibly powerful sequence we have been invited to feel to relate, then to ponder and to think deeply about. It hit me like a punch in the stomach, notably all of this stems from the commonplace, the details of the banal.

In my own film the sequences are simple we follow a man as I said inhabiting the spaces of a seaside town, his actions in themselves are mundane, particularly in the details, the rituals if you will, of smoking and drinking. I was reaching for a tactility in the shots, through the use of sound and familiarity, to bring feelings of the solidity of these objects. once this was established the intention was to then start breaking away with the edit and the course of events, from this assumption of safe and solid reality, into an alignment of feeling with our characters changing state and disconnection from reality.

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We must root our reality somewhere, why not in a cup of tea? Ross puts it much better in what he describes as; ‘The real is produced as a constellation of sensory effects manufactured by the film-maker that intensify visceral dimensions of the film-viewing experience.’ (Allen and Hubner, 2012)  This visceral connection is what I have been reaching for in low season, and area where the logic of narrative is rendered secondary to the sensory connection with our characters world and therefore his emotional plight. Again In his reading of ‘Hunger’ Ross observes; ‘Spectators of hunger are addressed subjects immersed in Oscillating waves of sensory feeling as much as translators of narrative meaning’ (Allen and Hubner, 2012)

I am not trying to draw strict comparisons here between McQueens masterpiece and my own short piece, they are wildly different, however in dealing with subject matters that are both reality based and can be considered politically or socially hard edged or difficult to portray. In my case human states of desperation, lonliness and isolation which could also be read as mental health instabilities and suicide.

It felt to me that the most honest and powerful approach was to not get buried under character narrative, McQueen of course finds a balance between this and is dealing with historical events, he also has the course of an entire feature to describe and situate the events in a myriad of ways and with mixed methodologies of intense dialogue, temporal challenges, and visceral bursts of violence combined with more abstract visual and auditory description. In Low Season I am trying to describe complex and deep human emotion, trace a journey both internally and externally and make allusions to social issues using metaphor and poetics in just over 5 minutes!

Over a decade ago art critic Okwui Enwezor put forward the idea that in McQueens work we as an audience have two ways of seeing: ‘One through the conventional optical mode of simply watching, and the other by “physically (haptically) seeing he film through he whole body, as illusionistic sensations’ (Enwezor, 1999, cited in Allen and Hubner, 2012)

This dualistic way of being invited into a piece of visual work of course has its origins outside of the world of cinema In other arts particularly painting. In this chapter Ross is drawing comparisons with Nineteenth century realist painters such as Adolf Von Menzel, looking in particular at his painting ‘Fur coat on a sofa’ (1859) It easy to see the corporeal qualities to this image that are talked about, But what further interested me was not just visual embodiment, but the idea put forward that because the spatial relationship between coat and sofa are unrealistic in terms of scale, and the positioning of this huge swathe of fur is such that it appears to be looming in frame, about to topple toward the spectator, this of course makes for a further level of embodiment in the inanimate object. (Allen and Hubner, 2012) Does this freeze the painting between stillness and motion?


The power of this haptic bodily connection is so relevant in film because we are able to seek this in a series of images strung together, complete with movement in the frame, and of course with the power of sound. The ‘Tea ritual’ shot early on in the cafe has one other element I would like to align and suggest connections with here, and that is of the characters hand reaching forward to pick up the spoon, I was very happy with the proximity of this shot to the camera, I felt when I saw the results that it is a singular moment where perhaps the potential for the connection physically with the audience actually comes very close to being a literal thing, like the fur coat of Menzel poised to fall out toward the viewer, in moving image we can actualise this movement and push this proximity boundary and  literally reach out toward our viewer.

The point of this short blog has really been to trace some of the ideas processes and practices that inform my work, some of these may have come in at least partially under the radar, as although I sought the effects mentioned here, old connections had to be reformed, the the power of Watching Steve McQueens film for the first time, and the tracing these old links offers more than a mere a nod of gratitude or a neat referance point of process It also becomes a note to self to track closely the deeper impressions of masterworks on my own practice.

The banal, the common place has power, we connect because we recognise and then we can feel.

In part two I would like to look further at the spatial connections again the common place and the banal, but paying particular attention to the embodiment of space, in micro and macro sense.


Dichotomy of moving image

The Dichotomy that I began to work my way through in the last module appears to be tightening its grip and throttling the creativity from me once again. The problem? The definition of my work and where this should fall in particular for screening or exhibition.

In the last module I began looking at the problems of screening work that did not fit into certain criteria, this was at the time looked at largely from a cinematic perspective, that is of short films, displayed in a sit down group space.

My initial conclusions were that the market and screening largely film festivals do not actively support niche films that fall outside of certain criteria. These are in brief: that the films are able to be categorised into broad type documentary, Narrative, indie, art house etc, This is by no means an exhaustive list more a guide that suggests trends in event programmers minds. Furthermore the criteria are still judged on a return basis, this may be box office return at the purely commercial end, or simply bums on seats at the festival circuit end, however they both suggest a lack of appetite for risk, which in turn leads to a continuation of the satisfaction of said criteria and the maintenance of this status quo.

These concerns for return based evidence based cinema, sit uncomfortably with the advancement and creative integrity of cinema as an art form, Notice here how I am specific here about cinema, not moving image art (I will get back to this further on).

Allowing this narrow definition of cinema and therefore film to persist is an extremely damaging act perpetrated not just by big wig studio execs but by the programmers of festivals large and small, by people who for a large part have placed themselves above the world of cinema and film and hold it in dominion, many of which have no real knowledge of the medium, outside of what they perceive to be its potential success and failure, because of this we are allowing a largely managerial non creative minority to shape our viewing and therefore allegedly our tastes of cinema from a purely commercial viewpoint and bias.

Not only that but these same people are very often the ones who commission the work in the first place, so another barrier to creative diversity in film is built and reenforced by an ignorant minority.

In the last 10 years the most innovative and therefore successful work that has come out of this country has done so despite, the BFI, And the other funding quangos that surround them. The films such as a ‘Kill Lill’ (2011)  by Ben Wheatley emerged because the makers themselves bankrolled the film or sought alternative funding, the sad truth is that these innovative works that have garnered acclaim, the ones that the BFI now champion, would have never been supported by these institutions from the beginning, they would have been considered too risky or too niche.

Consider ‘A field in England’ (2013) another Ben Wheatley film that is unlike the genre fitting/bending aforementioned ‘Kill List’, but was able to be made because of his successful record (financial) on Kill List. This film was marketed in a unique way on Tv through film Four, online, and in cinemas, all simultaneously, in the talk Wheatley gave recently at Exeter Phoenix he admitted he only did this because he wanted as many people to see it initially as possible, because he knew after the first few days it would be buried in the cinemas under big Hollywood productions who can afford to put there films on for month runs or more, and this limited time even online and on Television could simply offer a higher watch rate. Not much mention of money here because he didn’t make any, and this was a critically and commercially successful film.

It is also a very rare example of this non genre type film to sneak through the net, it is an amazing film, but it should be one of many artistic works coming from these shores, not the freak occurrence that it is, by one Director who against all odds has actually managed to make films with an artistic and individual voice that people have actually seen!

So how does all this affect me as a maker? Well as I have said elsewhere I am not claiming to be the next…………. and I certainly do not lay claim to innovative ideas, but what I will say is my films fall awkwardly in a gap when it comes to traditional viewing or exhibition purposes or venues.

The dichotomy that I refer to earlier is the need suggested or otherwise to define my practice, by this I take it to mean to fall more heavily with work one way or the other, that is toward cinematic means, or toward experimental film or moving image art and gallery exhibition.

I think the answer is getting closer for me, and it hinges on the need and reasons for making films. TBC

Semiotics lost and found: notes of an unfinished blog


It was necessary in my continued investigation into the interplay between film imagery and mental process  to finally learn more about semiotics.

It also ties in with my recent blog Post on Roland Barthe and his use of semiotics in his post structural theories.

It Is not my intention here to try and link his theories of the death of the author, ideology and ideological State apparatuses, rather to inform myself with at least a basic working knowledge what constitutes semiotics.

Ferdinand de Sausure (1857-1913)

May be cited as the grandfather semiotics as it did not exist as the science or form of study in his lifetime. However students took up his work in 1916 after his death, the book they wrote is arguably the first written on semiotics.

Central to his theory is the idea of the signified and the signifier, the signified being the actual object in the real-world, the signifier being the word all sound of the word to describe the actual object.

His theory that we learn as baby to join the Signifier with the signified and therefore creating not just language to describe our world but signs.

He called this ‘participation’: the brain perceives patterns and creates cultural patterns, we no longer separate the Signified from the signifier and therefore they become one.

Within a short video I watched a small piece of neuroscience calculated that 0.00001% of our brains synapsis actually connected to the outside world, therefore postulating don’t we indeed live within our minds\Brains!

Charles Sander Pearce (1839-1919) was  an American philosopher took a more broader philosophical approach, and Proposed the ‘triadic’ concept, if  sign is the body of the triangle the three points represent sense, sign vehicle, and referrant. ………………………………………………………

He also came up with different modes these were; the symbol/symbolic purely conventional a good example the road sign. The icon/Iconic which has a resemblance/Similarity to the object an example of this might be a painting or sculpture, and there’s an interesting modern note includes Digital Image as this no longer fits into his third mode which is the index/Indexical, that which is directly connected in some way to the artefact or object, for example footprint, fossil almost relevant to me the light reacting on the silver halides of the film Strip.

Yuri  Lotzman in (1922-1993) produced another representation called the semisphere I’m one side of his circle we see indication this is a sign that needs no code to understand, in other words no cultural reference point. On the other Half of the circle we see the signification which does require a code of language or common cultural signifier.


Post Production: editing and tests

The film finished, a few tweaks here and there and still the sound mix to complete, but essentially finished! Or so I thought…

It is interesting how stepping away from a project has differing results both negative and positive, the positive being energy levels being refilled and a renewed vigour to finish the project, the negative aspects that I have identified are a messy piece meal effect, a loss in effect of continuity of the post production itself.
Chief among these Is the edit itself, the edit was assembled, an assembly being just that, a rough jigsaw pricing together of the footage, I had yet to get the arcade footage in, but the assembly of linear movement of the character had been established and not changed a great deal from just after the last shoot.

The reason I see this as a problem is that with starting and stopping of the edit I never went back to look afresh at the edit, I mean of course I trimmed the footage and looked for the rhythm in each cut, but apart from one failed experiment where I began to cut into the steps and walking on the beach sequence, this was a days experimentation where I looked to bring more agency and pace into these elements, I essentially concentrated on telling the story in a very methodical and storyboarded way.

Why is this a problem? Well for me the edit is a time for creative invention, it can be when the film finds a new life of its own, and I have to admit that my feelings on some of this film is that it is just not there yet, it has a tone that is of course both dark and quite deeply sad, I do feel that so far I have managed to maintain a tone that I was seeking. However, the film flatness in the middle, it seems to slow and repeat itself with no foreshadowing or sense of where it is going, this is at least partly looking at it from a viewers perspective, it is after all not going to be an easy sell or a crowd pleaser!

How and why at this stage did I see these issues after all this time? Quite simply I have started to do a few test screenings with a select band of people I trust, all of which will give (I trust) honest and balanced feedback. I had already shown the first rough assembly to Sam Johns whilst on the arcade shoot, and this was helpful and some of his points were pertinent and some I was able to clarify in my defence of the the reasoning.
I will go into this later in more detail.
The cut I have at the moment, will be sent out to Sam Johns again, (I am specifically interested in his feedback on sound) To Dan Smith also On sound design but with a nefarious darker wish to still somehow get some assistance from him on this.
And finally John Sealy who has had a look at the footage and given me extensive feedback.

