Vertical Shapes in A Horizontal Landscape
It is the day after the UK saw Theresa May narrowly win a snap election. Artist and filmmaker Mark Jenkin, armed with a Super 8 camera, embarks on a road trip across the South coast of England to look for the cottage of Derek Jarman. As he wends his way through the sun drenched streets, meadows and beaches of the UK, Jenkin reflects on the hope and despair that ripples throughout a country unsure of what it will head into.
“We’ve gone to painless clean consensus with our arms out wide. The committee who meet in public have inevitably settled on vanilla,” Jenkin intones at one point. It’s a bitter note, a reflection of a country that is intent on believing the banality spewed by our supposed betters. A place where critical thinking and joy are replaced by isolation and jingoism.
Jenkin’s footage reflects this sense of darkness, this exasperation, that permeates the film. Outwardly this is a UK of bucolic wonder – the lush green meadows, the clear blue skies over the sandy beaches. But there’s always something that punctures the mood. A cosy café has the sign ‘Due to a break in and fire, café will be temporarily closed.’ Those lush green fields have a skull in them. The sandy beaches have signs that proclaim “Danger. Deep Water.” There is squalor, decay and menace lying at the heart of this supposedly green and pleasant land. A spare and melancholic soundtrack adds to this tone.
Yet, for all its sense of unease and uncertainty, there is also an optimism in Vertical Shapes in A Horizontal Landscape. Jenkin’s pilgrimage begins at the house of fellow filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting (who makes a brief appearance with his daughter Eden) who points him in the right direction of Jarman’s cottage. The film pays homage to those artists and many others (there’s a deadpan sense of humour here that is reminiscent of the world of John Smith) not only diegetically but in its very form. In its celebration of these artists, the film reminds us that the UK can also be home to the iconoclasts, to the brave, to the visionary.” And maybe the possibility of isolation is not all encompassing. When he arrives in Rye, Jenkin mentions “I saw evidence of like-minded people,” as the camera pans over to a place offering “Cine Film. Camcorder. Video Tape. Transfers.” There are still flavourful bursts even amongst the vanilla.
There is an irony that, even only two years after it was released, the snapshot of the UK that Vertical Shapes in A Horizontal Landscape has become as dated as a Super 8 grain can make things look; the era of Theresa May seeming almost like halcyon days in comparison with what has subsequently come to pass. But with artists and filmmakers such as Jenkin there is still hope for those voices that dissent and challenger whilst also finding the irony and humour in the darkest of situations.
Vertical Shapes in A Horizontal Landscape has been selected by the BFI London Film Festival as part of their selection for the We Are One Global Film Festival which begins on 29th May. For more info go to: http://www.weareoneglobalfestival.com/ and youtube.com/weareone.
Runtime: 5 mins
Format Super 8
Director: Mark Jenkin
Producer: Mark Jenkin
Executive Producers: Kate Byers & Linn Waite
Editor: Mark Jenkin
Screenwriter: Mark Jenkin
Director of Photography: Mark Jenkin
Music: Mark Jenkin