DIR: Andrew Kötting • PRO: Edward Fletcher, Andrew Kötting • DOP: Nick Gordon Smith • ED: Andrew Kötting, Cliff West • MUS: Jem Finer • CAST: Toby Jones, Freddie Jones, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair
British filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting’s twenty-five year idiosyncratic career has seen him become one of the most creative visionaries in contemporary cinema, exemplified by such films as Gallivant and This Filthy Earth. Through aesthetically challenging, absurdist innovation and pensively surreal, hybrid composition, which places the landscape at the pulse of his visual and structural ingenuity, the filmmaker synchronically delves into the soul of English national identity with creative structural flair across an amalgam of digital platforms, to explore concepts of origins, community, home and individuality.
Based on psychogeographer Ian Sinclair’s book, ‘Edge of the Orison’, Kötting’s latest piece from his distinctive canon takes little-known, paranoid schizophrenic nature poet, John Clare as his subject, whose powerful celebration of the rural English landscape has seen a recent resurgence of interest in his work, situating him as one of the most significant English poets of the nineteenth century. Taking Clare’s punishing four-day, eighty-mile journey on foot from Epping Forest to Northborough as its loose narrative framework and delving into the psyche of the tortured poet through a sonic mélange of musical vocalizations, By Our Selves is a vividly hypnotic odyssey of multisensory, audio-visual and semantic virtuosity.
Opening the narrative and steering the psychic reflections of the eccentric poet, the recurrent refrain, ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ becomes the only recognisable soundscape throughout the narrative in which to root the audience into some semblance of orientation and structure, before Kötting embarks on a heightened audio-visual maelstrom of sound, image, verse and language. Having escaped from a mental asylum in 1841 to undertake the journey in search of his true love, Mary Joyce, an unvoiced Toby Jones as the wandering elegist, undertakes the same pilgrimage, to which Kötting’s surreal soundscape becomes the narrative’s principal component to interpret the delusion and confusion driving Clare’s mental and physical odyssey.
Plucked from the depths of Clare’s febrile mind and which Kötting presents as an alternative sensory means of seeing and hearing his frenzied poetic effusions; musings, hysterics, hallucinations and lyrical narrations emanate from the rambling extracts of journals, poems, letters and medical prognoses amidst the deafening din of traffic jams, whirling wind farms, whooshing straw bears and wistful wails of Mary Joyce, to create a series of unsettling jolts, which produce their own internal narrative and sonorous logic, through a visually staggering and visionary structured enquiry.
As is customary in both Clare’s and Kötting’s oeuvres, it is a dissection of the English landscape and its relationship to the text, image and space that is at the heart of By Our Selves rather than a categorical reenactment of Clare’s most infamous peregrination. Anchoring the sonic-visual hotchpotch, as Toby Jones traipses, his father, Freddie Jones, as the elder Clare, vocalizes the poet’s own locutions and tortured inner monologue, which has a serenity and rationality to its chaotic, meditative, stream of consciousness amidst the rural landscapes and which dissipates into a more frenzied panic as they lumber through contemporary cityscapes, underpinning the symbiotic relationship between poetry, nature and insanity.
Kötting’s gnomic mish mash of audio-visual experimentation is a deeply evocative sensory exploration that fuses the past and the present, the dramatized and the experimental and the simulated and the real, through a physical investigation into the mindscape and headtalk of a brilliant, yet tortured poet. While Kötting’s piece invites his audience to view and explore the anomalous poet through a uniquely different way of seeing and hearing and despite its overwhelming audio-visual aberrations and esoteric, yet erudite musings, there is a lucidity and coherency in both Kötting and Clare’s work that seems to gel into some sort of peculiar rationality, marking both eccentrics out as two of the greatest visionaries of their generation. As there has been a recent piqued interest in the work of Clare, to those unfamiliar with the bewitchingly detailed dialect that emanates from his idiosyncratic opus or his acute observations as a fervent social and environmental commentator, Andrew Kötting’s rivetingly, outlandish portrait of John Clare is the perfect place to start.
By Our Selves is released 2nd October 2015