So the meeting with John on Wednesday the 20th of September was a useful chance to get an outsider view and try to track may progress.
It was John who brought up the points mentioned earlier about the middle of the film, the steps sequence through to the pier. And what surprised me most was that I had forgotten my little experiments on these from over a month ago. This stepping away and coming back has meant at times I have not always kept a full and exhaustive track of my progress in the edit, and this piece meal effect mentioned earlier can become a real hinderance to pushing for the best possible outcome for the film.

John (when pushed to be critical) talked about how the shots although contextual and linear in there movement of the character in a physical sense within the film lacked emotional resonance of the internal characters journey within the structure of the assembly itself, this is a good point, and lost within my wish for each shot to visually tell the audience the information through composition, e.g. the steps always leading down, the compression of space of our character, into labyrinth and confusing spaces, his placement beneath a concrete wall that threatens to crush him. All these In my opinion are sound and speak of his state, but the sequence itself does not.

Below is the example John showed me of the building of a movement scene in Point Blank  notice how the scene hold out for a long time building tension with the two separate actions coming together, but always the sound of footsteps, over the other shots, this experimental and powerful way of building a sense of purpose and movement whilst showing the intent of the  central character may not fit tonally with my film but I get the point and the power of this cutting style, you can show what is going to happen what is happening and still hold onto tension and say far more about your character besides.

So with regard to my previous edit experiment, why had I dropped it like a stone? I showed my partner who clearly preferred the slower and more linear approach to this sequence of events, however I also realised that my experiments where not working. This is where perhaps I should have pushed harder and kept looking fro the cut that would work rather than beat a retreat back to the more simple (although tweaked edit). John reminded me of this and although I am not for certain going to go ahead with the shorter and more broken and experimental edit I will get back into the edit and see what can come out of more experimentation.

My initial idea to keep the shots longer was of course a nod to Bella Tarr and his painfully simple and long (long take shots) I still believe there is merit here, but am now keen within my incredibly short film to see ultimately what works the best to describe the dark and fleeting ambiguous world of my character.


Foley: It’s magical lies

So the chance to work with Rusty on foley had offered itself and Monday the …..of August was our agreed time.

I had a rough version of the film to play with missing certain scenes still and only referance sound but to replace the key elements of footsteps and other replacement sounds has always been my intention of this film.

It is also something I have never done before at all, usually I capture all the sound on location I can and then work with someone to create a soundscape often combing music also. In this case the need to fix the character in his setting has been crucial to allow me to create diversions from this reality. In other words we must perceive he is there in this world first, before he and we can show/see the shift in his state and perception of reality.

My choice to do this with sound has been and remains a crucial one to describing not only the character and his short story arc but also to the themes of the film itself, that of estrangement from a social setting and place and the slip into mental break down.

With all this in mind I am still working on these darker estranged elements of sound alone. but foley represented a chance to enter a strange new world of studio recreation (cheating) and what amazing and surprising fun it turned out to be.

Having been unable to book the sound suit online I turned up at the ERC on the Monday morning and they kindly obliged and gave me the key for the day. Dave had shown me around last term so I was at least vaguely familiar with the set up.

Myself and rusty set up quickly the monitor for the performance room pulled out all the foley trays and set up a mic. the live feed (played out of Logic) meant that I could watch the monitor of the film playing to perform along to, as rusty checked levels and recorded from the mixing desk.

playing in a sand pit all day! Mic set for note blowing on beach and walk into water.


Rusty in the driving seat

What is surprising is how quickly you find yourself getting creative with objects to create sounds, the gravel and stone trays are hardly surprising for footsteps, but other items like the loose packing material which sounds remarkably like the sea when used correctly are incredible when played back and with a a little reverb applied in the mix are almost impossible to discern from the real thing.

