Monday, May 31, 2010

beyond the beyonds

I started this blog originally as just somewhere else to post my reaction to ‘Beyond the Roundabout’. Back then, (all those posts ago,) I was full of vim and vinegar- I tell thee! I posted it on Vimeo,, and the last few lines of it on Youtube and waited for a reaction. I didn’t get much, and then I more or less forgot about it.

Recently, I noticed that the creator of ‘Beyond the Roundabout’: Mr Larkin himself, had replied (that is, he had replied properly, there was a petulant little thing on the youtube ‘trailer’ that he was smart enough to take down) and his reply, and my original review, are to be found on this blog at the very first post (just by the entrance on your left you cant miss it.) under the title ’Beyond the Roundabout’. After today’s post, I promise never to speak of it again, and this is why.

Uri Geller was a fraud. Or, more accurately, he was a man who for more than thirty years claimed ‘paranormal abilities’ and has now reclassified himself as a ‘mentalist’ and entertainer.
An ex-conjuror called James Randi spent years of his life exposing Geller’s ‘miracles’ for the parlour tricks they were and even wrote a book on the subject of Geller’s fraudulence without having any real impact on the Israeli charlatan’s career.

The moral of the story being 'dont harp on about it too much -you're in danger of giving it more attention than it deserves', so let's proceed with caution.

The forty-five minutes that I spent watching ‘Beyond the roundabout?’ was quite enough time to spend on it, and perhaps I should have just walked away and put the whole thing down to unpleasant experience; but I didn’t.
I was aware even as I criticised it that I was probably paying the piece more attention to it than it deserved but I did have a reaction to it that required some form of expression. I tried very hard to be fair, I tried very hard to be objective, but of course my response was be driven not only by aesthetic considerations but by personal ones as well. So let’s get personal.

Personally speaking; I like Art, I like good film-making and I like children.

And I’d just like to readdress what I saw as the projects failings under these three headings.

Firstly then, Art.

Art defies definition and so is open to abuse as a ‘Get-out-of-jail-free’ card for lazy or incompetent work. There is no way to change this because really whatever your medium, the power of a creative work comes not from the amount of energy and commitment that the maker puts into it but from the response it creates in an audience.

That response will depend not so much on the technical competence or even the intention of the artist so much as: when and how an audience come into contact with the work, whether it reverberates in some way with the culture it’s produced in, other contemporary works, Art history, the zeitgeist of the time, and more usually; a combination of all of these things.

In other words, Michelangelo can jump up and down in the artists’ afterlife shouting at Andy Warhol and saying “That Cistine chapel took me years! - Those silk-screens of yours only took an afternoon” all he likes, that doesn’t mean that Warhol didn’t make Art.

Because of the ‘Get-out-of-jail-free’ aspect, it is unsurprising that Mr Larkin defends his piece by telling us that it’s ‘Art’ and claiming that any criticism of it is just the type of critical controversy that great Art historically excites. This is disingenuous, (in the sense of what the word sounds like: that it’s hardly ingenious, and also in the sense of what the word means: that it’s not true) because to be truly controversial, a piece of work should attract not only damning criticism but also an equally passionate amount of praise.
I’m still waiting for the passionate praise.

So then next: good film-making.
Mr Larkin’s original reaction to a single critical comment, added to the film’s trailer on Youtube, (the comments, and ability to comment were subsequently removed) was to ask who did this ‘darnmarr’ think he was and inquire where examples of darnmarr’s editing could be seen; which I thought was a strange way for an artist to defend himself .
I felt like I had been to the tailor to complain that one leg of my pants was shorter than the other only to be told ‘Oh Yeah? - When’s the last time you used a sewing machine then?’
I believe his more recent reply, if I may continue the tailor analogy, comes down to saying; ‘Oh they’re supposed to be like that, high fashion is always controversial’ which makes a lot more sense and is worth replying to, so that’s the one I will address.

Sewing is a good analogy for editing, it takes a lot of work and concentration and skill and you notice it most when it’s done badly. By choosing the style of still-shot photography, and by choosing to make each shot as a ‘neutral’ shot, without a single pan, tilt, track or zoom during the whole 45 minutes; a lot of the difficult work is cut out.
So lets say, in sewing terms, Mr Larkin made something that was less a fitted suit so much as a toga. By having a soundtrack that was largely independent of the imagery, it became a toga with frayed edges. By having poor quality sound on the few pieces where sound and image were required to be in synch, it became a frayed toga with a hole in the back of it; which I suppose is fine if that’s the look you’re going for, but it doesn’t take much of a tailor to create it. In defence of this technique he tells us that he has used this technique before and gotten away with it. I can only reply that two arseless raggy togas does not a tailor make, and certainly one toga of this type shouldn’t take eight months of sewing to create. Fashion, like Art, is impossible to predict and,( for all I know,) one day raggy bumless Togas may indeed be the height of sartorial elegance, but you cant call it good tailoring; this is what I meant by Larkin’s limitations as an editor.

And finally, ‘won’t somebody please think of the children?’.
Kids from bad areas eh? Aren’t they gas? With their sailor’s vocabularies and their low self-esteem and expectations? This is the bit that angered me most about the whole thing. I worked in Glenagross park in Moyross here in Limerick for four years. For the past seven years I’ve taken kids from Weston to Ballycotton with Ann Curley’s project.
I like kids. The kids from Regeneration areas have a lot to be getting on with and one of their biggest problems is how they slip into the roles of not ‘how they are’ but how they are perceived. If the world responds to you as a stereotype it’s sometimes just easier to live up to it. By getting children to ‘scobe it up’ for the camera, I felt Mr Larkin was accelerating this process in a cynical and completely irresponsible way. It seemed obvious to me he had done so simply to give his film ‘an edge’ and was the work of someone who had observed children distantly and didn’t like them; it wasn’t the work of someone who had ‘engaged’.

Happily, already the ‘film’ is a distant memory and, as I will not be watching it a second time; this is the last thing I’m going to say on the subject.


  1. 'Beyond the roundabout' on for more opinions.

  2. "You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables."

    -Samuel Johnson