article img

Soirée Andrew Kötting

[…] A poetic, hallucinated script, in which the heart of the poet is spread out on the road, the grass, the trees, almost in an intended fusion with the territory.

[…] The film stages poetry through a collective work and lets its visionary force make the stage itself explode: the mise-en-scène of Clare’s journey becomes a mise-hors-scène, off-stage, under the drive of «a minor nature poet who went mad…».

[…] Kötting reveals everything to us: the beauty and cruelty of nature, happiness and fear, all with a rare sincerity. «Louyre» is a work of total nakedness, a work of truth, for the ones who believe in truth…

Germany has Jakob Lenz; Switzerland, Robert Walser. At the Spoutnik cinema in Geneva, we discover that England has John Clare in the exclusive club of poets who like to walk in wild forest. Andrew Kötting’s By Ourselves reenacts Clare’s escape from a psychiatric ward in Essex to his home in Northampton, using Clare’s diary as the only source for the script. A poetic, hallucinated script, in which the heart of the poet is spread out on the road, the grass, the trees, almost in an intended fusion with the territory. This outward action enables not only the liberation of the inner poet, but also the liberation of the apparent “minority” of the man, who gains the highest dignity through the film. The images are materializations of Clare’s world, where the distinction between perception and projection is blurred. Kötting’s image layer seems to greatly depend on the wonderful sound layer. Images sometimes illustrate the texts, but they always follow the sound – in a characteristic inversion of the habitual image dictatorship (even «fascism», Knötting says in his introduction at Spoutnik), but he finds a good balance between description and visual anticipation of Clare’s poetic lines. Here, the marginal happenings and the polyphonic editing play the important function of constantly displacing the focus of attention from the figure of Clare, played by Toby Jones, to his journey.That Toby Jones never speaks in the film is a way for Kötting to multiply his voice(s). It is mainly the task of the impressive performance by Toby’s father, Freddy Jones, who read Clare’s poems for a BBC Omnibus broadcast already in 1970. Radio and live recordings of Freddy Jones, the mediating voice of Iain Sinclair, the interventions of Simon Kovesi and Alan Moore, all create a score of voices and voice-overs, which actually are always in Clare’s poetic trip, a trip that displays his multitude of identities. The journey to Northampton, labelled «the black-hole of England» in the film, is the journey of a literal disintegration of Clare’s identity, but also its perfect integration into the territory at the same time. This metaphysical power and mystery of geography is coherent with Clare’s vision of poetry as prostitution: the poetic word disintegrates as it wanders, or under the pressure of the reader. The pluralization of identities and of the poetic word extends beyond the limits of the scene, going off-stage. By ourselves plays with this pluralization in the title itself, as Clare’s diary of the journey is published in his autobiographical writings, titled John Clare by Himself. The film stages poetry through a collective work and lets its visionary force make the stage itself explode: the mise-en-scène of Clare’s journey becomes a mise-hors-scène, off-stage, under the drive of «a minor nature poet who went mad…». This is also a possible interpretation of what Clare said about obscenity: literally, “ob-scene” means off-stage… By staging the obscenity of poetry, Kötting reveals the very secret of pre-modern theatre, where there is not dissimulation, but the exposure of fictional devices in order to stage a drama. Here, the fictionality on stage is clearly presented as it is: fictional, and it is highlighted in the apparent fictionality of masks. In the same vein, By Ourselves is haunted by masks, Toby Jones’ voiceless face being the first of them.

By Ourselves closes Kötting’s trilogy of voyages (preceded by Gallivant and Swandown), but the Soirée at Spoutnik shows us also a sort of bonus film, the “home movie” Louyre, named from the town in the French Pyrenees where Kötting’s family owns a house immersed in nature. Even if we remain always at home viewing Louyre, this 57 minutes of film are nothing but a trip, a true voyage into the animistic world of this house and the family who lives in it. In a way, By Ourselves is the perfect bridge between a more classical road movie and this home movie, because the trip we experience watching Louyre is entirely on the interior, no longer the interior of a hallucinating poet but the interior of an inhabited house. The physical limits of the house seem to conflate with the perceptual limits of the camera. Another element of continuity with By Ourselves is that the sound constitutes the main language of Louyre: the genius loci of the house is nothing but a brilliant soundtrack. A very complex one, composed of a plurality of voices (again!): Laila, Eden, Andrew himself, live and recorded, as well as a series of fragments of voices taken from the British Library. It is as if the entire world gathered here to help the Louyre microcosm express itself. At the centre of this intimate-and-cosmic domestic world is Eden, Andrew’s disabled girl, who we come to know, perhaps even thanks to Andrew’s use of a constantly moving camcorder. If one didn’t know Kötting’s style, one would say that he did in Louyre what William Faulkner did in the first part of The Sound and the Fury. But, there seems to be a perfect continuity between Andrew’s and Eden’s perception, Laila’s presence being set a bit to one side. A continuity of agitation (even if the Louyre’s subtitle, probably ironically, is «notre vie tranquille»), a continuity of hunger for life, of freedom, of wildness, of love. The wonderful editing follows this vital energy, leaving no room for contemplation or dissimulation. Kötting reveals everything to us: the beauty and cruelty of nature, happiness and fear, all with a rare sincerity. Louyre is a work of total nakedness, a work of truth, for the ones who believe in truth, with a careful choice of strong sentences in the voice-overs and in the subtexts. And Eden is not only the subject of a portrait, but a door opening to the unseen; a homemade unseen… If one likes films that don’t represent, but explore the unseen, Louyre is a perfect example of such a film: a generous example of what a visionary film means.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: May 27, 2016

Explore more