Dark In The Shot
A personal response to some films by Paul Kirby
Journal entry, March 16th
After a brief credit sequence overlaid by some beguiling piano music, there follows a lengthy near-monochrome sequence of two men on a moutainside.
They are shown creeping around in the dark and appear to be searching for something. They are crouching and fear can be seen in their faces: evidently they are scared of being discovered and of having their task interrupted.
Often they lose their footing on the loose surface of the slope, which appears to be made of ash or something very like it.
The inadequate, crepuscular light is complemented by the indistinct, murmuring sound. Although the dialogue cannot be heard clearly, it seems to be neither the Australian English of Kirby's homeland or any dialect from his adopted France. It could be an eastern European language.
At the end of this sequence - the only extract shown at the special preview screening I attended - the one character seems genuinely terrified by the on-camera disappearance of his companion. If the man was acting, he was extremely convincing.
Like all Kirby's films it is enticing, hypnotic, stylish but disconcerting. "It defies categorisation" as the critics would say.
'Can't see the 'wood', Kali magazine, April
Kirby's over-long "Oakwood" appears to confound expectations at every turn. His usual stylistic tics are missing, replaced instead by a luscious and extraordinary parade of set-pieces. Its tale of an expatriate mountaineer's attempt to conquer the hightest peak of his adopted country is often taken as a metaphor for the director's own exile and ambition.
One critic has suggested that the film is a documentary about abductions and kidnappings and it is true that there are a large number of just such mysterious events during the film. The same critic cites the appearance in one shot of a copy of Rael Cesare's Dictionary of Disappearances, published in 1989, as 'proof' of this. Yet no bibliography can be found that lists this volume.
Others have pointed out that if this theory were true it would be the only documentary that Kirby has made, to anyone's knowledge. Another argument points to the uniformity of the film stock and claims it indicates the footage was all shot by Kirby - and he would have had to possess phenomenal luck to have been on the spot when so many unusual occurences took place. Possibly Kirby's choice of non-professional actors for the lead roles has given rise to the 'documentary' theory.
Like all Kirby's films, it is an enigma.
'A different texture', Evening View, April 19th
Kirby's latest film is not a proper film at all but a compilation of clips from several of his other films.
"Assemblage" includes most of the famous sequences from the director's past work but with one important difference: either a vital line of dialogue has been removed or the sequence ends before it reaches its climax. In one section the lead actress' face has been covered with a black 'mask' - added in post-production - so that her facial expressions cannot be seen.
Several people in the audience denounced Kirby loudly and accused him of perpetrating some sort of hoax on them. They failed to understand that the films no longer matter to Kirby: he is simply using them to formulate his own algebra of absence.
Like all Kirby's films, "Assemblage" is a lexicon of loss.
Journal entry, may 24th
Fascinatingly, the notes accompanying the new DVD release of Kirby's fourth film, "Renown", reveal that the diary shown throughout the film - supposedly belonging to the lead character - is Kirby's own.
Viewing the film again in this light, it is clear that many pages of the diary have been extensively revised or even ripped out altogether.
This tale of a down-at-heel composer who accidentally saves a billionaire from being shot during a bungled bank robbery and who then helps the man search for his missing daughter is my least favourite of all Kirby's films.
'Kirby's final trophy', Expressions pamphlet, June 6th
The uxorious Kirby has only made one film since the loss of his wife to a hit-and-run driver in Copenhagen six years ago (the episode of the French ship-board drama "Celeste" that he co-directed is not usually considered part of his oeuvre).
He appears in "Trophies" often, lurking Hitchcock-like in the background ofa shot but never failing to stare directly at the camera; a tatterdemalion figure with a frowning, dark face. Nevertheless you have to know he's there to see him.
This tale of a proud horseman, deranged by the loss of his entire family to cancer, riding around the streets of Paris and causing havoc on the Metro until hunted down by the police is usually viewed as his personal response to tragedy. The extraordinary sexual content of the film can be read as a reaction to the loss of his own lifelong partner.
It is difficult to assess which "Trophies" either Kirby or his central character, Lescalles, think they have won.
Like all Kirby's films, it has not been made.
Since he recently vanished while travelling on the Tokyo underground system, this situation is likely to remain unchanged.
Kirby has become a page torn from his own diary.
The Repossession Clinic is a retrofitted laundromat. Bodies stew and contort in the amniotic fluids that fill converted washers and driers. Sound of bubbles, steam, thrumming refrigeration units, "jerks and twitches of spiritless reflex."
SundW vol.1 no.2