A BFI DVD. Reviewed by Luke Turner.
It’s usually advisable to stay off Twitter of a Sunday night, when digital acquaintances normally of sound mind suddenly start LOLing and guffawing all over the X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and the like. But a couple of weeks ago, it was a pleasant surprise to see the friend feed of The Quietus website, of which I am editor, come alive with praise for From The Sea To The Land Beyond. This documentary, directed by Penny Woolcock, is made up of an hour or so of footage from the UK coastline, all taken from the BFI archive. With no narrative or exposition save for the chronological order in which the clips are shown, it’s a film that tells its own story, aided and abetted by a superlative soundtrack from British Sea Power.
Indeed, many of the excitable tweets that Sunday evening were full of praise for the music and what it teased out of the moving image, with many who had perhaps written off BSP as another indie band of the early 2000 vintage suddenly realising that there’s far more to them than the red herrings of onstage foliage and quaint album artwork. Just as was the case with their accompaniment to Man Of Aran (also available on DVD), British Sea Power are able to capture the moods of change, progress, gain and loss that imbues these snapshots of our history.
For this is not a film of nostalgia, not unless you’re one of those weirdos who hankers after war, brutal working conditions that were standard during the ‘glory days’ of British industry, and hanging off cliffs with nothing more than a bit of hemp to support you. Instead, at the start of the film as British Sea Power’s music undulates in the background, black and white footage of young men gadding about playing ‘knock the Private off his perch with a sandbag’ games can only leads to a sense of dread as you know what’s going to come next – hundreds of thousands of men heading across the sea, many to never return in 1918.
And so the film continues, through the decline of shipbuilding and the rise of the tourist resort and cheap, accessible seaside holidays, the ‘regeneration’ of derelict docklands, wildlife and those who pursue it, war and peace, pleasure and labour. But uniting all, as BSP themselves sing in their track ‘Carrion’, “always, always, always the sea, brilliantine mortality.”
If you happen to be in London next Friday (18 Jan) join us to celebrate the release of the DVD at Rough Trade East with a screening of the film plus Luke in conversation with the director, Penny Woolcock. More info here.