The Farthest : A Film Review

The Farthest

Director and Screenwriter Emer Reynolds.  Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Kate McCullough. Editor: Tony Cranstoun. Music: Ray Harman.  Duration 2hrs 1min.   Genre. Film feature Documentary.   Completed 2016. Ireland.   Rating PG.

A Crossing the Line production, in association with HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, The Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán Na héireann, in co-production with ZDF, in cooperation with Arte, BBC, RTE, PBS. Distributed by Abramorama. Producer: John Murray, Clare Stronge. Executive producers: John Rubin, Keith Potter, Sean B. Carroll, Dennis Liu.

The Farthest – Worlds away
How do you tell a complex story?  This film achieves it by following the most precious measure of all. Time. They do it chronologically.  From the launch within two weeks of each other in August 1977 to today forty years of knowledge has been accumulated giving us insights and tools needed to survive.  In providing an extraordinary and educational insight to the Voyager Missions, the Irish Writer, Director, Emer Reynolds propels the viewer through an array of adventures in space, planet to planet. It is the story of Voyager 1 which set off second to Voyager 2 and soon went by its slower less functional twin, into our Solar system, setting a course for the Planets in a mission, confined in planning, to visit with no stopover, Jupiter, Saturn but by the technical and intellectual thrust of the missions authors and controllers, succeeded in going on further with some deft reprogramming to Uranus and onward to the 4th gas planet Neptune.  Voyager 1 apparently is 12 billion miles away currently though you would need to check with NASA to be accurate.


Each journey on flight was a discovery beyond the NASA teams wildest expectations.  Even now in this film the achievement is under appreciated.  The team participants – descriptions, titles of their respective roles are displayed, are telling the story in screened interviews, talking heads with brains planet size, while often emoting humuorously with visually amazement of what in meant and now means. Eyes are popping in aghast of some telling a story.

On “The Farthest” Emer Reynolds explains: “We wanted to speak to a general audience, not just super science geeks like myself.”   It is enhanced by his structure, honed while writing it and the steady intuitive grace of Kate McCullough’s excellent cinematography.   As you might imagine the photography at cinema screen 4K interpolated, from 2K is stacked full of outstanding display of the NASA images. We see a computer – like Excel infant – table frequently and it looks  like a child’s bookmark.  The layout is 1. A box with a picture in it. Top tag header is VG1 and across Saturn or whichever it relates to. Beside that image 2. are two small boxes one on top of the other giving a ‘wav’ – radio wavelength file – of the incoming signals which are transported to the first box as images. This is rudimentary but this is what we or the boffins/brains in Building 102 gets back from that distant small object which punches out extrodinary visions which are packed full of information it will take years to analyse wth much future help expected via. AI.

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The Golden Record

Look and Learn

The last photographic signals we know that will come from Voyager are back here on earth. The vessel carries on with radio signals returning information of it going ever more distant at a speed of 10 miles per second through interstellar space. Going Farthest.  The science is laid out here in a layman terms but you require and are pulled into it by the – if you had been paying attention to the story so far – the what happens next fix.  Jeopardy exists everywhere.  In the beginning was a Government, in the beginning there was a budget. Then they had to recruit the best minds to build it from its concept, inception, a vessel with three enormous arms that would unfold once through the Asteroid belt, like a lotus flower exploring the sky and seeking its life from beneath in the mineral mix of its own body and payload – the Human representing the nutrients – to the light it engages with as energy for the Sun our own life source.

The vessel is like a brain and inside it is what is called the Golden Record. This gets a lot of airtime and coverage mainly due to the fact journalists and non-geeks love to know how Johnny Be Good will be accepted and appreciated in the far of extra-terrestrial zone Voyager ventures into.  It is literally a half speed long playing record with boxed alongside a stylus and IKEA kit diagram of operating instructions without words.   In order that we keep with the complexity, as the film continues, short paragraphs appear and extend, dissolve as something needs clarified in the written word. The big picture paragraphs the author has highlighted above the spoken word. When the unexplained happens language requires stillness and read. There are no excuses or reasons why this film cannot fill the void of knowledge of non-geeks as those who have been ask to put their own words to their part of it advance thoughts which have been gathere, been dissected, altered and polished in their heads for forty odd years.  It is full of stimulating beautiful phraseology and delivered with enormous gravitas while being so matter of fact about it which it clearly emphatically is.

I interrupt this message

To any alien species Voyager could seem like, it is just a container of entrails, maybe of a body the vessel itself might seem only the outer form of an inner wonder.   It is animal like though one scientist will not allow himself to anthropomorphise the Voyagers 1 and 2.   Maybe the ‘encountered’ will have destroyed Voyager 1 as it is taken to be itself alien.  Then in its coat tails along comes another. Voyager 2 which ‘they/it’ we haven’t been introduced properly, might be less antagonistic to Craft 2 and take it for what it is – a vessel of minerals constructed and assembled of the earths finest skills, put together back in 1977 symbolic of our progress since inhabiting the earth.   The Golden Record is an ambiguous pictorial and written record. Not available through Amazon or other outlets.  It is unlikely it contains war or weaponry photos though one photograph is of a human stalking an animal with a spear.   No images of the Gamehunter slaying a tiger or Elephant form the back of a Land Rover Discovery or other SUV on their holidays.  Only one quote will go down here in this review – and only part – ‘if they even have heads!’ which obviously is regarding the unknown destiny.

The Golden Record is our message apparently of our place in the universe diagrammatically configured with the known universe laid out in a linear diagram.

It is this composition of Earths minerals and knowledge which will travel beyond our time and earths time into the interstellar universe of possibilities.  As the naysayers preceding Galileo/Copernicus’s theories may have had it, requiring modification of the Bible. (Galileo Galilei) 1564–1642, the Italian physicist only partially solved the solar systems behaviours. Voyager on the other hand could come to  the crunch as it hits a wall of termination and its progress it halted with the unknown on the other side multiples of billions, trillions, in a world away outside our Solar system.  Quantum physics tells us Neutrons pass through us and the globe is transmutable while the electron exchanges we only glimpse, possess us in our temporality.  They engage and construct us and we are each separate assemblies of their manifestations.

Much is given over in the film to the reasoning and compilation of this and many conjectures, as it is the missions task to learn and then inform of our limited time as a planet. 5 million years left!

