As the rain sploshed down and the prospect of sliding all the way to the allotment was rejected, I sat down with my family and watched a film. It was none other than the loudly lauded Phantom Thread. For the first two minutes we were all entranced, and then (I and everyone else in the room) started to feel both uneasy and queasy… about everything to do with this flick. Eileen, my sister in law, who is a master tailor said “Hmm that dress is not very well made, at all,” a scary comment from one who knows so much about tailoring – historical and otherwise. Eileen, who was trained by Norman Hartnell and has made clothes for many a royal being, has two companies — one an exclusive couturier wedding dress company, Qiana Bridal, the other is a specialist clothes maker for TV, film and theatre, Qiana Costumes. For TV the margins of error for historical costume don’t exist, because of the close-ups involved — so the standards of Qiana are high, very high indeed. The much-praised clothes of Phantom Thread didn’t do it for Eileen, and as far as I
was concerned, this depressing little film, was the perfect example of dicey style over vacuous substance… and yet it has been awarded five stars over, and over again!
The following night we sat down, to watch a little film called A Little Chaos which came out in 2014 and did fairly badly; the Guardian gave it one star, whilst others three. It featured Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alan Rickman, who also directed it. It was one of his last films, and it was a delightful, unpretentious period drama and romance about King Louis IV and the gardens and gardeners of Versailles. I watched it because I loved Alan Rickman, and was so surprised how witty, well-filmed and elegant it was. Half-way through Eileen walked in and said – ‘Now those costumes are so good, really amazing…” It’s a good film all round… and charming.
People, the media especially, constantly tell me what is, or is not good, and I have to admit, I dare not tell you how many recent Oscar nominations… I think… really stink.
But there is one silver lining to this little story. The DVDs of those that remain unloved go straight to the charity shop, so somebody else can either love them, or be infuriated by them… and if you want to see A little Chaos, it is currently available on BBC iPlayer, so catch it while you can.
Sitting in the library, trying to sign up people to be interested in the Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove is an education in patience. On the other hand, the Angels in our City project made this year’s library stint seem a doddle, but three years back I found myself stuck like a lemon, as people strolled past, determined not to see the Interfaith Contact Group’s (IFCG) leaflets or posters, least of all the message we wanted to convey. They were utterly determined not to relate to anything that might make them think… a weird discovery given that people go to the library to discover stuff.
Waving leaflets for good causes led me to discover that it’s mostly creative people who are gifted with curiosity, because they’re the ones that have a real hunger to know about new things. So, three years back, while I sat ‘lemon like’ in the library, a lively woman came up to me and asked what I was doing there, and what the IFCG was. In no time, I started to tell her about the organisation, but also about myself and my own interests and passions… like death. Instantly we started to talk… endlessly… for she too had a powerful interest in the subject of death, and within seconds it was clear that the books, the ideas and the teachings of so many – from Elizabeth Kubler Ross to Sam Parnia and Pim van Lommel were also names that were familiar to her. The curious and animated person I had encountered was none other than film-maker Sarah West, and because I had been keen to find a way to get the IFCG to have its own film, I was interested to discover just what kind of film-maker Sarah was. Sarah is an ethical film-maker, from her nose to her toes.
Art is a wonderful thing, and the kind of mind that is drawn to powerful causes and seeks to reveal human nature at its most beautiful and truthful is a rare and special one. The skill that allows people to talk for themselves is a selfless and receptive talent that is not to be found easily amongst film-makers, who usually want themselves in the frame, either indirectly or directly. Sarah’s gifts include the technical stuff one needs to know plus the vision and insight to appreciate a world where people are seeking inspired ways to tackle serious and often frightening concerns. For all this, her vision presents a truthful and much more optimistic world than the one the media wants to drop on us right now.
The film Sarah made for the IFCG six months after I met her lies very close to my heart. It is the IFCG Interfaith Service for 2016, and this little film reveals how people were moved to tears as they attended the service; it reveals how the people of Brighton and Hove, and its Jewish community opened the doors of its synagogue and their hearts to the local Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu communities. In this way everyone shared the joy of each other’s spiritual experience. She has adjusted it many times for us (some of the people in the film have reasons to be fearful) adjustments that reveal her own patience and generosity. The number of hits it has received on YouTube is in reality far, far greater than it would appear for that reason. Being ethical is also about being compassionate.
There are zillions of wonderful causes out there that should to be revealed in all their glory by Sarah, but the one I am waiting to see is the subject I know so much and so little about — death. A great documentary that looks at a subject that fills so many of us with abject terror, needs a very special film-maker. If there is anyone out there with the power to make this film happen, please make it happen. We need this story to be explained afresh, we need the power of new technology and a documentary film-maker with the ability to tackle the greatest mystery of mysteries without fear, but with insight and integrity.