A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE
A FILMIC STUDY ON THE NATURE OF GRIEF
THE STANZAS + PROGRESS
A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE set out on a year’s cycle of research and development in February 2021 to create a sequence of 6 short films (stanzas) to chart a spacious and rhythmic journey through the nature of grief in our times.
As of writing December 2021, all six stanzas (short films) have reached draft stage as planned, (HOLLOW, THRESHOLD, SNOT, SEA, SALT and RAIN ON EARTH) and the project is now in POST PRODUCTION ahead of the UK FILM- SHARE in March 2022.
An important part of the creative process follows an unfolding journey through the mirror the earth provides in real time. While ideas seed each stanza, once work begins its trajectory often takes the work into unexpected corners and bring exciting results. Each stanza, as hoped, expressing a distinct 'world' within the journey of grief.
Here follows a short breakdown of each stanza's progress -
go to the side menu to jump between stanzas.
HOLLOW reached draft stage within for this cycle of R+D in March 2021.
While Spiderflower works with earth-engaged performance research, HOLLOW is the only stanza set within an entirely human-made environment specifically devoid of any natural connection.
It carries intent to explore the top layer of how we, as a western culture, largely present and deal with grief. Which is, for the most part, to pack it away and limit expression.
HOLLOW is dedicate to where we are disconnect and grief is actively suppressed. It journeys into that state of being, making thorough exploration of both tension and polarisation held between internalised sorrow and veneer of held expression.
HOLLOW, as all stanzas have proved to be so far, is complex and holds many layers. The piece reflects on how isolation, separation and suppression impact us. It looks to the issue of disconnection and how this in turn effects our experience and behaviour as human beings through the journey of grief. How, over time, the disconnect environment contributes further to that state of separation and goes on to create an ever depleting spiral.
I wanted the set for HOLLOW to reflect a combination of confinement and stagnation, and found my way to work an outside alley. The creative process was gruelling, yet rewarding - as hours without sunlight or any contact led to that strange, 'unreal' space that can come with repressed grief finding its way into the piece, allowing us to explore how reality can warp within the emotional and mental state both within the movement and editing process.
THRESHOLD ran from April 1st and completed as draft in late June 2021.
THRESHOLD explores that state within grief where we experience a loved one there - but not there, felt - but not seen. What is our relationship to and experience of those moments?
Stanza 2 explores the nature of the threshold (the place between two worlds or realities), our relationship with it and how it exists within different time frames (eternal or momentary) in particular relationship to grief.
Venturing into THRESHOLD, I found myself frequently 'lost' and 'wandering'. Emerging from the repressive space of HOLLOW, searching and disorientation played a big part in the real time reflection received.
Now in dialogue with the natural world, the expanse of open space at Loe Bar, Penrose saw THRESHOLD move onto explore edges and moments of tension and transition, experienced either internally or externally, as the passage of grief makes its way through a certain 'no-mans-land' in relation to those we have lost and long for.
After HOLLOW, it was huge relief to be out on the land, yet wild weather conditions over April and May delivered some perishing temperatures and extremely high winds making THRESHOLD a tough journey. Nevertheless, the mirrors the natural world delivered put pace to the work, bringing a unique atmosphere and language to the film.
SNOT began July 1st, it is an intensely deep and complex stanza reaching first draft in late September, 2021, but in all honesty, this stanza could probably roll forever.
SNOT journeys through and beyond the THRESHOLD, into the realms and expression of grief that remain hidden and unexpressed. What lives here? This stanza specifically explores the unacceptable, grotesque face of sorrow and is anchored in exploring the unknown.
Each stanza marks a moment in the journey of grief that has a clear sign post rooted in the body - be it sensate or biological. As a movement practitioner, my intent is to explore how grief expresses through the physical - rather than follow any kind of 'idea' or 'analysis'.
This is so true for SNOT, where I needed place my trust in the momentum of bodily fluids, and how, in grief's journey, if I am to follow beyond the point where its expression is usually shut down, I can continue to chart its natural motion along a course into the unknown.
When we move through HOLLOW and THRESHOLD into actively grieving, the body will, when we cry, produce snot. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. SNOT is obvious and is universal to us all. Something we all do - but is rarely discussed. Fascinating as it is gross - the subject matter evokes a fairly wide spectrum of reaction - from shock and disgust to humour and giggling - a kind of morose curiosity tends to follow whatever the case and people are, on the whole, enraptured.
On a social level - it is outlawed. Viewed as revolting, quickly wiped away and hidden (again) . . . but it serves an important purpose in the most immediate sense as when we are snotty, we are shedding and clearing our physical system, plus the substance protects us biologically.
Additional, on looking into the dynamics of creation, SNOT as a form of plasma has a vital role to play within the creation cycle as a substance important to life in its formative stages. Dig a little deeper, and you will also find it has an established place in creation myths where it too is honoured as a life-giver, and essential for renewal.
So, it's extremely relevant to open this out as snot is dynamic within the realms of grief. The question; 'what happens within grief when allowed to follow the course it wants and needs to?' leads the way.
