*Ben Russell and Ben Rivers will be present for a post-screening Q&A*
First of all, there’s that title: “A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS.” It’s the kind of title you want to keep repeating to yourself, the kind of title that sounds like a pretty formidable spell all by itself, like a prayer or incantation that promises to become the very thing after which it seeks. And the film it represents, for which it serves as calling card or declaration of intent, operates according to a similar principle: it seems to offer itself as an answer — however elliptical, ambiguous, and taciturn — to the question its three sections obliquely (and yet somehow obviously) address, to wit: How then? How do we go about warding off the darkness? Which magic works, if any?
Rivers and Russell are “experimental” filmmakers; this means, among other things, that, sorry bub, they aren’t about to pander to cosseted audiences like us with conventional storytelling techniques. No, sir. No, ma’am. Nevertheless, their film’s tripartite structure can be read as an arc — as a pilgrim’s progress of sorts, with the part of the pilgrim played by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, an artist and musician perhaps best known for the harrowing, transporting drone-work he’s recorded under the name Lichens. Lowe portrays, or may simply be, a man who wanders through and participates in three different scenarios in Northern Europe. “Scenarios” is too determinative, actually — let’s just call them stages. Through Estonia, Norway, and Finland he experiences social engagement (an intentional community made up of hippies, artists, and misfits), social isolation (when he cuts loose and lives in stern solitude among the overhanging cliffs and vast, empty flatlands), and finally, after he sets his makeshift hut on fire and re-enters the world of others, the catharsis of artistic expression (as depicted in a lengthy bar-set by a — to be honest with you here — pretty fucking awesome black metal band, for whom Lowe dons corpse-paint, plays guitar, and primally screams his head off.)
What worked? What failed? What evaluative criteria are available to us that might allow us to say either way? This is a film that takes itself very seriously indeed. How can it not be, given its stated remit? But its opacity sometimes weighs it down; It trudges, it does, through a number of passages that seem more ponderous than profound. That it manages, in spite of this, to contain a fairly involved description of a novel (to me, anyway) variation on the circle jerk suggests both an encouraging capaciousness of spirit (take that, darkness!) and a playfulness that may serve as its own spell against the ever-gathering dusk.
3/23 – 7PM
$12 Special Event Tickets
Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138