I’ve had a deep affection since childhood with, by I lovingly call, old black and white movies. To me there was magic in how these film-makers caught the light and despite low budgets, poor sets and sometimes pretty terrible acting it never hindered creation and their creators. Their direct storytelling seemed to speak to me personally and the atmosphere more engrossing for it. It became no surprise to later learn that the film-makers across Europe between the world wars embraced the components of this new art form and how little they have changed since. The films we watch today pretty much use the same techniques as devised by those early pioneers of cinema starting in earnest around 100 years ago.
So what is it specifically about these films that captured me? 1. A strong narrative that pulls you in to the issues – to be directly involved with what’s happening on the screen – a cracking good story! 2. To feel as though you yourself are in that situation, rather than just be shown a situation from the outside, so you begin to ask yourself, what would I do if I was…The fictional aspect of a story also lets a filmmaker change the narrative, something that cannot happen in real life.
3. Perhaps most important all is the power of a story to break the cycle of a doomed ending. The films that struck a chord with me offered a chance to charge our fate!
With the above in mind what I was seeking to embed in my own short-film Last Footsteps of Home was to present a narrative where the emotions and feelings start the viewer thinking what they you do in a particular situation - not the rights and wrongs of a distant look back in history. By taking that path you can see and feel the wider story beyond the single life of the main character - to show the impact of events on the exile and her impact on subsequent generations.
Two names that stand out as shinning lights as influences were Michael Powel & Emeric Pressburger. Their early films, prior to and after meeting each other, were of particular interest to me. The dominant trait in a Powel & Pressburger (P&P) film is usually the entry of a character in to strange land. This idea (or motif as folks film call it) consistently appears and no doubt derives from the cross-border experiences of their travel and relocation, especially Pressburger who fled Nazi torn Europe. The story of the exile in a P&P film is often of loneliness and traumatic banishment from a native land. This creates a heartfelt desire for home and compounds the need to put down roots and re-establish a sense of identity. The creation of a nation can also be read as community in a P&P film. Nothing is stronger than the imagined sense of home. put simply nostalgia = homesickness. A powerful device to engage an audience with and one that we all have experienced at some time in our lives.
It’s this very aspect that interested me from the early P&P films and in creating Last Footsteps of Home. Hence, the confused emotions as the lead character sees the emigrant ship that will take her away to a new world on one side and a final look back at the land of her birth on the other. Last Footsteps of Home is ultimately about a moment caught in time – a nether world with all the feelings stripped of identity. This then begs the question. Who am I now? The great filmmakers Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock were often asked, and pretty much hated being asked, their favourite films. When they did give an answer there were quite a few silent movies in their list. Stanley Kubrick was quoted as saying: ‘A film is, or should be, more like a musical than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s left behind, the emotions, the meaning, all that comes later.’ As you watch Last Footsteps of Home you’ll notice there is no dialogue - the story is driven by music to help create a non-spoken narrative. This was an intentional decision that I felt best fitted this story. Orson Welles said: ‘Editing is the unique aspect of filmmaking that doesn’t exits in any other art form.’ If you watch the shots progress in Last Footsteps of Home you’ll notice that the transitions are in the form on an eye - the very real blinking eye of the lead character in the middle section - to the minds eye in the sections that bookend the film. These were the portents of things to come and highlight the mystical aspects of a people very much in tune with their environment. Like Man of Aran I also used early cinematic techniques such as montage and jump-cuts, pioneered in the 1920s European cinema.
To me Last Footsteps of Home is a tone-poem to the people of the Highland Clearances, but not the complete poem, more a verse or stanza that signifies a moment of realisation. The rest of the story is yet to be told - namely the crossing on the emigrant ship and settling in Red River. My intention is to make these next episodes of the story, We're often told journeys beginning with a single step – what I ended up with in Last Footsteps of Home is where a period of human existence ended with a single step.
You can watch Last Footsteps of Home in full at:
© 2017 Robert Aitken