Big energy

Voyagers power is tiny in comparison to the surrounding atmospheres.  The reach of its plutonium powered lights are on a trajectory taking it further than the 2 billion miles, 3 billion at Neptune, it has put between us and its current location. Outer outer space is where it has gone. That is known as the interstellar cosmos. As Galileo once redefined our vision, so this tiny Voyager full of the modern technology available in April 1977, is on a mysterious journey.  It is the mysterious traveller those wonderkids of the seventies thought would provide new possibilities they Part imagined and described as of the infinite kind. The achievement went to the boundaries of their dreams and beyond their expectations of its capacity to enlighten.  Light is emitted from the battery but the darkness it enters is dense and un-encountered and it no longer is live.
Part of the understanding developed with Big Bang theory is that everything has Big energy (dark matter) passing through it.  Neutrons bouncing through us and everything else. The darkness of space is an energy unknown but ultimately our survival is reliant – other than the human self-destruct button of climate and a habitable world being activated – appears as a possibility of being in reach of accessing its mystery.

Voyager is this composition of Earths minerals and knowledge which will travel beyond our time and earths time into the universe of possibilities.  All 735kg approx of it.

Its progress if not halted with the unknown on the other side multiples of billions, trillions, of a world away outside our universe it could inform again.  The intuition of it recalibratingbis already charted.  For humans to conceptualists the earth there has been scientists such as the late, unique and contributing scientist, Carl Sagan.   His son is a frequent visitor and contributor to the story telling.  His contexturalisation of what we see is the most convincing made and does not tolerate high blown speculation.

Something’s are beyond us

The scientists insist frequently that the Voyagers will be the only record of us beyond our extinction.  They have set up an experiment to find out the composition of the nearest gas planets and then find themselves looking at the bigger philosophical questions to fill the outskirts of their mind.  The talk of sling shots, meaning mathematical continuance of the voyage, was decided upon by careful planning.  Each trajectory is explained in detail with never imaged results we can access through this film.  Yet it is on to the next discovery.  Each scientist explains and though the press conferences at each ‘staging’ post for public consumption is populated it seems, by mainly if not exclusively, men whereas the imbalance is treated by Emer Reynolds in the inclusion of very well informed women whose life work this also is.  Imagining Science is an institute contributing and currently relaying information openly about the mission and while the journey goes on the small in the big gets smaller as more miles are travelled.

There is a juncture when the Voyager team all turn to the Challenger Mission. On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off and killed seven astronauts.  It was the 25th shuttle launch since NASA started service in 1981. For the first time a teacher was a member of the crew. Christa McAuliffe had won a contest against thousands of other teachers. When they speak of it and Voyager is without that human element, the scientist loose their capacity for coherent language, one for example who can’t think straight, said of TV coverage, ‘replaying the event over and over again repeatedly.’
The Voyager mission was constructed by Caltech Engineering and Applied Science Department of Aerospace (GALCIT) with the context of origami a filed attribute. Based in Pasadena California – where two weeks ago the indomitable and beautiful human in her 84th year, Julie Newar attended her Catcon 2017 ahead of her birthday – as sublime as ever. She never made it as an image onto the spacecraft so remains hidden. That is the history post Homers Odyssey of time travel with a return in mind of a feline leveller of our naivety played for laughs and adventure escapism. After lift off and landing on the moon another generation of escape was projected onto screens but none so realistic or measured as what this film documentary delivers, even if it is only on the flat fourth wall.

Time flies

This object, as google will tell you, is The Voyager spacecraft weight, including hydrazine, at launch was 815 kg or about 1797 pounds. It was almost the weight and size of a sub-compact car. The current approximate weight of Voyager 1 is 733 kg and Voyager 2 is 735 kg. This was launched with the computer power of a car key fob and before the internet on which you can see the stars projected to your LED lit screen form NASAs data.

On the Golden Record their is one side of music.   A collection made within six weeks of launch comprises recordings from such diverse places as Zaire, India, Mexico, China, Japan, and an Indian raga from native America one of many. On the space shuttle set up using decommissioned ballistic missiles, the film shows the words United States of America as a tiered advert for earth consumption. After the asteroid belt this is thankfully gone.  Maybe a small Stars and Stripes lurks on the body of the craft. A message might have come back – What does United mean? – otherwise.

Voyager has a brain and is minded to correct anomalies. When perplexed at its own behaviors it goes back to the manual, the data programmed within it which has failsafes and parameters and extraneous what devices built in. It is more reliable than our own manual the Bible and contains only logical prognosis. Metaphor is out. By doing a reset it has survived numerous times. When launched it literally had birth pains as it – didn’t enter the world but entered space. If you imagine sitting on the outside of Voyager what you would se would be changing infinitely. If you looked then at what you were sitting on as a reference point it would be the familiar and static. The spacecraft itself and its unavoidable familiarity. Space cannot be weighed and densities are gravitational forces we cannot see or gauge in space yet Voyager is clean and clear of collision simply because of the unlikelihood of it ever colliding with any ‘thing’. What is realisable is that in, as one scientist puts it the chances of a collision are fifty years of a billion years, the chance of collision amounts to just that. Latin speaks otherwise. Tempus Edac Rerum – Time devours all things.

Planets discovery

The revelations from incoming data has put into visual context and most ‘gratifyingly’ reaffirms that all our known minerals exist in space. What is also very apparent is that they obey in kind, gravitational forces. In two for example : The Great Red Spot is a persistent zone of high pressure, producing an anticyclonic storm on the planet Jupiter, 22° south of the equator. It has been continuously observed for 187 years, since 1830. Also it conforms to a circular gravitas as an amorphous cloud of greater density as does the other clear example, making it no coincidence, the Great White Spot, also known as Great White Oval, on Saturn, named by analogy to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, are periodic storms that are large enough to be visible by telescope from Earth by their characteristic white appearance. The spots can be several thousands of kilometers wide.
The Cassini orbiter was able to track the 2010-2011 instance of the storm, also known as the Northern Electrostatic Disturbance because of an increase in radio and plasma interference, or the Great Springtime Storm. What is read into that is our connectivity and when Carl Sagan asked as Voyager 1 was about to go beyond – to + 0.00.00 our time, and penetrate the globule which surrounds us and every gas planet a request to turn the camera around and position the spacecraft in a location to look back at the entire distance of its journey. When it was initially rejected by the Jet Propulsion Agency for one, he went as far as he could to achieve that and did. What is shown is extremely and of the most significant image probably ever taken. A selfie of ourselves as a planet n space. Then it left the globe of atmosphere the our universe exists in and continued as a straight line not like a mouse, (very short sighted, see Through the eyes of a mouse) Voyager goes blind into space without hugging the skirting around the big room, it carries on with faith in the humanity that propelled it in a straight unfettered and unending line. When it reaches a border and is asked Where do you think your going? it will have some time working out how to to reply.

Emer Reynolds.  Juis sui en RockStar Writer Director.

Conclusion ####4

Space is spectacular and it is Voyager 1- 2 that conveys new discoveries of that wonder, all from the vessels trailing through space at 10 miles per second.  Seeing this enormous subject in a Cinema adds a vital level of understanding.  Even then the images are only shorthand for reality.  Only around 735 kg, these craft are continuing now, on their own, with 2 trailing way behind. As there is no clue so far, movie discusses, we don’t know if we are ‘alone’ in the universe and if anything exists in a time experience – back to that great utterance – ‘even if they have heads’ in the pathway of it on a fantastic journey which is described beautifully with an easy to follow chronological narrative.  It is told by the people who put the mission together and those who maintain contact and analysis of it speaking back to us.   I described how the data arrives, the grid ‘Excel’ like boxes and the narrative it tells is from simple zeros and ones interpreted by spectroscopes and out come images in astounding detail of the composition of the Gas planets it has encountered.  The majesty of a human constructed instrument, which if alien life encountered seems now more like a foreign object – an animal with eyes, the cameras tilting 26 and 200mm lenses on their arm, the plutonium charger which is the heartbeat and energy source and the strange antenna which talks back to the folk at home.

It is a spectacularly effective insight to our world and Solar system.

The film is relaying – ‘special effects’ get a credit – projections of space travel but the vast majority of the film involves telling the story through contemporaneous images of the assembly, launch, public updates and the teams descriptions of what it all means at least potentially.   The special effects utilised – it is so smooth an edit – are where I think the fly by digitally generated flights, which come in over the top of the frame and sail sublimely into an ocean of stars with the Voyager seen clearly with its unmoving unshifting composite self , travelling as that mysterious traveller obedient to its final instruction in finding, orbiting, the planets, instructed from within, then setting a new course to another, to the point where it goes beyond the globe protection of the planet Neptune.  That point is where all presence of it diminishes.  It is there now in another vast space journeying in a straight line for possibly (in terms of) billions of years.   The other factor informing theory is the formation of this expanding universe.  The talk of black holes at the formation of ‘multi-verse’ cosmos has an ‘event horizon’ commonly interpreted – at the boundary around a black hole on and within which no matter or radiation can escape.  Where the beginning and end is is unknown and even the question of them being the same point is what the film explores as a philosophical aspect of these discoveries.  For thousands of years the conjectures have been gathered by Astrologers informing our lives.  I have put a footnote which I hope expresses a nod to the ancient mariners of the Stars who stimulated all these participates interest in their own valued exploration.

Our knowledge is being acquired at a very fast rate. One hundred years of information and discovery in the 20th century is equivalent to the acquisition of the same quantity/qualities ty of discoveries made in as little as 12 years or even less. That is to say what was learnt in 100 years is now learnt in a tenth of that period and that is also being compressed.  The time it takes to discover things is itself reaching an apogee where we will be funtioning through reasoning taught via. artificial intelligence.

The next world altering discovery is very close.

The film has a dedication in the closing titles to Rhea Strong Fanning.

John Graham

31 August 2017


On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 1 September through to and including Thursday 14 September 2017.  There are exceptions when there will be no screening on either Sunday 10, Tuesday 12, Wednesday 13.

The 6.00pm screening on Mon 4 Sept will be followed by a Q&A with director Emer Reynolds.

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Mankind has come a long way. For more than two thousand years the sky has been laid out in a Planisphere of the heavens. The Planets names themselves speak to us in those radiant perpetual homilies stimulating inspiration beyond us. The sky is in mankinds eye a cast of astrological myths laid out in constellations. I have extracted (from The Witness of the Stars E.W.Bullinger) the interpretation given in the astrologers from Albumazer, Ulugh Beigh whose Arab astronomy laid out the principality taken on by Greek astronomers and more modern sciences.

The Sign Leo. (The Lion) note. The Lion is a maternal animal.  Messiahs consummated triumph.

Here we come to the end of the circle. We began with Virgo,(1) and we end with Leo. Belfast one who has followed our interpretation can doubt that we have here the solving of the Riddle of the Sphinx. For its Head is Virgo and its Tail is Leo!
In Leo we reach the end of the revelation as inspired in the word of God; and it is the end as written in Hea the heavens.

Bailly (Astronomy) says, “The Zodiac must have first divided when the Sun at the first Summer solstice was in the first (degree) Virgo, where the woman mans head joins the Lions tail”.

(1) Virgo. The Sign Virgo. (Coma as it is also called – is referred to in some texts as the coming of Jesus under the Star of Bethlehem.)  The Promised Seed of the the woman.

Here is the commencement of all prophecy in Gen. iii 15, spoken to the serpent :-” I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed : it shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise His heel”” …….. it lies at the root of all the ancient traditions and mythologies, which are simply the perversion of corruption of primitive truth. Virgo is represented as a woman with a branch in her right hand , and some ears of corn in her left hand. Thus giving a two fold testimony of the Coming One.

Everyone has a piece of the Stars and are in their own constellation.

So it’s apparent the Stars as first seen and interpreted were based on quasi religious affiliation. With superstitious though nevertheless philosophically imaginative and therefore believable to the ‘faithful’ followers of Astronomy the guides are still with us as is the mystery.

JG Sept. 2017


Mayweather v McGregor : A Fight Review

The Fight Plan

It’s easy in hindsight to be an ‘aftertimer’ as Steve Bunce has as go to cliche for knowing everything after the event. We all have summoned the perfect recall of told you so type reflection. In fact it’s all part of analysis and is the comparative gauge we need use in everything. Some go overboard and embellish what they actually said and a story gains credibility the more often and repetitively it is spoken in so many different quarters.

From the beginning of the Mayweather McGregor fight being made uniting in a the bigger sports terms the MMA/UFC fighter Conor with a Boxing legend and multiple weight undefeated athlete Floyd both had a job to do to convince this match was worth spending money on to view. The show had begun.  


By fight night the gap in the probability of McGregor pulling of his conceived showdown the business was done and the actual delivery of the match as a believable contest was set. People bought into it from every walk of life to fill the T-Mobile Arena and the TV revenues for pay per view had locked in an exchange of money which had multiples of contractual layers on the fighters side of the equation. They make the fight and they called the shots.  

Las Vegas Business
Seeing is believing in Las Vegas and the city of illusion was on full beam. Lighter gloves than permissible under rules, McGregor weighed in at 153lb and Mayweather at 146lb so both were close to the super Walter weight division and the age difference went 29 v 40. McGregor in the final few days called his opponent as in ‘no shape – blown out’. This to an athlete whose regime and self discipline over his two years out of the ring saw him shape up as dit as a boxer need be for a bout which could see him hospitalised if he was not fit.  
For ten rounds the fixation of a contest was the make believe made believable. The unforeseen; by legions of commentators up to and during the hype, unfolded. The attack of McGregor revealed his coaching and allied to his training which includes fist fighting, had prepared him well. He knew the raggedy UFC rules were out and both fighters had to abide to Queensbury rules. Despite this and ignored for the best part by the referee foul play was apparent in the small part theatrical of McGregor getting behind, literally and of his opponent complaining and using his forearm as a defense tool. The referee admonished the good bad guy. Mayweather. The cocky McGregor was the people’s man and he needed protected as the innocent in this against the prevailing expectations. All good so far.

Taking care of Business

Entertainment of a different kind was in view. Here was a cross discipline fight and the fighters delivered. Now you know the result, now you know the duration, and now the adrenaline has left satiating your and their escape calves we can look back on it in the Buncie way, as after timers for that is what every commentator is. What did you expect to see and what did you see? the questions alongside are will you even be bothered to frame an opinion of it in boxing terms?

Plainly many have cashed in their payment mentally and moved on. They got their value what else is their.

How did you read it?

Plenty is up for discussion. Where to for both the ‘disciplines’ now this fight was made and on all terms with everyone walking away a winner except the ill struck wagers of many heaping it on McGregor? This is a new entertainment and anything could happen. The reverse is unlikely to happen where two at the top of their game get in the Octagon and square off. Now is the time for looking back at what you saw and what it actually comprised.

The combat for me was a highly restrained but highly physical set of exchanges which went according to the agreed plan. The plan of Mayweather, which he described afterwards was part truth, ‘it went to my gameplan’ with him saying it was in his plan to let McGregor box himself out early and step in a 25mins and finish it off. There is no doubt that is what happened. What l have a distaste for is the fact it was strung out as a supposed contest up to the ‘value’ tenth round and within the distance. Up to the point where all woul go away satisfied. Mayweather on top within the distance and the victor as befits his power, defence and punching. It would become thecclosing of a legend All of Fame carrier with 50 ‘belt’ victories after his Olympic debut as a youngster when he got a bronze. If both were on the same gameplay or not is open to debate. 

Neutral Corner
The Mayweather we saw was invincible. That is what he is. At forty years of age he has the brutal strength to maintain his skills and his control of how mentally fights unfold. He dictates. It could have been over in the first round had he wished it to. It could have been over in the third had he wished it to. What we witnessed was a sham fight with it inevitably coming down to the blitz which saw the referee step in and declare it over. What we did not see was a defense from McGregor. He hadn’t got one then and earlier it would have been some flailing and hopeful shots against a barrage from a boxer who knows the difference between an uppercut and a jab and when the combinations should come and where they were to be delivered.  

Polished theatre 

There is no reason other than showbiz as to why this did not happen. It would have been and gone in an instant had this mismatch, which all, or basically all the professional commentators called it right up to the deadline. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but so is stepping back and taking a good look at the bigger picture. The punters got what they wanted. The uncertainty of sport to deliver beyond their wildest dreams or on the threshold of the dream. As it unfolded it was clear Mayweather could have chosen exactly when to step in as he did in the tenth round and deliver that unstoppable action. Anytime not Showtime. McGregor is safely in his corner as the protagonist who will fight another day but will anyone realise they witnessed a framed mismatch which was formed on a carefully arranged gameplan and that what they say was a debacle for as many millions to be had as rope a dopes?

John Graham

28 August 2017


This is purely an opinion and has not any basis on which it can be put forward as having any thrush. It is supposition and only an alternate discussion point.
A review of films to return again quickly with Farthest next up.

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Final Portrait : A Film Review


Final Portrait
Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, Cast : Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub and Sylvie Testud and is produced by Gail Egan, Nik Bower and Ilann Girard and executive produced by Deepak Nayar, Fred Hogge and Ted Blumberg.

Portrait of the artist by the sitter

The contemporary art world has its many critics and the American art critic James Lord is one who is here shown investigating the ambiguities and parallax views of abstraction and reality, through his invitation by Giacometti in 1964, into his studio to sit for a portrait. It follows James Lord interviewing Alberto Giacometti whose Swiss/Italian is a volatile mix of capitalist and socialist dogmatism. Giacometti sits lachrymose and reflective in the opening scene of their encounter at the Gallery which has as the exhibition title simply – Giacometti. With superb grace and fluid interpretation both Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer quickly set forward a relationship based on the repertoire of Giacometti’s work and James Lord as ‘spokesman’ for the outside world accepts the invitation into the world of Giacometti. Lord who is given through his own love of the work and appreciation, an entre nouses to the act of, in this case painting. Rarely will Giacometti have found someone to speak at length about his work while at the same time being the subject of it. The setting is in the Paris studio and its neutrality of colour produces a psychological difference to the other elements of the film which concern the outside life, contrastingly bright and vital with itself providing an unreal Paris of superficial at times Giacometti’s reality.


Writers and Photographers

While the book on which this is based is itself a work which endures as criticism there were precedents. I have an edition (1996) hardback book by Photographer David Douglas Duncan who in 1957 did a very similar thing. His book is called Picasso paints a Portrait. It to follows the days chronologically as this films tracing out of time passes over. Poetically visual it deftly and precisely charts the process and an empathy emerges as it does with James Lord the inquisitior and the subject art of Alberto Giacometti in the human being. Giacometti seeks to inform how his work evolves yet the contrariness of both artists is evidenced, as well as ego concealed partially – less so in Picasso oeuvre – a gigantic sometimes overwhelming one – one which a note of caution is delivered by Giacometti in a midway mid-day stroll through the sunny graveyard he fondly uses as a basis for remaining ‘grounded!’. At the foot of this piece you will find some illustrations from that book. Two things stand out as key connections to the simple task in hand, their use of the wicker chair as symbol of today’s modernity and the other Egyptian influences. The ancient in tune with this ‘simplicity’ they cannot acquire except in a object of desire.
This film, Final Portrait is based on James Lords book, Giacometti : A Portrait, which many after seeing this will be seeking out to rehearse the insights we have here in a short time witnessed. The film has, like the title, two meanings and hemispheres. Cubism is to Giacometti one success which Cezanne spoke of as geometry speaking in everything. Cubes, Cylinders, Spheres. After all is trivial. This is also a point to collect a thought on Giacometti’s work which is linear and textured could not show the aforementioned but never recognisable instantly as being cubist.


His early influences

Giacometti was a prolific student of drawing taught by his artist father and academy led with which he acknowledges his work was able to spring from and become the serious insightful presence of interpretation going back through a lineage to Egyptian art, Cycladic art, also work conceived by the African Dan tribe which eschewed literal by making symbolic protrusions, depressions, and which itself had no notion of itself as Artwork, more a record of the interior life’s present and enjoyed. Replicating the partially understood. So far and not beyond. Here in modern society we are blessed and equipped with tools of interpretation and also the comparison of work having gone before because this is the territory opened up by Gaicometti and our brief excursion into understanding it is part of the overwhelming wash of visual mental stimulation 21st century art through instragram, Pinterest, Google has put in front of us. There is no place it seems nowadays for things to be tentative as we know all too well the temporality of everything. Yet we revisit ad memoirium things and objects arrested moments. We love the memoriter.

There is one point in Giacometti’s life, very early on while he was in the tutelage of his teacher, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, when his first model, and love probably was sitting for him and he realised this – His approach was inspired by one model. In the winter of 1920 he began a sculpture of a friend with whom he was staying and, after six months of her sitting for the work, he suddenly realised a complete fracture between what he saw and what he could make. This crucial turning point became the reference for every artwork he subsequently created; he claimed every portrait after descended from this one piece – the film does place the same into the narrative exactly when James Lord first sits down.

There is an important point of change in his life which is the death of his and Diego’s father in 1933. He altered his work becoming more ‘ruminant’ perhaps is one way of expressing it.


Plasticity of words and work

The words, not coined by his Catalogue writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘The figures were never for me a compact mass, but rather like a transparent construction.’ This was written in 1929 to Pierre Matisse on the pieces, Homme et Femme and more persuasively Femme Couche qui rêve (1929) which goes back to the African Dan tribe depiction of a woman and birth. It is telling that Giacometti relied on others as well as his tutors to remove the clouds around his art. Jean-Paul Sartre was trusted but he, Giacometti did depend on success or recognition at least to see it’s worth in continuing to work as he did. It was as most artists worth their salt dependant on shedding some insights on the world while their here.  He explodes at the point of a mark misplaced with the F word.  There is an ambiguity I saw in the latent homosexuality of Giacometti withstanding his prolific indulgence with the ‘fallen’ women he cherished.

Hard discovery

He also took on the burden of thinking, as this film’s period shows the mortality and proximity and control one had over ones life. He disavowed while at the same time contemplated suicide but was in his bi-polarity state only briefly. Instead he devoured life around him and unlike Virginia Wolff was unable to attest to the sovereignty of life by ultimately cashing in her mind for, it is beyond us to see what state of mind took VW beyond the trouble she conceived existed around her. No explanation is offered into the needs and further explorations Giacometti needs to make except by the otherwise obtuse virtue of the title of the film. The Final Portrait.
As it is a test Giacometti put to himself which is voiced in the film I bring the Virginia Wolff discovery of herself unable to resist her choice in this final letter to her sister Vanessa Bell, herself a painter. “Sunday – Dearest, You can’t think how I loved your letter. But I feel I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again. It is just as it was the first time, I am always hearing voices, and I shan’t get over it now. All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until these last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this? I feel he has so much to do that he will go on, better without me, and you will help him. I can hardly think clearly anymore. If I could I would tell you what you and the children have meant to me. I think you know. I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer. Virginia.” This was ever a similar but converse reaction to the ‘final portrait’ Giacometti never gave up on achieving.


Telling direction

The ‘Final Portrait’ is itself decided by the very accomplished writing and Directing of Stanley Tucci. His grasp of the subject is immense. He is able to take away the familiar work as it is of a different time. He knows he is dealing with the later matured Alberto. He therefore cannot use the familiar pieces or work to ‘familiarise’ us with the extent and immense groundbreaking work he had produced. Only one piece I have seen before – there are sketches and variations of small and human scale pieces which are in the studio – one in the courtyard depicts this drawings final realisation in the courtyard entrance at the beginning of the film. The work of the twenties, thirties, forties is virtually uncatalogued but ideas are plentiful as is reminiscent stories for James to absorb while being painted. It is revelatory in the time capsule. It shows the duality of the scheme of life between the existence and non existence.

Form and structure.

Stanley Tucci is very astute in the delivery of this story. For its structure is easy to follow being based on a narrated daily journal of the sitting for the portrait. Day 1, Day 2 etc., and we are given a Film of two kinds. One is the easy chronological insight into the contemporary art world of the sixties and the emotional drivers of Giacometti through his loves and acquaintance’s. The story has love, familial compromise, conviviality, depression, joy, angst, joie de vivre, criminality, greed, regarde, consciousness, worldliness, humour, with very little disposition for effect.
The world is on the one hand depicted as a portrait of the artist with bourgeois representation and light touch Parisian gallic charm ruthlessly exploited with the musical pathos the serene views and historical significance of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and the Marseille Frenchness lightly painted for a film audience not to become vexed by the characters seen but warming to them in a symbolic way. The confronted, the confronted, the aesthete, the consort, the domicile, the contented. There are better representations but these token characterisations are employed here to imply the construct is made this way to give an audience its clear idea of being able to believe in the art and artist. The other way, the second, is Stanley Tucci delving into the very words Giacometti said about his work which he shows us is the basis of an insightfulness achievable through this two handed piece of portraitist and the sitter. In it is life explored. The arc of Alberto Giacometti is clearer for the method used.

His studio

The studio is a back street 46 rue Hippolyte Maindron and it is what he tells his wife Annette – played beautifully, constrained and wild in equal measure and a devotee, by Sylvie Testud – as home. It is literally like a void only filled by the work and the presence of people. It has not affectation. A word he delights in using. Then there is the Café life, the Café Adrien which is more a fully developed restaurant. The outdoors comprises a few streets and occasional boulevard but mostly is the graveyard with its Mausoleum’s and Standing Gravestones. As well as this we meet in the studio the visiting lover and consort under no pretence of it being otherwise his favoured muse and adulteress Caroline played with coy affected joyfulness by Clémence Poésy. In one scene it is a place he visits disconsolate and adrift in search of the lost Caroline in which there are sheltered under the hood of deaths doorway heavily metaphorically the mistresses of petit morte.


So his world is captured in a few locations and this allows the words to be expressed between James and Alberto. Ever watchful is Diego played by a very balanced Tony Shalhoiub his talented brother, talented in measurement, of the presentation and value of work who exercises influence whenever he can to see things do not get out of control. He also produces small pieces and lets them alone to exist as material objects not having apportioned value. Diego had a child which Alberto represented, un-childlike but as metaphor, in a famous sculpture which recognised love. Over the days their conversations become more complex and both become at ease. These illuminate the story as Stanley Tucci uses these periods to delve into the place of the primary issue being scoped out. That perhaps being the artists battle with the void in art which is seen in every sculpture and painting, sketch he produces. This emptiness has the force to be greater than its minimal presence. In the studio there is a collection which he either consoles himself with or as stimuli to create better versions of his works. It is a very sparse but cluttered space.

James Lord is able to follow the painting process while continually, at his partners unamused confusion, postponing his departure and is able to extend for weeks, his insight observing and getting to know Giacometti. He is able to eventually discern which brush Alberto picks up and which stage of the process he’s at. Infuriatingly he also gets to understand the method of working is just working. That A Final Portrait can never be. He is conscious the work in a split second can be over done and then Alberto lifts another brush to put it to negative effect subtracting what he has worked.
The Working of this film has a duality is as I noted earlier. There are very persuasive actions, mostly achieved through the characters, of Tucci finding opportunities to place empathically the core person behind the career which is famously and at times misconstrued.  The tyranny of his loves, the tyranny of money, his oblique but absorbing view of the small habitué of his studio and district, the machinations of dealers some of whom he is very friendly with and grateful to as they recognise largely the work and they facilitate it reaching a wider audience than either his brother or he could contemplate spending time pursuing.


Conclusion ####4

This is a fascinating film on a fascinating and visionary, special artist whose work as a Sculptor informed us and many other artists of the extremities and location of limits in the pursuit of a depiction of his reality which overlaps and underscores each and everyone of us capable of sight and observation.  The extent of his drawing is seen in the fact the film comprises in the main act of portraiture advancing.  There are two sides to it also – the futile and ordinary everyday particles comprising life which are oversaturated in light touch direction by this first main feature length film by the appreciative Stanley Tucci – then the intense part – the art and its delivery which is in negative tonal black and white colouration mainly.  It exceeds expectations and is much more than a depiction on film of a book by the highly astute observer, James Lord played brilliantly by Armie Hammer.  To act alongside Geoffrey Rush whose interpretation seems flawless, is itself a task well met.  Geoffrey Rush even gauges the walk, including at this time his limp from a car accident and short practices of working a clay or poster mix (the pieces are complex but textural) and his eye shows the sight and detail the work entails.  Also the framing is Giacometti like in its plainness and directness. Detail is examined and good touches of – what might have been difficult within a studios confined, cluttered space – is done with accomplished smooth ease.  It is a work of loving appreciation and as much accuracy and truthfulness such a journey takes or needs.  Beautifully crafted this will be seen as a highly effective insight to the master at work at leat in the window of the narrow time frame.  The exploration it seems it compels into the other work – Diego sat each day apparently for seven years and was his first and last subject – implies his figure is the everyman.  It is quite a unique piece of work in every sense.

John Graham

16 August 2017


FINAL PORTRAIT will screen at QFT Belfast from 18th August 2017 until 24th August 2017

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Annette and Caroline





A Ghost Story


A Ghost Story

Directed by David Lowery, Produced by Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey, Written by David Lowery

Cast, Casey Affleck as C, Rooney Mara as M, Will Oldham as Prognosticator, Sonia Acevedo as Maria, Rob Zabrecky as Pioneer Man, Liz Franke as Linda, Grover Coulson as Man in Wheelchair, Kenneisha Thompson as Doctor, Barlow Jacobs as Gentleman Caller, McColm Sephas Jr. as Little Boy, Kesha as Spirit Girl.

Music by Daniel Hart, Cinematography Andrew Droz Palermo, Edited by David Lowery, Production company Sailor Bear, Zero Trans Fat Productions, Ideaman Studios, Scared Sheetless.  Duration, 1hr 37mins. Country, United States, Language English.  Rating 12a.


Unconventional and Astonishing 

Classic literature and cinema as varied as Virginia Woolf and “Beetlejuice.” “Poltergeist” inhabit this film.

This is as good a ghost story as your ever likely to see. Not that it’s a conventional form of the horror genre some taking a straight read from the title might anticipate.  It is highly original and dependant on your immersion into its delivery as the tautly drawn characters of the two principles, Rooney Mara as M and Cassey Affleck as C portray the sadness of loss which pulls apart their life as it edges forward with expectations and a highly developed bond halted by arbitrary cruelty.

With a simple device of a costume, in A Ghost Story, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) is able to fix on place as an integral point of storytelling narrative.  Things happen here in a plot development. Beyond the central presence of the Ghost which is C, Casey Affleck there is a scoping out of place and locality in this borough within Texas.  Corporate America even has a small role. Fundamentally it explores the universe as well as being reliant on the sciences of otherness available with an eye to see, the night sky.  Here it is intensified like a kaleidoscopic moving tableau, like rain in suspension but a surreality we are cosmically involved with some way or other.


Haunted House some quotes from the Director.

Huffington Post Matthew Jacobs note.  “A Ghost Story” opens with a quote from “A Haunted House,” a Virginia Woolf story that captures an entire lifetime of experiences in fewer than 700 words. “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting,” a black screen declares within the first few minutes. Woolf’s paragraph continues thusly: “From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure―a ghostly couple.”

“Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us,” Lowery said. “Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit.” 

Other people pass through

There are parallax views.  One story within the story is of an occupant of the house, a single Spanish speaking mother who is herself confronted by a ghost.  Her children encounter the disturbance of C presenting himself with only the boy initially seeing this being.  They possibly have a backstory which is perhaps their father as the presence which is their own manifestation of the unreal other world beyond their life boundary.  Only later will it become evident, a house can have competing ghosts.  Also nearby in the house next door is a lost spirit Ghost who has no perception of why the place they are in is of their history.  History is mentioned and M who provides many percussive notes, like tiny bells being hit and signalling to you pellets of knowledge to be taken and consumed. For History C declares its place in his feelings for the house.  M alternatively connects, ‘is got history, not as much as you think.’    This in fact is like a mutation.  In the story this place has several visitors, from frontierspeople, the hopeful Europeans in search of Gods land.  The Real Estate entrepreneurs making a new kingdom – which C visits and observes from foundation stone to its topping out.  This is the same place.


A vision appears here of a future landscape with Corporate identities fresh and graphic lighting in colour and multiple skyscraping buildings a city advanced on the adjustments made by time.  Sure it has history but it is not one of connection except through sentiment. There is a science where a note is left under a stone.  There is another where a note is slid behind the architrave of the house M and C lived in on a frame which is adjacent to a continual natural, unreal shadow refraction which both caressing their minds. People it is observed like to leave elements behind for others to find. There is not much dialogue and in the beginning as the couple first get out of their small double bed on account of hearing a noise in the night, (the previous ghost?) or the house guest piano – came with the house – vibrating unseen, both go and investigate.  We as observers are on the slow smooth ghostly pace tracking them and stop outside the room.  Rooney Mara draped in a towel stands beyond the doorway as C walks the length of the room to explore.  This is the living room with the old piano still intact and itself a companion piece to the film in oblique ways.  On one occasion it is a dismembered upturned cabinet with its keys still there, barely recognisable but repairable, for anyone with a liking to play something, say Beethovens 9th.


Ghost in the House

When they return to bed M’s heart beating fast. David Lowery cleverly remains here with an overhead shot as they both return to each other’s space and join up in sharing their life’s existence to almost the point they breathe together at the same pace and heartbeats are in concert.  It has an effecting balancing within the whole locality as well as a very important persuasive points this unified couple with such hope abroad.  It is such a strong and delicate subtle and delicious scene it lets you absorb its connotations and later place them back into the story.  Brilliance of a kind.  Supremely well acted as well it is a powerful force of the life affirmation in the relationship.  A ghost will not trouble them.  You will encounter some issues of these. Small cases full of big dreams. Intensity. Complexity. Surreality. Verity. Impossibility.


Holistic Cosmos 

The importance of the assessment of life and the creative notion of another world begin where someone prefers to live.

There is only one resolved thing. The present. Neither the future or past can be resolved as we trustingly use memory to embark on journeys of remembrance and formation of reality. The questions keep coming. How has the past concealed such important facts? The facts that determined, while not looking, a life and future. They seem obvious truths but they never occurred to be anyones making. Love existing in places in never looked. Absent or in a void time was wasted, believed in and never saw through.


Uniform form

Reflection and light is spectral. I organises sight and who we are and shows to others us. The Ghost is in sight as we are in darkness not present in the presented world now visited but part of its recollection. The feeling of being there is real because the emotional state has gone beyond the physical messages. They are not suppressed but surpassed and para-normality, a sense of altered state, is how The Ghost Story perpetuates a vision gone and unsettled. You are just a visitor with only part of the software codes that are in many others hands. Their codes differ and where they link is found meaning and the whole is realised but it’s gaps too are seen as vast empty spaces. The film reveals a pattern and the void. No one has a complete code. Only each will fit and link with the whole as that is the uniformity we share but do not control.


Bearing comparison

It compares and contrast well with the last memorable Ghost story I really liked Under the Shadow. Similarly the tight reliance on a few characters and the participation of the audience in dissembling the psychological elements and triggers which evoke a personal intimate portrait of someone at the edge of their perception of life. We are here asked to go with the rally M makes as she is so young and will her on. Similarly the female lead in Under the Shadow is in crisis and she internalises it to such a degree she turns her daughter into a powerful spirit who is really in control. But who is in control. Perceptions are what dement her placing new zones of reality in her intellectual capacity to self perceive.


Form of the narrative
From the beginning this is a story of a couple separated by death. Casey Affleck is of course the Ghost. To take us from the beginning and the split of the loving relationship we see developing, manifest, we are taken into several layers of the sense of place and location by previous and future occupancy of the small piece of land they presently occupy. The principle one ocourse being M and C.


With an explanation to follow of the relationship and ultimate separation between M and C with the film, showing us they profundity of the new irrevocable relationship – however stagnant or in limbo – we see other people in the second half of the film who come to live there. As implied elsewhere the Spanish speaking family could have been previous occupants. There is a shared house occupancy which is contemporaneous of a group of young people with an older set of cultural disseminators. They are the generation – here in Northern Ireland they are post conflict thirty, forty something, ‘normal’ folk rejecting religion as it is a burden too far, who neverthelesssee in themselves a spiritual dimension nothing speaks to them on. Reliance on ‘adventure’ through mind camps at pseudo intellectual festivals, incorporating everything back into the beat poets and tangentially different racial perspectives right through to the cloak and dagger of science, chemistry and cosmology such as Dr Grof and experiments with oneself is the landscape.



Here we have another piece of cultural visitation made eloquently and volubly by a prognosticator who in the shared house at a point in the discussions creates a monologue of totemic breadth while counterpointing the intangibility of a mixed opinion while individual thought (Virginia Wolff enlightenment again) is beyond everyday expression and meaning which shows languages limits. It’s like the search for liberty itself. Liberty is silence. The prognosticator is another giant positive aspect of this film’s trajectory. The meaning being in the above analysis of its own unalterable material restraint and restriction. So the layers alternate and combine to show the second half after this first piece of the story emerges.  This s like a diaphragm of the body of the piece.


When we see M return home in the earliest post death period and see her adjustment move gradually, she is able to leave her door unlocked and a friend comes into the house. She leaves on the living room table a condolence pie. Observed in every action by C Who is standing alongside. The pastry crusted pie is cooked and chilled and covered in silver foil with a note C reads. You are about to witness an extraordinary piece of Cinema. In single take.

M returns shortly afterwards and we have one of the most beautifully crafted scenes of all as M discovers this gift. The extraordinary passage was done twice to arrive at what we witness. The lighting is superb and we see the 4:3 format provide a framing of the notion of grief. From M’s perspective she is responding to a good will gift. C is static and his presence in frame has a bizarre intimacy. Loss on both sides of life. When David Lowery filmed this he was aware of what he wanted from it in terms of dealing with grief but was unaware of reactions it would present or indeed his own. It is of such a forceful affecting mechanical, subjective, composition it tears pages out of the manual of how grief is present and dealt with. There is nothing like it and David Lowery I believe was totally unexpectedly thrown by the effect it makes. The simplicity delivers enormous value for the passage known to almost everyone of process and holding onto a person without abandoning them in the passage through their loss. Internally the scene also contains a love of an entirely invisible remaining link shown never ending. It is mesmerising, spellbinding, hypnotic and compelling.


Without going too far into it, the observance is a fixed frame of this location. Its essence of homeliness still intact and reinforced in its simplicity and we are able to ingest the character of M while sharing her current state. It is unnerving and is an essay on the life, life itself. Goodness is everywhere. It can be taken at the stride and in balance. No references are immediately at hand as she is struck by loneliness. You cannot imagine what she is thinking but David Lowery allows multiple interpretations on the factual life, the reality, the past and present in a reorganised place is encapsulated, virtually incontrovertible and not a place any what to be in. The condolence pie has many sweet and sour notes like life itself. It must not be seen as manna from heaven but a part of the passage through. Sweetness and tart combine unbelievably. Food also is life. David Lowery allows this to prove a point in a seminal way and for it to be impactive, providing you with the choice of taking or leaving its core, as it is intensely complex and as multi-tonal as to be as important a piece of Cinema you wish it to be. It’s about you or versions of you as you may have been or shall become. C sees it all. Essentially it provides intangible truth people do not have access to. This never happens.


Unalloyed brilliance.

I am utterly astounded at how this no-budget movie has in its basic feature film length taken on polarities of our lives as widely, rich, intoxicating as showing for example, the history of the USA and the individual practices and compliances that combine, combined to create the present. The past is visited in the vertical thin pinhooking of a place in Texas. Bosque County. Two principle characters perform the Everyman embodiment of highly normal and undemanding ambitions for themselves as people the future comes from. They are unaware of the agonies arbitrarily ahead of them which they gladly accept for alternatives are rare and we are likewise propelled into a set of new observations which cause you to question the creation and our very existence in this universal dream. The management of life is so finely balanced and M, Rooney Mara, whose playing is immersive and intensely readable, is incredibly persuasive. Casey Affleck as C, is the Everyman with which the connections in the intimate compass, so important and fundamental are joined. They are on the cusp of a beginning and actually on a mission to trade up and ship out of the Texas location they are in; the ideal is itself not sufficient it would appear, and the plans fall apart. The single storey longhouse has a verandah and a connecting rooms layout with all the basic needs and more. The tone is set by a small upright piano which has a sky of thoughts and melodies in its 88 keys.