To start our session proper, Rusty suggested watching a foley video “to get us pumped about foley”! It certainly did the job but I did not find it difficult to get enthusiastic about this strange process, which is akin to concentrated focussed play. It was simply so much fun. When a longer take of footsteps or foley track was synced it was a very exhilarating feeling.

Rusty had to pop out for an hour or so and Dave from the ERC popped his head in and got straight into it too he being the sea and wave creator of some real aplomb! we managed to get all the sea sounds nailed in that hour before Dave left and Rusty returned.

Dave steps up and we review note blowing foley

The only issue of the day seemed to be two different styles of working and as I was totally reliant on Rusty and Dave to walk me through Logic pro the software used to record the sound, I found this at times tricky as things changed from one to the next! also the mix that we mixed down at the end is slightly out of sync when I got it back onto my mac and premiere cc.


The intention is to get another day back in the studio to mix the sound and music and polish before export. this is definitely something I feel Would be complemented by either Rusty or Dave’s expertise, but I would also perhaps like a little more input myself on the desk as Im keen to learn the software. I asm looking at acquiring a copy myself so that I can practice and play with some of the more conceptual and experimental elements before we go for the final mix.

All in all the day was a real success and an eye opener into a part of the film making process that I have hitherto not been privy to.

Foley is the magic of lies…Or is that the lies of magic?

Arcade shoot: Blog 3

So with all the kit booked and finding that evening that Sam was indeed able to make the shoot the next day, I finally felt we were going to nail this final shot.

I picked up Sam at the ungodly hour of 6am, he has suffered my early mornings before! With fresh coffee to lift his spirits we set off for the bright lights of Newquay. Parking was a breeze, literally next to the arcade and we went to our agreed time slot. Nobody was in the arcade, but a chap outside was waiting with a van also for the place to open up and assured us the manager would be there soon, by 7:45am a little over and hour wait he rocked up apologising for sleeping in and assuring us we would still be able to film.

In a way this actually played out well for us as I am convinced he felt bad and we took full advantage of his goodwill (and guilt and managed to shoot for an hour! I asked Sam to get good coverage using the A7s and his small 3axis gimbal, knowing that these would probably be the shots used but since I had the C100 decided to shoot with it handheld anyway with a fast prime lens on the front.

I concentrated on minutiae and Sam with slow tracking forward shots. we shot with everything off lights an machines for about 20 minutes then got the house lights on, then finally Nick turned on the machines, the combination of slo motion 120fps and 60 fps that Sam shot was designed to allow for even smoother look in post, and in the case of the 120fps we were looking to capture the moment the machines were turned on. we missed it as Nick was in a hurry having held off turning everything on for us until the last possible minute. we did however capture the booth being switched on in slow motion which I intend to reverse, and utilise in the edit.

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smile for the camera! the only shot I have of Sam on the shoot, we had no time for grabbing blog shots, and my camera wouldn’t have coped with the light anyway

The last 15 minutes we both worked around the arcade grabbing useable walk around footage for the Arcade to post on Facebook. Nick was helpful and courteous and all went pretty smoothly. I asked him if It would be ok to come back in later in the morning when it was busier to record sound and he was fine with that also.

So I took Sam for his promised breakfast, a curtailed bacon bap as most of the money I had had been spent on parking by then! and we made tea and waited in the van for Newquay to wake up on a Saturday morning, a torturous and slow affair as it turned out.

We used my Sennheiser Mke 600 and Tascam dr044 to record sound at around 11:30 and if not busy with people, possibly 20 punters in, it made for a much more precise and un-muddied sound scape to put into the mix, I have learnt a bit about location sound just by getting out with my sound recorder in the course of this film and chief among these lessons is that, less is definitely more.

With Sam returned and all footage backed I parked up and collapsed with exhaustion having not slept a wink the night before. bit the arcade shot was safely in the bag.