SNOT pierces the membrane of what we know around grief to dive into the hidden and unseen. Raw and honest, our journey took an unexpected turn and was drawn into new terrain to work in a system of truly ancient caves (for there is the matter that grief as an emotion is indeed ancient too). This has been a deep and involved stanza, taking that much longer than others. Venturing here has opened out such richness, and although accessing the caves has been hard work over an extended duration, it has been well worth staying with the story as it evolves from this place.
Stepping into SNOT, has been revelatory. The magic of the filming process has really come to the fore, resulting in some incredibly interesting cinematography where the eye of the camera has delivered an entirely different perspective to what we may perceive as humans, opening out Snot visually for us as many unexpected nuances within the expression of grief at this depth delivers a storyline that intertwines grief, death, birth, pain yet euphoria - then takes a nose dive both back and forward in time, with particular reference to our relationship with the future, the children to come - and this, the earth our home.
The deeper intelligence that resides within grief, I believe becomes visible and expressed through the story and imagery of this stanza. For SNOT, I did not experience being 'lost' in tracking this stanza as I did with THRESHOLD, but have simply been challenged as heading into the unknown opens up a river that could run eternal and explode with endless layers.
With the greatest thanks to the NATIONAL TRUST (Lizard Peninsular and Penrose) for their ongoing support.
with R+D taking place between August and October 2021.
SALT was originally intended to be stanza 4, but as exploration continued the expression of salt polarised between SEA SALT (salt in its dissolute state) and ROCK SALT (salt in its crystalline state). Each presented a very different choreography to move between the softness of the underwater worlds of SEA SALT, to the harsh reflections of bone, dry death delivered through ROCK SALT.
Stanza 4 works with SEA SALT - so has been re-titled simply as SEA.
Stanza 5 works with ROCK SALT - so retains the title of SALT.
SEA follows the story seeded in SNOT of our relationship with the future children, and has been filmed almost entirely underwater. It has been an incredible experience to work with movement inside of weightlessness and freedom of this terrain. For slow cinema, the water world brings a certain timelessness, naturally all movement is slow and the element supports the body in that - in terms of exploring deep time water acts as a magnifying glass where every gesture and emotion behind it is allowed to expand and to travel - so we can really see inside. Through immersion, the deeper nature of grief where the qualities of tenderness, vulnerability and the need to love was able to find its way into expression.
Through R+D, I am developing my own style as film-maker. I find I keep returning to the importance of ambience as opposed to literalism. My intent through A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE has always been to create a vehicle where there is enough space for the audience to find a personal resonance inside the piece and so explore echoes of their own story. The ambience of SEA I felt took a nose dive into this area of exploration as it takes us into a world that is both primal and essential where expression can move in a way that is unimpeded.
Inside research, many elements are opening out and weaving at the same time. A further layer follows how the sustained dialogue between body, landscape and the journey grief would take us on - unfolds as a story. Without *spoilers*, where SEA's story continues the thread of relationship between the present and the now, (that is us) with the future (that is the future child), the piece began to open out fascinating windows into where and how dynamics of creation run between, interact, oscillate and interchange. The story SEA delivers us into continues to echo a story of birth, growing through bones, veins, blood and messy goo of SNOT - to lead us into the grace of the salty worlds of the water womb, which in turn echo the grace, weightlessness and timelessness of the sea as a chamber of creation, of amniotic fluid and our own birth.
Here, I think there is a great clue in understanding the nature of grief, as the more I continue along this path of exploration, the more it seems to deliver us into a place where we can taste the sublime, nectarine beauty that dwells within creation, and the love that lives within this. Death and loss, if we travel the grief that comes from it - seems to want to take us there - if we can but let it.
To thank my daughter for fulfilling the role of that future child. As mother and daughter, it was a treasured experience for us to work together like this, in a way, it had to be - as the movement sequence are so tactile - no-one else could really fill that place easily.
As the sun receded I had to stop with both SEA and SALT. I initially felt I would need to return to SALT next summer - but on entering the editing process, yes, this is a stanza of great depth and on the other side of R+D there will be more to develop - but it became clear as the story fell into place - it was in fact, complete.
Sitting as stanza 5, SALT has to be the most labour intensive out of all films. I chose to immerse as completely as I could into the actual substance of salt. Which meant bags and bags of it. Costume in itself took several months of preparation, where I literally embalmed it with saturated salt solution on a daily basis. It's heavy. So with the trek to Loe Bar, donning this and then working with that same level of saturation for hair and make-up. . . . takes a long time. But, we are working in slow cinema and deep time, so this is the name of the game, and in that respect - is only a blink of an eye. Patience is required.
My ultimate focus was to inhabit the element of salt as deeply as I possibly could, and remain in dialogue for sustained periods of time - in order to listen and truly understand. This being said, Spiderflower's approach comes with 'usual and constant challenges', which I have to navigate every time I go out onto the land. So. The weather is always one of these. Ordinarily, I will work with what is, and ordinarily I roll with the changes (here in Cornwall it will spin on a sixpence) - for SALT however, I specifically needed hot, dry conditions as the massive amounts of salt I am sitting beneath will simply melt away with the rain at moments notice, along with months of work on costume. In this sense, doing this in the UK was like dodging bullets, but thankfully August, September and October delivered some very hot sun.
