VOD film review: By Our Selves
James R | On 04, Oct 2015
Director: Andrew Kötting
Cast: Toby Jones, Andrew Kötting, Freddie Jones
Watch By Our Selves online in the UK: BFI Player+ / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Amazon Instant Video
It’s been three years since Andrew Kötting released a film about him and Iain Sinclair travelling in a pedalo and his latest is just as idiosyncratic. Unlike Swandown, there are no bird-shaped boats in By Our Selves, but this is no less bizarre, as we follow in the footsteps of poet John Clare.
Literally, we might add: Clare trekked from Epping to Northampton way back in 1841, in an attempt to reach a woman he loved. If a poetic walk through the woods (and other assorted landscapes) doesn’t grab you, jog on: there won’t be anything for you here. In cinema terms, this is out in the sticks, far from the mainstream.
Our narration informs us that Clare is “a minor nature poet who went mad” – the pilgrimage begins at an asylum – and there is certainly method in it: Kötting does an impressive job of capturing the disorienting, melancholic experience of Clare’s four-day sojourn. We see Jones, in character, wandering the wilds of England, accompanied by a voice over reciting Clare’s poems. Then, suddenly, we’re watching candid, modern-day glimpses of behind the movie’s scenes. “Who’s that?” says one local, as they spy the camera crew and Jones. “It’s John Clare,” comes the reply. “That’s not John Clare!”
The director shoots with a lustrous eye for greyscale images, which entrances and alienates as much as the spectacular sound design. He populates his frame in an equally odd manner, taking us from leaves and benches to a Wicker Man-like Straw Bear and graphic novel legend Alan Moore, who talks about the black hole of Northampton.
Throughout, Jones remains eminently watchable, thanks to his uniquely fascinating presence: like a crumpled, soggy tissue, you can’t help but study every bit of his face whenever he’s in a film. That’s even more the case here, as he never says a word: Clare’s verse is read by Freddie Jones, Toby’s dad, who has previously played Clare in a documentary. That kind of touch is par for the course in a consciously complex production that will prove an intriguing curio for English students or Kötting fans and an obtuse oddity for most others.