The ill-fated coal mining communities in North East England are the subject of this inspired documentary by artist Bill Morrison. Their story is told entirely without words, yet the film is far from silent: it features a remarkable original score by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.
Director Bill Morrison juxtaposes the modern British landscape with archival footage of the mining towns they once were in this poetic elegy for a faded way of life. A beautiful and lyrical marriage of image and music that creates a haunting portrait of the fleeting nature of time, and the struggle to be remembered.
I have enjoyed Jóhann Jóhannsson ever since Virðulegu Forsetar was released on the Touch label in 2004. The music here is just as good. The film opens in color and then switches to black & white. At first you think it is an old photo but then realize there is movement in the crowd. The footage inside the mines reminded me at times of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker.
I am ambivalent about most of Morrison's films, but this one had me transfixed. There are a few mismatches between musical crescendos and image, and occasionally editing is a bit misplaced, but on the whole this is a compelling visual story of a particularly optimistic and destructive time in human history. The sad truth is that it looks all too familiar. The false hopes of yesteryear resemble those of today.
From the opening sequence of the film, it sets the wrong tone to draw me in as the viewer. It would be a beautiful panning shot of a landscape. But between the music playing and the grave delivery of the lifespans of the mines make it unappealing to watch. Without inviting the reader, the film forces the notion that there is a travesty that occurred here. The film takes away the viewer coming to this conclusion tho.
Maybe a spoiler? Really enjoy how the director contrasts the old world, naturally black and white, rugged and treacherous but proud and seemingly unified, with today, in color, always from a distance, cleaner and brighter but ambiguous.