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THE DESEALER

Cast: Meg White and Luke Ryan

Melbourne International Film Festival program note:

James Clayden's startling new work is an incursion into an intense episode of mental distress. A young man (Luke Ryan) walks into an empty building that is undergoing reconstruction. He is told he must leave the site for safety reasons. Confused, he tries to explain to a group gathered in discussion that this is the hotel he has been living in for the past eight weeks. They tell him he must be mistaken, as it has been in this state for over three months, awaiting permits for rebuilding. He's escorted from the building.

When a young woman (Meg White) from the group mentions she has a spare room he could use for a couple of nights until he gets his bearings, he takes her up on her offer, but the material comforts his lodgings provide are not enough to alleviate his troubles. Drawing the viewer into its post-traumatic, troubled world, this is undoubtedly, unashamedly challenging filmmaking - which is nothing less than the subject requires. Ultimately, though, it has a quality of combined empathy and artistry, unique to Clayden's work, that is not only entrancing but deeply emotional.

- 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Digi Beta/col/2006/60 mins

Written, Produced and Directed by James Clayden
Principal cast: Meg White and Luke Ryan
Photography / sound: James Clayden
Editors: James Clayden and Mark Swift
Music: Ad Hoc / James Clayden
Final Audio Mix: Robert Mackenzie, Soundfirm Melbourne


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Brisbane International Film Festival catalogue essay:

Clayden’s latest project, an extensively hand-worked film largely rephotographed from older super-8 and 16mm film, is presented here as a work-in-progress. Clayden describes it as follows:

A young man walks into an empty building that is undergoing reconstruction. He is told he must leave the site for safety reasons. Confused, he tries to explain to a group gathered in discussion that this is the hotel he has been living in for the past eight weeks. They tell him he must be mistaken, as it has been in this state for over three months awaiting permits for building to take place. He is escorted from the building. A young woman from the group follows him out onto the street, suggesting if he hasn’t anywhere to stay, she has a spare room he could use for a couple of nights until he gets his bearings. He takes her up on her offer.

The Desealer, Clayden’s highly unconventional, deeply psychological love story, begins with this nightmare scenario and proceeds to probe the conflicted mental landscapes of its characters. Clayden says; ‘The images that pass through the character's mind (to us on the screen) are materials that I have been collecting over several years, some beautiful, some ugly and quite terrifying – people doing things to each other, to animals (to help or to hinder) – some abstract have nothing to do with anything, and yet… maybe I could explain it by saying I was moved when I read what William James once wrote; "It is, in short, the reinstatement of the vague to its proper place in mental life, which I am so anxious to press on the attention".’



Spanning 30 years, James Clayden’s artistic oeuvre encompasses painting, theatre, super-8 film, 16mm film, and digital video formats. Like other artists who work with the moving image, he brings a painter’s eye to composition, and an artist’s interpretation to cinema’s normally rigid codes of plot, pacing and ambience.

While his films navigate some diverse conceptual territory, they share a certain dark energy. From his extraordinary Gothic feature Corpse (1982) to 1987’s irresistibly punkish gangster film With Time To Kill; through the restrained but vibrating-with-rage rumination on cruelty to animals Workstitle (1975) to his recent experimental version of Shakespeare Hamlet X (2003) – Clayden’s films are shot through with a distinctly unsettling aesthetic.

Clayden’s unique imagery and unusual range, as Adrian Martin has pointed out, invite comparison with many different directors and films, from Robert Wiene to Andrei Tarkovsky, Martin Scorcese, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). His fondness for narrative sets him at a slight angle to much Australian avant-garde cinema, though, as narrative, it remains elusive, delicate, and often cryptic. The human figure is often abstracted – in non-naturalistic performances, and through literal abstraction – either by enigmatic framing (such as the silhouettes in Corpse) or with deep defocusing (the blurry wraiths in the beautiful, secretive Ghost Paintings series of 2002-2003).

Atmospheric soundscapes accompany Clayden’s shadowy visions. Densely layered compositions explore the spaces between human and non-human sounds, creating a mysterious, yet productive relation between sound and image. Metallic industrial echoes are interposed with the glottal gulps and shrieks at the furthest reaches of the human register. Reflective, ambiguous voiceovers in the tradition of Chris Marker are also a hallmark: Clayden’s narrators provoke more than they reveal.



Clayden’s theatrical expertise shows in his actors. Their impassioned performances are not haughty or artificial as can sometimes be the case in avant-garde theatre, but are carefully controlled and distilled to convey pure emotional essences such as rage, ecstasy, confusion, and despair. Clayden’s dialogue is often oblique; his characters speak in ciphers that the films tempt the viewer to decode.

In the way that artists often make multiple studies of favoured vistas, chance, fate, and the instability of reality are recurring ideas in Clayden’s films, which are interpreted by shared characters and their stories. Sometimes entire scenes find their way into new films, stitching his body of filmmaking together with common threads to create an organic, interlinked whole.

The interlinking has benefited from Clayden’s move to digital media. Video enables Clayden to pursue heavily process-based approaches to artist filmmaking; recent projects, such as The Marey Project (2005) and his latest film The Desealer (2006), revel in the glorious textures of multiply re-photographed celluloid. In the erotically charged, labyrinthe The Desealer, Clayden explores the artist’s idea of ‘words becoming images’, and he offers us the chance to witness the full bloom of his lifelong obsession with memory unmoored from time and space.

Danni Zuvela, 15th Brisbane International Film Festival, 2006

 

Produced with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission