Review: All This Can Happen - film by Siobhan Davies & David Hinton - Dance Umbrella

Performance: 13 October 2012
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Wednesday 17 October 2012

'All This Can Happen', by Siobhan Davies & David Hinton.  Image courtesy Étienne-Jules Marey, Collège de France,  Archive

All This Can Happen, shown as part of Dance Umbrella 2012, in the Platform Theatre, University of the Arts, is a collaboration between choreographer Siobhan Davies and film maker David Hinton and encapsulates the eclectic curiosity of both artists. Their subjects of fascination include the detail of movement, its wider implications and early experiments with the moving image, dating as far back as the 1870s. Inspiration behind the making of All This Can Happen is derived from the creations of two early 20th century men, French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey and Swiss writer Robert Walser: the former, because of his photographic studies of every day actions such as walking, running and jumping, the latter for his novella, The Walk (1927), which is a reflection of the world as seen by the writer as he takes a walk one day.

Hinton and Davies have organised grainy, flickering, black and white found footage and photographs into a riveting continuously moving photo montage, which accompanies and indeed flavours the narration of extracts from The Walk. Read by John Heffernan, the narrative consists of intellectual musings on the author’s insightful and often emotionally charged observations while strolling through city and countryside. The walker’s mood continually changes as he witnesses urban riots, children playing or nature blossoming; he is angered by a negative encounter with his incompetent tailor, jangled by the sexually teasing maître de at his restaurant and delighted by ripening fruit and bucolic landscapes. Both the great and the humble deserve equal attention in his eyes.

What is astonishing about the film is both the quantity and diversity of the footage as well as the pace that it is played. Stuttering, glimmering threads of imagery spill onto the screen in hectic juxtapositions, often displayed on a split screen or even three. Imagery is edited at different speeds, freeze framed, enlarged, repeated, slowed down or speeded up which draws our attention to what we might have otherwise missed, such as a man washing his face, birds flying, a child skipping. How the material is arranged is complex choreographically in terms of rhythm and dynamics, but such love and attention given to even the most ordinary action matches the author’s passion for the diversity of life.

While the visual information is at times too much to digest, the narrative provides a stable, meditative counterpoint, a reassuring voice of calm amidst the frantic activity on screen, and the often disturbing impact it makes. A naked man writhing on the ground frequently struggles to stand, a hauntingly giant man glares out in defiance at the camera, two men fight like dogs and a child is whipped. The damaged quality of the footage, its stains and erosion distorts the imagery further, making it all the more raw and theatrical. With the pastoral scenes, the tone of the film shifts, then again in the scientific objectivity of Marey’s early studies of a man walking, as the minutiae of every action is recorded. We mustn’t forget that this film is really about the importance of motion and the desire to capture it, but in the highly textured, fragmented process All This Can Happen also celebrates fantasy, scientific fact, joy and horror in one mind-blowing counterpoint.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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