Man in Wood

Man in Wood
chapter - Eva and Ade

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

In the beginning….

man in wood

After beginning a film project with the distinguished German artist Stephan Balkenhol, an intensely productive wood sculptor, whose sculptured figures are far from heroic or romantic but somewhat ordinary everyman type, his work inspired me to search deeper into the quest of what it means to be human. I felt the necessity to be free of all types of film categorization to explore the depth of both the artist’s work and the medium of filmmaking.

After months of deliberating I stumbled on a story that questioned creation of mankind, a contemporary examination of the theological account of Adam and Eve.

My research was thorough and passionate, taking the road through the French regions of Alsace, Lorraine, throughout Moselle, the mountains of the Vosges along the valley of the Rhine, to Germany into the depth of the black forest, down to Berlin, the Baltic and its remote islands, Poland and further still. It had seemed never-ending. Yet what was I searching? Well tales of inspiration naturally. Images of timber, wood, kindling and the mythologies of trees, yet more was required, barren landscape, fruitful gardens, ancient cemeteries, cathedrals, asylums, architectural monuments of yesteryear, folks both young and old. I wrote, photographed, filmed things of majestic magnitude and of course things that at times seemed of no importance, but later would revive relevance. I interviewed clergymen, politicians, journalists, arboriculturalists, professors, cobblers, stonecutters, doctors, bankers, bakers…people. I interviewed people, ordinary village folks and ended up with rushes of film that resembled a dizzy kaleidoscope of an anxious mind.

I quarrelled with friends, family, strangers, myself. I was gradually falling into a gulf of despair. Then I awoke.

It were to be my own dissimilar, I believe, childhood that woken me to the obvious, the very apparent and clear reason of the story I had to tell. Right there at the tip of my nose.

The enforced and severe religious background I had lived.

As far back as I can remember the presence of God bewildered me. I did not know what to believe. Perhaps my very first memory of God as image was the clichéd portrait of the bearded white fellow a cross between Victor Hugo and a faded Orson Welles. By my late teens my minor doubts had grown into utter scepticism. The book of Revelations provided me with sleepless nights of ghastly visions of hell, this terrifying chapter that is filled with prophecies of doom. But it was not the book of Revelations that flabbergasted me as much. It was Genesis.

The Genesis.

The beginning. ‘ In the beginning’ it is boldly announced. They are the very first words obnoxiously written. I scratched my head. What about before the beginning? I quietly questioned. In fact wouldn’t ‘in the middle’ be a far more responsible opening. Oh the worries. The doubts the uncertainty, that possessed my very being since day one.

Where do we come from? Where do we go? Who are we?

My father was a man of wood. For most of his working life he worked with timber. In a timber yard he worked, chopping, sawing, carving, carrying, and selling all types of wood for all types of reasons, to all types of customers, for all types of…

My father would wearily arrive home. He had chips of wood in his hair, sawdust on his sleeves, and smelt of sweet timber. The Oak, the Birch, the Cedar, Ash, the Pine, and oh the Mahogany (now that’s something special, costly, but what texture and what aroma)

At age fifteen and couple of months an opportunity arose for me to have a summer job at the timber yard.

But working in a timber yard is no playground. Carrying half a dozen 12 x 4 planks over the shoulder in a well-practiced manner contains a certain knack. Besides I was the labour boy, you know ‘the go get it lad’, so my slender frame could hardly bear the toils of waking up at 5 am working like a mule until 6pm like Dad. It didn’t very last long. I quit after several days.

I had made two previous feature length films ‘toothache’ a satirical quasi-political comedy shot in Paris and a docu/drama ‘ nadine’ shot in the desolate suburbs of south London.

Then along came the opportunity to make another film ‘man in wood’.

After traveling across the wooded regions of France and Germany as earlier mentioned I thought the most suited film to make was a type of poem that would amplify the aesthetic encounters collectively with the wood and religious experience that was discerning during childhood.

As a lover of cinema, there are certain films that had an immense impact on my life. I was drawn towards the independence of so-called ‘art-house cinema’ films that often dealt with issues such as bleakness and despair. Films filled with existential questions of morality, loneness and religious faith.

But it was the horror aesthetics of these films that had enlightened me to the wonders of this type of cinema. Horror films were for me the most traumatic but equally the most treasured. As terrified as I was I would watch these films which earnest enthusiasm. And then one blessed d ay I discovered the most bizarre horrors of them all. Giallo.

“Giallo" films are usually distinguished by extensive murder sequences featuring disproportionate blood-spattering, stylish camerawork and bizarre operatic musical arrangements. There is usually the Agatha Christie/James Hadley Chase who-done-it element, but this takes a backseat to the renowned amount of blood-letting and liberal amounts of nudity and sex.

I threw myself into the works of Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, (‘The Beyond’ a surrealist masterpiece of supernatural horror) Dario Argento or Mario Bava, and totally unknown filmmakers like Romano Scavolini whose ‘Nightmares in a Damaged Brain’, remains a landmark in psychological/horror/mystery/slasher/ exploitation field.

So after months of searching through the bargain baskets of cheap DVD stores and watching about every ‘Giallo’ type film available I was ready for my own take.

But despite my new obsession with the Giallo films I was fully aware that making a film that was purely horror exploitation was far beyond me, and that my universe was still firmly rooted in making a film that spoke the language of insightful and meditative cinema- Poetic rather than straight narrative.

I wanted the road. A couple. Man and Woman. Doomed mismatched lovers on the run. A dangerous love affair. An obsession. The man would leave his wife and the woman her fiancé; together they would hit the road to nowhere, making love, fighting, leaving each other, reuniting, getting lost and ending up living out their last days in a ghostly cottage on the edge of a haunted forest where they’d eventually wander into and fade out into oblivion. Blinded by love. Returning to nature as they succumb amongst the debris of the forest.

It would be told in a non -linear structure, and filled with surrealist and symbolic imagery an alteration, so to say, of Adam and Eve. But most importantly it would be essential to connect with the fundamental nature of what it means to be human in its rawness and uninhibited form.

I found myself looking at paintings from the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg, whose painting’s depicts gloomy and otherworldly scenes. I would think about representing and reenacting these images, from other symbolist painters too. Mostly I was stuck in the Nordic and Scandinavian folklore blended with Christianity and early paganism. A blend that would bring an appealing yet unsettling feel.

The use of very long uninterrupted takes and sophisticated camera movement giving the sensation of something real and perhaps unexpected will emerge; Whilst also allowing the viewer to unconsciously contemplate on the horror that may eventually unfold.

The richness of the color (After all we will travel to a avant-garde Eden) and the gloom and mist of purgatory where our lovers spend most of their time, these elements are fundamental to the films look.

Conclusively the camera work must tread the delicate line of the work of cinematographic innovation in the horror genre.

Visual effects will be carefully planned and choreographed in pre-production and prepared on production by a skilled and experienced artist. Miniature sets and models, animatronics and matte paintings and stills: digital or traditional paintings or photographs will be used along with the artistry of an onset magician.

Post-production special effects will be limited if nonexistence. The gruesome visual effects and make up design of the work of Giannetto De Rossi is one to be admired, a true artist in this field whose work both shocked and astounded cinema goers, and certainly have the artist flair incomparable to the often tasteless special effects seen in contemporary horror today.

The sound in current horror films depends far too much on the long eerie musical build-up of strings or horns as the victim approaches his/hers destined fatality. It informs the audience of the fate of our protagonists as if we were born yesterday.

In this film however it is important that the sound leans towards the naturalistic, almost vague in it’s presence. There will be one 1980’s pop song that will be disconcertingly repeated throughout that is integral to the female characters memories and of course to the story itself.

It is my true desire to make this intriguing tale of what it is to be human in a unique and imaginative way and to prove that cinema can be a powerful, insightful and imaginative art form.

Ian Simpson

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