Conclusion ##### 5

This is an astonishing film.

It depends so much on your rallying to its central characters two lives. The place of other personalities are just that. Personalities they have no connection with other than the third character, the place. Yet the place could be anywhere. There could be multiple variations of this and I really hope it happens. Taking the basic premise of people in a location which is their locality of living could be set in China, South Korea. France or Ireland. Anywhere basically. It takes just two matched people and a place which – inevitably – has its own back story. It’s like walking on a Donegal beach and forgetting the sand has been hewn from famine victims bones as well as layers of rock and cascading waves. Every step is on someone else’s place and it is to be taken at the deliverance given by God without hurt or harm. The point is to take those steps unfearful.  C is a ghost who retains fear and exercises it and implodes at times.
The film is just astonishing and it is by degrees as evocative as Virginia Wolff’s visionary, exponentially multifaceted, personal intellectual integration with life which she held up and outside looking back down into meaning as seen for herself and how others perceived meaning.

John Graham

9 August 2017


A GHOST STORY will screen at QFT from Friday 11th August 2017 until Thursday 24th August 2017.

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Maudie: A Film Review


Director. Aisling Walsh. Produced by Bob Cooper. Mary Young Leckie. Mary Sexton. Susan Mullen. Written by Sherry White.

Cast. Sally Hawkins. as Maud Lewis. Ethan Hawke. as Everett Lewis. Kari Matchett. as Sandra. Gabrielle Rose. as Aunt Ida. Zachary Bennett. as Charles Dowley. Lawrence Barry. as Mr. Davis (Shopkeeper) Greg Malone. as Mr. Hill. Billy MacLellan. as Frank. Music by Michael Timmins. Cinematography Guy Godfree. Edited by Stephen O’Connell. Production companies, Rink Rat Productions, Screen Door, Parallel Films. Distributed by Mongrel Media. Duration. 1hr 46mins. Rated PG. Country , Ireland, Canada



In Canadian/Irish production the biographical story of Maud Lewis, Maudie, is told loosely dramatising what must have been a devilishly difficult life. Maudie became a folk artist heroine of great standing by observing Canada and its nature in simple naive art. Her art was picturesque ethereal and colourful. Working everyday she painted every season creating a world few imagined existed anymore. It was a form of magical realism without the realm of fantasy.

Maud Lewis is a determined individual as this story shows. With challenges of firstly chronic arthritis and spinal curvature which meant she struggled to move efficiently, also she was very small and accordingly was seen by her family as lacking the ability to look after herself so ended up being looked after by Aunt Ida in Digby, Nova Scotia. Itself a fishing town on the outskirts of a vast continent it was nevertheless a settlement which suited her outdoor nature loving heart I would suggest. The trouble was the arrangement brought about by a financial arrangement with her brother Charles lacked love which she seemed to crave and be absent from. There is one incident which ‘defines’ the notion, she couldn’t look after herself which is where the arrangement presumably came about.
We see Maudie from mid adulthood and nothing is suggested of her life before then or where her artistic skills we nurtured or became mature. The film’s arc is her adult life. Born in 1903 she lived until 1970.  Little is made of her early life and instead of taking a wider arc it puts aside any melodrama, and events which would have affected her enormously.  Nothing of her parents or struggles to survive the severe rheumatoid arthritis but enter the story when she is being cared for by Aunt Ida or early ventures if any into art.


The town becomes a character as it provides the inspiration for Maud’s painting. In the local general store she overhears Everett Lewis played by Ethan Hawk, whose Hollywood haircut certainly looks out of place.  There are issues to be found throughout with the time passing element hardly depicting the 35 odd years Everett and Maud had time together.  When he puts out a requests for a housekeeper he  barely expects Maud to be the one putting it up to him as a woman who would do his chores when he is away on his wayfarer fish seeking and junk retrieval business.  He lives in a house about 8 metered square with a sleeping room in the apex of the roof.  It is very unkept but it is also a bit of a home.

Maud after an argument with Aunt Ida goes and takes the job and gets into a routine when Everett takes her onboard.  Everett has been brought up at an orphanage which he still calls into from time to time to get any useful junk they are throwing out.  He even sits down at a meal when it’s on offer with the children who are there.  This makes him very flawed when dealing with people an he has a temper which comes out as abuse with Maud.   Maud who has a number of ailments none of which would hardly be clear of pain.  Both characters are therefore set in an internalised world already with little notion or need foe wider ambitions.  So it is disapponting to see these two actors who are a neat fit spoil the exploration of the characters because ther are no scenes of deep recall or of their backstory.  Surely a major failing in gaining leverage.  Sarah Hawkinsat times seems affected which is far from what I would imagine her character to be.  The first instance of this jarring acting was early on when her brother Charlie is ‘negotiating’ the care of Maud.  She swings and swivels and then having caught this as a note twists her hair and this is often parlayed out later on.  Ethan Hawke places his ‘notes’ in picking up a piece f timber or a tool and chucking it behind him.  I got into a game of will he won’t he ‘discard this item’, it may work and maybe I’m over critical but small things matter as do the cars, the scenery and the seemingly implausibly long walks Maud especially takes to get around.


The compressed into a series of chapters separated or punctuated by the seasons marching on. We see lots of beautiful wide scope sunsets, serenity of snow filled peaks and spreading landscape along with the tableau of wild flowers seasons arrival is announced by. Just this week the story of the flower received a ‘scientific’ attribution. All flowers it seems derive from one of around 130 million years ago. The first one it is believed was a white water-lily.


Undoubtedly the film brings a broader perspective to the work produced by Maud.

Out of the small room comprising the living cooking dining and washing duties from the dark green distance of the walls would come shades of light green emerging into the daylight falling on objects.
As Liz (Dame) Smith once remarked about her loosing her mother when she was two, her mother only twenty three – it is an animal trait that if there is no one standing beside you, others can push you around without fear of confrontation.


Conclusion ###3

There has been a routinely good response to this film but I found it asking more questions than it answered.  The ‘family’ situation was totally out of the ordinary and the people in what is basically a two handed do not talk about their lives.  They jointly discover intimacy and it is left aside with moments of abuse entering into it.

I have to say it left me totally underwhelmed.

Go see you will most probably learn from it.

John Graham

4 August 2017

Belfast.On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 4 August through to and including Thursday 17 August 2017

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