©2019 by David Spittle. 

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Gallivant

January 30, 2017

 

 

Andrew Kotting’s 1996 film, Gallivant, charts a ragged journey around the entirety of Britain’s coastline. Parallels could be drawn with the psychogeographic impulse of Iain Sinclair (who has worked with Kotting and written on his films), or the films of Chris Petit and Patrick Keiller. However, where Sinclair itches with an underground literary neurosis (all occult alleyways and hidden districts, writers and places feverishly constellated as steps are taken and retaken along the overlooked) and Keiller’s Robinson films wryly observe a kind of flat documentation (I have yet to see any Chris Petit, but Sinclair’s essay ‘Big Granny and Little Eden’ persuasively draws them all together as a generation of filmmakers that were reinvigorating a way of seeing/travelling Britain), Kotting is a more mischievous and bounding presence. The film is a lovingly stitched home video where both travelogue and diary are spun into a hand held odyssey: at once poetic and absurdist, itching with energy and yet accommodating the possibilities of an essay film (Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil was an important touchstone for Kotting). Pockets of contemplation appear without thesis, pagan giants and sword dancing twist into lugworms and washing lines, there is no time for the bland coherence of any one singular thread – all is fraying and brought together, unrelated but somehow speaking. 

 

It is an improvised journey, restlessly awake to the ‘happenstancial’ of chance and accident; zipping through lanes in a camper van and led with boisterous humour and energy by Kotting himself, bringing together his 85-year-old grandmother Gladys and his 7-year-old daughter Eden in a madcap trip that explores generational and geographical distance but never succumbs to sloppy metaphor. Where and when proximities bridge and blur the distance of miles or years, Kotting’s film eagerly jumbles its strands in a bricolage of communities, landscapes and conversations, held together by the film’s driving cohesion: the growing bond between Gladys and Eden. This is a relationship that incorporates and extends many of the film’s preoccupations: language, age, mobility, change, tradition, signs…

 

Eden has Joubert’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes ataxia, sleep apnia, hyperpnea (abnormal breathing patterns) and (among other symptoms) a disturbance of balance and coordination. The life expectancy is drastically reduced, a grim prognosis which Eden Kotting has gone on to continuingly defy. There is a sense with Gladys, at 85, of a stoic realism in facing the remaining years that, like Eden, could be cut short in the film’s imagined future: an off the map kinship that heightens the significance of their travelogue. Yet Kotting never exploitatively dwells on this, there is no sentimentalism wrung from their time together and no contrivance of a narrative beyond the journey’s own circularity. What is brought out is the fizzing drama and comedy of communication: where Eden communicates through high pitched monosyllables and a form of sign language, Gladys witters earnestly or remarks with frank and piercing humour. A family trait.

 

The film shifts between 35mm and Super 8 with the giddy wheeling of a child’s perception (recalling the diary films of Stan Brackhage, or, more contemporary to Kotting, the phantasmic cut, zoom & paste of Guy Maddin). We are constantly split between the desire to document and a desire to escape documentation, into something more unpredictable and reckless. Kotting will often film someone or something from a relatively conventional stasis, and then follow up with a more haphazard wheeling of macro sequences… whether it is a person speaking 
 

“keep away from Swansea on a Saturday night, 
                     its like the Wild West”

 

“I think about dying a lot”

                                                “what happens after –

 

“You don’t see the Welsh on TV

                                                            “Who the fuck is Gladys?”

“The tide always goes out

                                                            dunno where it goes

            but it always comes back.”      

                                                            “you can fuck off back down South”

 

“The only thing I hate is a thunderstorm, thunderstorm and mice”

                        

                                    “My hat is a tea cosy –

 

“ – on a day like this you can almost hear the ghosts…”

 

or playing an accordion in Grimsby as the tide begins to swill around muddied shoes: the camera first observes, and then, as if unable to hold back any longer, Super 8 dives into close ups and a frantic barrage of textures, colours, skin, bristle, thistles, bees, tongue…all but forced into the mud of each moment… calling out its character into a tactile frenzy of detail. 

 

 

allotments, terrace housing, burial grounds, makeshift football pitch, power plants, bridges, upturned boats, tent, camper van, kite, beach, sky, clouds, sea, sun, jumping, water, surf, blown foam, hillside, grass, condensed milk, how to say, how to say, heritage? can you ken John peel, left, left to “pure chance”, shattered ankle, layabouts, government, countryside, roadside, smoke, housing, box, cube, rust, hand on tiller, graffiti on the pavilion, laughter, water, time-lapse, “Dadda”, postcards, public toilet, 99 flake, “in London they’re all too busy”, pagan, gurning, fish, red coat, bucket and spade and                        and                  and

 

Lindisfarne:

                        Eden runs toward the camera, her movement all the more triumphant and free having earlier witnessed the milestone of her first unaided steps, and now she is armed confidently with a bucket and spade, Gladys is in the background flying a kite, everything is slowed down, the beach opens up

                                                            

“One imagines some of the earliest experiences

of two small children

                                    the other an old person

                                    near the end of her life

 

They leave you the feeling there’s nothing more to be said –

There they all were, in the warm sunshine”

 

 

 

 

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