‘Beyond the Roundabout’ is a laudable concept; as a response to the biggest event in this city in living memory, the Belltable (with the support of the Arts Council) have commissioned independent film-maker,Nicky Larkin, to engage with the regeneration of certain parts of the city over an eight month period.
I went to see the film on Wednesday night.
I had a personal interest because I had met with the affable Mr Larkin a number of times when he was filming, usually in my neighbour’s house in Weston gardens. The night of the screening the same neighbour was standing outside the Belltable distributing leaflets that explained his decision to have his name and his input removed from the film. He had been ejected from the Belltable before I arrived, on the grounds that he was prejudicing the opinions of the audience before they had even seen the film, which was a fair point; he had certainly coloured my expectations. From his reaction to the preview, I had imagined a one-sided uncritical vindication of the Regeneration Project.
I was surprised.
Mr Larkin’s film is not a documentary with bias, nor is it an even-handed documentary. It is not a documentary at all, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It is a collage of well-composed and often poignant imagery that proceeds at a deliberately measured pace, giving the audience plenty of time to think about what they are seeing. A technique that was, certainly in the beginning, extremely effective.
For those of us who live alongside the decay and devastation of some of these areas it can become easy to ‘block it out’ after a while and not really see it anymore. Sitting in a darkened room and sharing the collective horror and disgust brought it all back. Mr Larkin’s portrayal of sheer ugliness was unflinching, and was done well.
Unfortunately for a film of 45 minutes length, he didn’t portray anything else. His use of black space, silence, and half-heard echoes, which gave the film a disconnected dream-like quality in the beginning, became simply annoying after a while. The (unidentified) voice of Brendan Kenny is heard passionlessly defending himself against accusations that nobody makes. The Residents, when they appear, are nervous, and the combination of nerves, strong accents and poor sound quality make them incomprehensible. Also, while what we do see of the Regeneration areas is beautifully shot, we don’t see very much of them. Mr Larkin was economical enough to use the same burnt-out house at least five different times in long-lingering shots from different angles. This may have been deliberate, but combined with the black spaces and poor quality sound, it just came across as lazy.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking of all was his depiction of children as gangland gargoyles, either literally voiceless, with the soundtrack removed or “scobing it up” for the camera; singing rap-songs about stabbing and ‘giving the finger’.
It is very hard to know what, if anything is meant by any of this, and it can be argued that as a piece of Art,- Mr Larkin’s film doesn’t have to mean anything at all. But if this is the case, why include the voices of Mr Kenny and the residents discussing Regeneration? Mr Larkin’s talent and concern is clearly imagery; the inclusion of unidentified opinions and musings seem totally unnecessary to his film as Art and feel more like an attempt to pay literal lip-service to the films stated objective.
Aesthetically, it undermines the experience and confuses the audience as brains search desperately for a connection between the images and soundtrack, before finally giving up in frustration.
The Aspirations of the Belltable and the Arts council in commissioning this work remain laudable, so it is doubly tragic that so much time, money, labour, and good intentions on what amounts to a visual cliché of gangland limerick that illustrates very little except perhaps Mr Larkin’s skill as a photographer and his limitations as an editor.