Experimental Reviews

Melancholia (1) (2020) – 2.5 stars

Director: Michael Amter

I could be whimsical and say Melancholia (1) is the sort of thing you’d discover if you’d been videoing the late movie on Channel 4 in the early 90s and this had come on after. In actual fact though, it could have been made any time since around 1960.

There’s nothing remotely ground-breaking or even particularly contemporary about the techniques on display here. Much of it feels close to cliché.

As is often the case with experimental film, Melancholia (1) defies straightforward description. If I were to suggest that it explores themes of mortality and permanence, someone else could quite feasibly argue that it’s about something else entirely. Or that it’s not really about anything so much as offering some prompts for thought or meditation.

What we have is a selection of monochrome tableaux, most of which recur, occasionally overlaid with graphics, predominantly geometric. There’s a sporadic soundtrack, which could have been produced by an intern on their first afternoon at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, until a noticeable change of gear for the penultimate scene, which appears to use location sound.

The images shift between the gothic (religiously-inflected art, gravestones) and the naturalistic (flowing water, wildflowers). The graphics hint at possible meaning – maybe they’re some sort of code.

I don’t mind this sort of thing. In fact, I’m a bit of a sucker for it. Yes, it feels like it could try harder and that it’s all a bit pointless.

That being said, the film still has its place. It’s only 6 minutes long – it could potentially derive greater impact from being experienced as a loop, constantly replaying until the images become the sights you see when you close your eyes.

This film might work well in a certain context. Probably it belongs in the chillout room at a club or festival. Or in its natural habitat, which would be 2am on Channel 4 in the early 90s, after the late movie.

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