Dear Mania, Dear Mark,
Please pardon the familiarity. I am writing this letter as I have just seen your new film, Life May Be, in which you film letters to each other. Of course I write this (similar to Mark in the letter-within-a-letter of the first section) without any expectation of a response, nor the expectation of being able to match your respective poetic, explosive, eloquences. As the closing credits roll, I am taken to write this letter and I wonder what I’d say. Here goes nothin’, as they say in The Movies.
Firstly, I must apologies to Mania as this is the first of your films that I’ve seen, while this is the fourth of yours, Mark – I will endeavour to rectify this imbalance as soon as I can. I like how personal Life May Be is, how it starts with a long take from Mark, reflecting what he tells us is a trademark of yours, Mania, yet journeys around the world in his narration – you then reflect and expand Mark’s letter with numerous photographs, in relatively short bursts both confounding and agreeing with Mark’s commentary on your trademark style (a photograph is a permanent take, no?). I like how the film unfolds, ideas ricocheting of each other in unexpected ways, platonic love letters to each other, each other’s films, to cinema, to the audience and to the audience members’ own lives.
The ‘naked’ thread might be the most important running through your film. I wonder why I, like so many people like clothes so much, why I dislike my own skin, why I prefer to cover it. Convention, yes, although I’ve never cared much for it, but what beyond that? Control, yes, more likely. In my own way, I am as much a prisoner to clothes as those bound to wear the veil (although I could and would never dare suggest that I am oppressed in the same way). It’s interesting that you feel that your mind is freer when naked, Mark; I have a tendency to believe that I need to be fully dressed to work, to think, even though my mind seems to get carried away in the shower every morning, thus leading to inevitable lateness, and an internal scrabble to find the ideas again later. I guess what I’m getting at is that the less I think about my skin, my face, my hair, the less embarrassed I am by it, then the freer my mind becomes. Maybe that explains a particular patriarchal rationale for making women think about the way they look to such a toxic level (whether veiled or to be expected to “attain beauty at any cost”), as you illuminatingly mull upon in your first letter, Mania; this afflicts women everywhere, whether that be in the Scottish Highlands, or Tehran, or Dubai or Stockholm, or London or Kaunas or Edinburgh.
Then I think about ‘the Naked Rambler’, Stephen Gough, as you mention in your next letter, Mark, and how he has been mocked and pilloried, deemed a pervert and exhibitionist. The reaction is in some ways even more understandable when one realises, as I do just now, that people are afraid of him. And why? Not because of please-won’t-you-think-of-the-children-Daily-Mail-style hysteria, or not because he is naked and refuses to clothe the body that does not meet their conventional standards of ‘beauty’, but because they are afraid of how unafraid he is to bare all, to unveil; this body that they believe he should be - like they are - ashamed of. Stephen Gough is imprisoned because of his body, and because of his ideology; people everywhere feel their bodies to be prisons because of ideology. And if you are imprisoned just by the very nature of your being, then it makes it all the easier to control you. You both appear naked on screen in Life May Be, and your letters make it seem very natural indeed. More powerfully, perhaps, are how naked you are in your words Thinking of ekstasis, as referred to in this film by way of Mark’s What is this film called Love?, you make it very obvious that we need to get outside ourselves a lot more, clothed or not.
As I walk out of the press screening and down Fountainbridge, again it occurs to me to write this letter, and as I look at others who have attended, I wonder what would happen if everyone who saw Life May Be wrote - or went one step further and filmed - a letter in response; not just the delegates, but everyone who saw it? A lot of your time would be consumed of course, if you felt compelled to read/watch them all, but what would they say? A simple ‘thanks’? A review? A rant? Would they find their own personal experiences and feelings jolting through, as I have found?
Creating and engaging with art is to make connections - between subjects, objects, concepts, landscapes, feelings, structures, arguments, ideologies, colours, shapes, people - that one might not expect, or, at least, one may have not seen or understood fully before, and (as an appreciator of or art, or as an artist) make you see the connected things in a different way form thereon. Mania, Mark, you have done so with your film – in Life May Be you connect with each other across time and space, throw ideas and experiences into the air and see where they land, and in doing so you invite the audience to do the same.
You highlight something that we risk forgetting all too readily, as apathy quickly becomes the opiate of the people – the personal is universal, yes, but the personal is most definitely political.
Yours in ekstasis,
Andrew R. Hill
‘Life May Be’ received its world premiere on Saturday as part of this year’s Edinburgh international Film Festival. There is a further screening at Cineworld on 23 June.