We are pleased to announce the first joint showing of a film by Moving Image and poetrywivenhoe. Please note that it will be at the Nottage Institute on the quay. It will start at 7pm with a talk by Dr James Canton, of the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies in the University of Essex.
Tapping into the lonely beauty and pagan weirdness of the English countryside, By Our Selves is the latest impressionistic essay-film collaboration between director Andrew Kotting and author Iain Sinclair. The duo last worked together three years ago on Swandown, an idiosyncratic documentary about a journey down the River Thames in a swan-shaped pedal boat. This time their focus is the 19th century poet John Clare, who was the subject of Sinclair’s 2005 book Edge of the Orison, and is embodied here in a dolefully wordless performance by Toby Jones.
Kotting uses a ‘psychogeography’ method of drifting through landscapes while piecing together a multi-layered narrative from multiple literary, historical and sensory sources. Experimental at times, but also witty and playful and beautifully shot in luminous hi-def monochrome, By Our Selves was funded by Kickstarter. It may be limited in commercial potential but its creators have a sufficient reputation for the film to be of interest to cinema fans and poetry lovers alike.
Feted for his celebrations of nature and rural peasant life, John Clare spent long periods in a mental asylum in Epping Forest, east of London. But he escaped in 1841 to embark on a 90-mile journey by foot to Northampton in search of his first love, Mary Joyce, unaware that she had died three years before. By Our Selves uses this voyage of psychic discovery as a key narrative thread, overlaying it with all kinds of meta-textual material, quirky digressions and striking visual flourishes designed to evoke the poet’s scrambled state of mind.
One of the film’s conceits is to have the veteran British character actor Freddie Jones, father of Toby, reciting Clare’s poetry and biographical excerpts. Jones Sr. actually played Clare in a 1970s TV drama, from which Kotting lifts fragments of dialogue to drop into his dense audio mix of looped vocal phrases, ghostly sound effects and ragged folk-punk songs by Jem Finer, of Anglo-Irish band The Pogues. The Scottish avant-garde musician and performance artist MacGillivray (aka Kirsten Norrie) also features on the soundtrack, and plays Mary Joyce in Clare’s feverish hallucinations.
This is not a conventional or coherent docudrama about Clare. Half an hour on the internet will provide you with more solid facts. Even so, By Our Selves is a feast for the senses with its hypnotic rhythms and luscious visuals. Less a film about poetry than a filmic poem itself, this eccentric road movie wanders down a few blind alleys, but mostly feels like a magical mystery tour.
The Film won the Grand Prix Special Mention at the 2015 Marseille Festival of Documentary Film.
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