Once there, and in dialogue - SALT began to speak in a very distinct language, different to anything before. It was also one that I didn't expect. It's vital to clear out any assumptions on what I might 'think I know' - with anything I am about to move into dialogue with. This is a discipline in its own right. However, they will always be there. My expectation on entering salt was around tears (so belonging to water), instead, I have to report that the land delivered the most direct, challenging and starkest mirrors that I have ever experienced. Its language was crystal clear, as was the story emerging out of the landscape.
There is a magic that comes in moments, when we are travelling, are listening and in dialogue with this practice. It comes through the language of synchronicity. It gifts moments where . . . something. . . a bird, a cloud, the sun, the wind. . . will enter into the conversation and play its part. It is always vital to - give space for this as in truth - when we are truly present, are engaged and we listen - they happen far more than we may notice. Sometimes they are subtle, nearly invisible - other times they are dramatic and utterly breath taking.
SALT delivered itself through a synchronicity that was both dramatic and breathtaking. At the same time gut wrenching. It confronted me with mirrors of bone, dry death. Of decay. The cruelty of human nature. With the essential nature of loss, against the needless nature of waste. To say more would be to go into *spoilers*, and I must leave the reflections SALT brings for the audience. But this stanza I found exceptionally hard to stomach, and I'm quite a tough old bird - even wondering if I could or should go with this. Obviously, the choice has been to - go with this. As this is the nature of Spiderflower's work, we ask the questions - so must be prepared for the answers.
The editing process allowed me to distance and step back to get the overview for SALT. I think out of all stanzas, this one will be where the audience watch through their own lens, and will see according to their unique story and experience.
For myself, SALT tells the story of how we ostracise grief. Even though we are looking at the most barren of landscapes, this is about tears. Invisible tears. Bone dry tears. It also speaks strongly about belonging. When we cry and are in grief, there comes a deep human need to belong. To find the comfort of others, our friends, family and community - we seek and we need love. But sometimes that is not there. Our grief also needs to belong, to find its place and acceptance - so it too may travel through. But what then happens when that belonging is denied, where there is no place - and we and our grief are ostracised? SALT, I believe shows us - how it can be so.
I say this - but this is through my own lens. Over the past year, the Critique Circle have met regularly to review and feedback on work in progress. What is evident in developing an ambient approach to story telling and film making - is that different people will see things in different ways. Sometimes this can be poles apart - I find this absolutely fascinating. It heartens me, as I figure the form I am working to create is in line with my original intent of creating a vehicle spacious enough for each member of the audience to find personal resonance within the piece, and so explore their own story.
SALT has been a game changer in terms of how the films flow together in an arc. As I am nearing the end of the process, it's vital to stay with the overall expression of A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE - this in turn has informed RAIN ON EARTH, now sitting as stanza 6.
RAIN ON EARTH
RAIN ON EARTH, sits as stanza 6. In reality, it is an in-depth exploration around a simple, yet powerful sequence that took place last summer
from July through to September 2020.
For this stanza, I expected lots of mud, rain and leaves . . .as the title suggests. But.
SALT has delivered us to a place where there is - no - rain on earth - not a drop of it.
It is our (unexpected) ending.
It offers a full stop. Yet. There is no full stop.
Ultimately, the ending leaves with the audience.
Stanza 6 is the bravest of stanzas in terms of working with slow cinema and deep time. We have to stay with it. It bears simple witness to the human form, the landscape and time passing. We are offered a mirror. What do we see?
On a technical level, this sequence taught me an incredible amount, offering great lessons around how time moves through the landscape, our relationship to (and perception of) that - which became morbidly transparent through movement. I had to learn how to accurately translate this and bring it to a state of transparency for an audience. There is much to discuss about that (!) and I use the word 'morbidly' with intent. Weather being a component (naturally). It took some time. Although the choreography for RAIN ON EARTH is startlingly simple, it was the hardest to get right and I had to come back to it again and again - until the movement score (and the weather) was utterly meticulous, in line and in sync. For this reason, this is a sequence I treasure. I hope you will do too.
The initial intent for RAIN ON EARTH was to create insight into the human story and relationship with grief throughout time. This is still an important element of A PECULIAR SHADE OF BLUE. My hope is RAIN ON EARTH will I hope this will provide a place of reflection and contemplation. From here, it is my hope this stanza will open out discussion, exploration and interaction on a scope that goes way beyond the screen.
Go here for details of the UK FILM-SHARE:
BOOK OF POETRY
All scenes are initially written in poetics. As story translates into imagery, vast swathes of poetry have to be cut during edits. Original text is being preserved in a 'Book of Poetry' to offer a window into initial translations of dialogue between body and earth.
THE CENTRE FOR EARTH-ENGAGED PERFORMANCE RESEARCH
Is building alongside the project, ready to launch in a basic on-line format alongside the films.