Low Down Alley Blues and the Short Film
We shot Low Down Alley Blues in July 2012. It was then put into a drawer for about nine months before editing began. Then it went into post, a process which, because of one problem or another, took a year. I’m glad to say that we now have a film and one that I’m very happy with. Soon a trailer will be put onto the website. Sometimes delays can be very frustrating, sometimes maddening. But the delay in this case, just as with the delay before we started editing Where Fairyland Begins, has had something of a formative effect in that it’s given me time to firm up what it is that I want to do with film and the direction in which I want to go with it.
I suppose the primary purpose in shooting a short film is to somehow fulfill the desire of the filmmaker. A director makes a short film for much the same reason that a painter paints a picture. Because they have a need to do so. Each has an artistic purpose. Another reason is that a short film provides those working on it with a training ground. Yet another reason is that once completed it can be submitted to festivals in the hope of being shown and, once there, to sufficiently impress those with some clout in the industry. Increasingly, however, I’m becoming of the opinion that the true home of the short film is less the cinema, (where they are rarely shown), and much more the art gallery, (where they are often shown). It’s interesting that Steve McQueen, (12 Years a Slave), began life as a filmmaker with shorts that were mostly seen in galleries and which earned him the Turner Prize in 1999. Of course, the difference between many short films in galleries and those shown at film festivals is that the former often lack a narrative, focusing instead on a moment, idea or concept. But this merely raises questions about the whole nature of story-telling, of what it is that actually constitutes a story. I don’t want to get into that here but it’s something that has been on my mind enough to have affected the way I am now perceiving my own work.
Low Down Alley Blues
The musical score and non-linear editing of this was crucial although, in fact, Low Down is very linear and in many ways very traditional. Though quite rich in associations it is nevertheless story-telling of a recognizable kind. When set against some of the short films of, say, the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, works by Menzel and Nemec, it is positively tame. However, the playful editing gives notice of a desire for further experimentation in that area and the music was particularly important. Here it is a use of Free Jazz in the role almost of another character. I am now very aware of how vital it is to find the right score, to work with the right composer. In both editing and music, Low Down Alley Blues is a statement of intention and one that on the whole I am very pleased with.
This was always intended as the first film of a trilogy in which children are the main characters. As such it was inevitably going to be revisited. By this I don’t mean that I have any plans to re-shoot it. Not at all. But neither am I saying that it is a fully completed vision. This is because I’ve become more and more aware of what I am looking for in parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy. Though Violin stands alone as a ‘story,’ it is, to some extent, merely the first third of a whole. This means that matters pertaining to the colour palette as well as to issues of light and shade may yet have to be addressed.
Questions about colour, about light and shade, mood and atmosphere, have been pre-occupying me a lot lately. Recently, I’ve been taking a number of photographs of light, just a few of which can be seen here:
This fascination with patterns and intensities of light, of colour, of music, of sound, – the creation of mood, of atmosphere, – are becoming of enormous importance to me. Particularly so as I think ahead to…
Blue Sky at Midnight
Before talking about Where Fairyland Begins I want to jump to what will be the third part of the trilogy. Where Violin is clearly understandable in terms of its visual references, (though immensely static, almost a series of moving/still photographs, a quality that I want to pursue in future work on it), Blue Sky at Midnight will make a break with easy familiarity. Editing will be fast and playful, more reminiscent of Low Down Alley Blues than Violin. Colours will be primary, even moving towards a more artificial, unreal technicolour. Music will be extremely important but will often fragment in line with the fragmentation of the shapes we are seeing on the screen. And, yes, a lot of shots, even foreground shots, will be out of focus. I have my own visual touchstones for this, Saul Leiter and Uta Barth for instance, a sample of whose photographic work can be seen below:
As you can see perhaps, my interest in the short film, whilst ensuring that a story/narrative element remains, is becoming increasingly art oriented.
Where Fairyland Begins
This is particularly true of Where Fairyland Begins, the second film in the trilogy. What I thought I was making here is certainly not the film we’ll end up with. Indeed, so much has my perspective altered that after it’s finished I would hope to take extracts from the film and employ them in an art gallery context. I have now brought an established composer on board whose music is not of the kind you could ever find in a music library. Instead, like Gail Brand’s music in Low Down Alley Blues it is much more visceral, much more exciting, much less easy to pin down. I’ll also be bringing in a visual effects person to work on the film, especially on its beginning and end. And my intention is to have an actual fairy. Yes, you heard correctly. Watch this space!
What all of this means is that my journey with the short film format has not only been a necessary training ground but has helped me to articulate just what it is that I am looking for in terms of a visual/aural language. I had thought that after shooting a few shorts I would move on to features, – we are about to go into pre-production on Terms and Conditions, – and never return. After all, this seems to be the trajectory of many filmmakers. I no longer think that. The short film is providing me with a canvas on which to continually experiment. The films themselves won’t always succeed, let alone be liked, but that’s not the point. Their main function is to provide me with a platform from which to find my own voice. This is why it is a format that continues to be important to me and why I shall continue to treat it with respect.
A coda. I said at the beginning of this post that the main difference between the short film as seen in the cinema and those seen in art galleries is that the latter frequently lack a recognizable narrative or story. As an example of this I’d like to leave you with I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much by Pipilotti Rist, a German conceptual artist. No story as such but 5 minutes of sheer exuberance and craziness and in-your-faceness. Like the work of many other artists of her kind, the pushing of the envelope and the exploring of boundaries is something that I continue to be attracted by.