Thursday 20 May 2021

Being a Human Person (and About Endlessness)

The portrait of a very interesting man is presented here as a documentary but released as a film, shot during the making of his last film (though he has now started working on another)! It's an odd concept but I was keen to see it as I had previously followed the work of Swedish director, storyteller and filmmaker Roy Andersson and likened it to a cross between Terry Gilliam and Salvador Dali!

The 'final' film and work of Andersson is called About Endlessness and is his usual crossover between the bizarre, funny, sad and reflective but more importantly empathetic view of ordinary people facing ordinary problems and the absurdness of life and existence. It's highly stylised as it was in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, You, The Living and Songs from the Second Floor amongst many other works throughout his career.

Watch any one of these films and you'll get the style and art, attention to detail and approach straight away. You'll wonder what on earth is going on, what it's about, what it means and what the artist is trying to portray. It's a cranial journey which is fun and very interesting to pursue. The film is mainly a bunch of somewhat thematically related vignettes (as are many of the others) which the supporting documentary, Being a Human Person, here helps to explain via the medium of the mind of the man himself!

He clearly wanted to make a film about himself as he fully intended that this film would be his swan song (even if he changed his mind afterwards)! I would suggest watching the film About Endlessness first so you can reference the scenes and understand first-hand what is being spoken about when you see the documentary. I'm not usually one to go for documentaries - I'm really not. I would much rather watch the film than a 'making of' but this is different because it's, as I said at the outset, much more than just that - and much more a portrait of the 75 year old man who has spent his life creating.

Insights into how he has lived his life, how he lives full-time in his studio, how he spends a month with unknown actors (who often feel like they are living furniture) and his crew creating each of the sets needed in his film/s inside the studio (there is no reference anywhere to location sets) and how, on a personal level, he has struggled with alcohol use. This has had an impact on those around him, particularly the crew he employs who are clearly very loyal towards him and care about him as a person deeply. The documentary doesn't dwell on that but it's an interesting part of his life. It actually paints a picture of the man as jolly, cheerful, generous and friendly. The kind of person with a boozers' conk who you only have to look at, in order to smile. Think Tommy Cooper!

It's also interesting on a technical level to see how the team have cooked up studio trickery (often very manual) to execute shots in the films which you would really think were genuinely on location, in a surreal kind of way! This also explains why the camera in the sets is placed in position and left there mostly. It's an odd effect because the sets are not locational and via his methods, they look clinical with little buzz of ordinary life. Surreal. Every item and person is placed purposely. Like a painting. A drawing. It's hard to explain - have a look! We're taken on a tour of the studio and find out how that technique ensures that false streets and buildings can look as they do without digital or technical trickery. Old fashioned painted film sets. Really very interesting.

The work of Roy Andersson is clearly an acquired taste. It's very arty-farty but also funny and challenging for the audience. During the documentary when quizzed by him after a viewing, some people found the film to be funny and he expressed surprise, as he was going for something else. Interpretation is the key here and that is, of course, true of most art-forms. In that respect too, he has achieved.

I really enjoy all of these films and recommend them highly, as I do this documentary and insight into the man. They tend to come round on Film4 or late-night BBC2 - or you can of course buy the DVDs. Interesting, different and beautifully presented.

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