Director: Richard O’Callaghan
Writer: Dylan Krieger
Running time: 15mins
It is rare that an independent short film’s title so accurately summarises the viewer’s experience, but coming away from Richard O’Callaghan’s 15-minute experimental odyssey, it is safe to say you probably will have mixed~feelings. A strange and disorientating blend of flashing photographs and dissonant musical intersections, the film will ask a lot of viewers who are not accustomed to experimental cinema, but there is also plenty of ingenuity and invention to carry along established lovers of the art form.
Jumping straight in, O’Callaghan’s eclectic style sees him flash black and white photographs of varying ages at the audience. Historic images of an older Britain – possibly from the mid-point of the 20th century – are interspersed with recognisably more modern and multi-cultural shots. The imagery becoming lighter and darker in time with a spry keyboard riff which sounds as if it were salvaged from Sean Ryder’s cutting room floor in the early 90s – but the tune often fades into the background, as a more traditional violin piece, an organ solo and hefty drum beats crash momentarily to the fore.
On top of this, at three ephemeral moments, verses of poet Dylan Krieger’s staggering Orlan or what snake their way onto the screen. The visceral piece is aimed at skewering modern social norms surrounding the human body, referencing the controversial French body performance artist Orlan – pointing to the way her use of satirical plastic surgery in art was “a thorn in the side of the porn-fuelled implant industry,” with “a performance pantomimed in blood.”
At its delirious best, O’Callaghan’s piece manages to smash all of these seemingly conflicting parts together to create a contradictory whole. In doing so, he encapsulates the perpetual cacophony of clashing cultures and ideas of the modern world – in which any fleeting moments of serenity which flash across our social media feeds are swiftly buried amid the constant churn of new creation and dispute.
Indeed, while O’Callaghan is a hard man to track down when it comes to his filmography, and any clues of what themes his works usually deploy, a listing of mixed~feelings on the British Council’s Film Directory suggests this was his intent. According to his statement there, “the title is borrowed from a recent book which discusses the effect of the use of the internet on people’s emotions i.e., body image, general existential issues etc.” which he felt was fitting for his film’s “assemblage” of contemporary philosophy and literature.
While his motive does appear to come across in the work, however, there are still some aspects of the film which do not completely stack up. The most prominent of these is his use of Krieger’s poetry.
It is not clear exactly how closely O’Callaghan worked with Krieger on this project. In the film’s credit sequence only her second name appears, and it is not in correlation to anything else on the screen. While she is credited in his submission form as the Writer, meanwhile, checking O’Callaghan’s last film The Three Lives of Antigony credits Slavoj Žižek as its Writer, seemingly on the basis that it cites the philosopher’s play The Triple Life of Antigone. It may be the case that he is including the work on creative commons terms – which would be fair enough, but the film needs to add something to the words in that scenario.
Powerful as Krieger’s work surely is, O’Callaghan brings nothing to it to enhance it. After orlan or what’s title confusingly and disconnectedly drifts over that of mixed~feelings, the bulk of the poem does not appear for several minutes, when it is sloppily pasted in ungainful blocks, at seemingly random intervals – a method that simply does not do the work justice. The poem already exists as written words, so surely just shoving them out without due care like this does little to give them a new lease of life. It would probably have been more effective to have them narrated by a human voice, little by little, through the duration of the whole film – either by the author, if she was available, or by O’Callaghan himself – since he alone would understand the emotional impact the poem was supposed to lend his work.
On top of this, the film is simply too long. Any impact it has achieved here could similarly be wrought over a film which was a fraction of the run-time. It is hard to see why he wouldn’t have shaved at least five minutes from the end product in this regard, especially when so little of the space is used for either a narration of Krieger’s poetry, or a method of bringing the images – many of which repeat in the course of the film – to life.
It is easy to criticise experimental cinema from a mainstream standpoint, and I do appreciate that O’Callaghan might have his reasons for avoiding some of the things I have picked up on here. It is always refreshing when a director leaves the audience to think for themselves, in a way that might flourish into critiquing the everyday ideologies and social structures around them, post-credits. However, there are clearly areas where the film might have been more developed, or for want of a better word, polished – and these will mean the film cannot hold the attentions of those more used to conventional cinema. In this case, the film still roughly works, but in future, a closer collaboration with a second artist in the construction of a film might provide a way to move beyond these issues.