Its been over 2 weeks since I took a trip to the cinema to see “Gospel of Us”, the film by Dave McKean, which takes the events of the three day Port Talbot passion and collates them into one feature length production. I have not been back to the cinema since.
That may not seem all that surprising. Many do not visit the cinema from one month to the next. I like to go at least once weekly and preferably twice weekly. I see a wide range of films from “popcorn” to art. The Gospel of Us falls toward the art category. It is entirely possible that I have some unresolved issues with this film which have caused me to stop until I have got them straightened out. Its fairly safe to say that I have spent more than a reasonable amount of time discussing this film and how it works, than would be considered normal.
I mentioned the day after, in this blog, that I was not sure about “the animated bird” which forms a part of the narrative of the Friday.
I realise that there are many viewpoints from which we can look at this piece. As my wife is very fond of saying “no-one interprets in a vacuum”. I guess I should therefore examine what I am bringing to the table before I give my version. I do come from a Christian background and my wife herself has a further qualification in biblical interpretation. We are fairly well versed in the traditional story of the passion as played out in the Bible. I can see how such a story can be transposed to a different setting to provide a different story in a new place. The artists here are allowing anyone to claim this story and it can work for those who are religious and those who are not. In this case it is the general structure of the biblical story which is used to provide an “underpinning” for the myth that was being created for Port Talbot. “Myth” in its correct usage is an ideal term in this case. Being reasonably well versed in the original source for the “structure”, there are things you expect to see and then there are the things which do not appear to fit in within that “structure”.
Now. I do accept that when you write something new, you can add or subtract as you see fit, whilst keeping the fundamental elements in position. In this case, I’m quite happy that we have a new story here but I still cannot work out how the “bird” fits into the narrative. I even read the novella to see if I could extract the meaning from the original text.
After discussions with both the playwright/author and the filmaker I can see that this vignette arose from something presented by the character of “The stranger” on the beach. This may or may not have arisen in the original play (One says ‘yay’ and the other ‘nay’). Im firmly confused regarding his (apparently male!) appearance and function. On the one hand I am certain that he represents a holy-spirit type character who provides affirmation and anunciation for the Teacher (see Dove in baptismal story etc), but am aware that this takes an overtly biblical approach. In this I am struggling to fit him (the bird) into a position which may not be his to fill. Given that I am aware that Dave McKean is an atheist, Im not sure that this would be his intention (does my knowing this alter the way I think about this?). On the other hand I think that it may just be art for the sake of art and that “The stranger” presented his prose on the beach and Dave McKean saw that it had a form and poetry about it which could be used within his film but is not actually part of the narrative at all.
Is it bothering me? Yes! why? because if a story contains parts that you struggle to understand, then you are never totally fulfilled until you have those under control. In the medium of film you have so little time to get your message across, that you cannot waste any of it, and these items become much larger than they perhaps deserve. Does a filmaker need to be concerned? possibly. in that if the message of the film is not clear, then this may present a problem, and if you are adding bits that do not appear to make sense within the piece as a whole, then you run the risk of losing the point you wished to make in the first place.
Does this mean I didn’t enjoy the film? Not at all! I thought it brilliant and I hope that comes across in my previous posts. All I’m after is a coherent and succinct description of what the bird represents. Thats not too much to ask is it? If I get to the bottom of this then I’ll write a post explaining the story of how I got there.
just had a third thought… Could it be that the filmmaker wishes to give us something where we create our own story and allow that to fit our viewpoint, much as we do with many myths and belief systems.