Sunday, June 28, 2009

Locations #3

I've always found the best place to want to make films are the streets you know best. Not far from where I live, there is a corner of our little world that we've shot numerous times for numerous projects. An old bluestone bridge crosses a narrow stretch of Merri Creek where, just beneath the blocks of housing commission flats a steep patch of green, lush river weed and grass leads down to the river. Trams rattle over the bridge and on up to Ruckers Hill and, a few hundred metres along the creek, the train bridge from Rushall Station leads onto Westgarth. A large vacant industrial block on the river's edge has been the home of some travellers who slept in a large curtained bus parked next to the bluestone wall of the bridge and, in the mornings and afternoons, long light sneaks its way along the creek's course and sends long shadows careening along the river path. It's a strange nexus of the city, riverlife, detritus and industry. I used it for some sequences in the short film Love This Time, for a long sequence in the documentary Words from the City, as a location for a short poetry documentary about the late Dorothy Porter and we have written an as yet unmade film set in and around one of the flats in the commission block looking down to the river.

In recent months, work has begun on what looks to be a pretty lifeless looking apartment block. the travellers have been moved on and the industry block razed and sold. The track running under the bridge has been cordoned off and the graffiti painted over. Although the stretch of river grass leading from the flats down to the creek remains, the strangely cinematic quality of this location has been destroyed. As I walk past it every few days I feel an anxious pang about it's loss. Although each time we shot there,we tried to reinvent the space itself, it always felt like a place I could easily go back to and shoot just about anything, with the right combination of stillness, intensity, quiet and chaos. Now it's gone.

In the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, they have created a filmic world around Seraing in Liege and their films viewed as a body of work seem like various mirrors shone on parts of the city with stories that might have been taking place only streets away from each other. The intensity that this gradual accumulation of knowledge of the place casts on each new film is extraordinary. From La Promesse to Lorna's Silence (via Rosetta, which I wrote about like an infatuated, obsessive maniac in Senses of Cinema many years back), each new film maintains a rigorous consistency in setting each story in the post industrial landscape of Seraing, but it is as if each new character is enriched and made only more complex by what we already know of this world, of these streets, and of the lives that we view in glimpses in each film. A similar, though more aesthetically predictable viewing experience occurred in the ten episodes of Kieslowski's Decalogue which allowed the Warsaw housing project to be the anchor point for the lives that existed, in satellite and occasional symmetry, around each other. In many ways, I've always hoped that the streets that I know would, at some point, in the future, form a similar landscape of familiarity and resonance. I write almost exclusively of people I know, in my mind if not on the page, to live around the corner from another character I've written about, and most of them echo similar journeys around similar fictional places based in the shadows of these actual streets. It is saddening and frustrating to have to farewell such a key part of this landscape of my mind. I'll just have to think about moving, I guess. Go steal someone else's streets and make them my own...

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