By Fergus Henderson.
I’m Ok, the short animated film directed and animated by Elizabeth Hobbs, is a blistering, eye-shocking tour through the mind of its subject, Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. Every single frame is a painting, inspired both in spirit and technique by Kokoschka’s work.
Taking the subject of Kokoschka’s service and injury during the first World War, as well as an intense romantic affair, Hobbs fashions a kind of never ending zoetrope of psychological connections, flowing through images of war and sex with the kind of associative intuition common in Expressionist art.
Hobbs adds her own touches, doing away with the more oppressive colour palette and figurative art of Kokoschka and finding a bright, sensuous simplicity with which she communicates the narrative. At times you could pause the film and imagine you were looking at a Matisse sketch.
I’m Ok moves through its subject’s memories at an incredible pace. The use of painting allows Hobbs to literally blend one image into the next, so that an erotic memory can quickly transform into a surreal allegory for death, can then become a religious vision of transcendence, which can then once more become an erotic memory. It is dizzying, and succeeds mainly in imagining and visualising a train of thought. As a piece of biography it remains mystifyingly oblique.
Ultimately anyone unfamiliar with Kokoschka will not leave much wiser on the subject, but as a brief leap into an artist’s mind and preoccupations (and a vigorous demonstration of Hobb’s own artistry) the film succeeds on its own, wildly vibrant terms.
Bachelor, 38 is similarly a life retold, the subject of Angela Clarke’s touching documentary an older gay man, Bryan Robert Bale, who relives his experiences of London in the 60s, and the meeting and losing of the love of his life, John Harrison.
It is a plainly made and unpretentious documentary that knows it does not need to do much in order to be compelling, given the inherent magnetism of Mr Bale, who shines throughout. He is eloquent, philosophical, and soulful in his recollections.
Clarke has condensed the interview with Bryan down, and shorn the film clean of everything but the most pivotal moments in the story. This is not to say that it is a tale of great drama, and Clarke understands that the small moments in a life are often the ones which resonate most deeply.
In one extraordinarily beautiful moment, Bryan recalls the first dinner he shared with his soon-to-be partner, in which he gives away his working class background by making a chip sandwich, John commenting that he has never seen one before. The smile in Bryan’s eye as he relives this memory is Proustian in its depth: you can see the boy that he was, the collision of worlds as embodied by a chip sandwich, the bizarre romantic frisson of the whole thing.
As Bryan concludes his story, he becomes overwhelmed, but embraces it. In his words, “this is the performance, not the dress rehearsal. Life is for living.” The beauty and intimacy of watching Bryan telling his story more than justifies Clarke’s unadorned approach, for if this is the result, life’s profound affirmation, then the film has done more than it needed to. More, even, than many films do at all.
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