Friday, 27 January 2012

nine muses (w&d john akomfrah)

Figures in fierce coats stand braced against the cold. These are the immigrants. The ones who came to this country, left the sun behind, and now have to contend with the snow and the ice, find a place in a new world, join the madness.

There's some riveting camerawork, as these figures face lakes, open roads, the North. This is a portrait of Britain, seen from the skewed angle of the...

Hang on, I thought, about 45 minutes in. That's not Scotland! That's not Loch Maree! All those 4x4s aren't in Britain. Those traffic signs look kind of... American? Indeed, as my learned colleague observed later. It's all part of the metaphor. The immigrant confronting the barren cold... I'd got this. I just thought the barren cold was British. Which is what all the beautifully selected archive footage implies. I mean, this is a film about the experience of being an immigrant in Britain, isn't it?

So the subtlety of the use of Alaska as a metaphor went over my head. It seemed to me that the filmmakers had received a hefty grant and made the most of it. By going to Alaska. This is a point that Nine Muses makes somewhat relentlessly, as the Alaskan footage recurs and recurs and recurs and recurs. It's cold out there. You need a good coat.

This footage is punctuated by the above mentioned archive footage and series of increasingly ponderous readings taken from the "Naxos Classical Archive". After the initial Paradise Lost quotation which seems appropriate, we then get Dante, Hamlet, Richard 2, Beckett and Joyce. All of which succeeds in elevating this film into a work of massive pretentiousness, which, were it to have been done by a German featuring Goethe, Kant et al would probably have been laughed out of court.

There is something refreshing about the director's take and presentation of the immigrant process. Buried deep within Nine Muses, under the snowdrifts, it feels as though there might have been a bold and compelling film. But in the end there's an Alaskan wooliness to the whole endeavour which holes it below the waterline.

No comments: