The Super 8 footage of memory

April 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while…

Back in March, I saw Submarine, a film directed by Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd). If you haven’t seen it, go – it’s the most original film I’ve seen in ages.

I particularly loved it because I have a bit of a soft spot for films that deal with youth and romance, even if they’re actually sickeningly nostalgic – which is most of the time, since  films on wide release tend to be made by grown-ups. Shame. Submarine‘s not one of those, though. In fact, it’s kind of meta-nostalgic. I realise that this sounds like the worst sort of wanky academic terminology, of which I’m particularly wary since my last post had the honour of being described as ‘a particularly facile example of intellectual masturbation’. Bear with me, though: I think it makes sense.

Meta-nostalgic, because the film is clearly very aware that films present adolescent romance nostalgically. There’s a particular, already much-commented sequence which best encapsulates this. The 15 year old narrator, Oliver Tate, tells us about an afternoon spent on the beach with his girlfriend Jordana. He says that he has already transformed this experience into ‘the Super 8 footage of memory’. And sure enough, right on cue we see some charming, scratchy Super 8 footage of the two kids fooling around on the beach. The point is that we arrange our memories the same way a director arranges his/her film: we choose where to cut, where the camera zooms in, what the soundtrack is (pushing it, perhaps). Luis Buñuel said something about films working in the same way as dreams, which is a similar, if more subversive, line of thought.

Meta-nostalgic, then, because Submarine draws attention to the ways films can be nostalgic (or that nostalgia can be cinematic), and then suggests something far less neat or cutesy. For instance, at a low point in their relationship, Oliver laments the fact that without Jordana, he won’t have anyone to singe his leg hair. Which is touching, but in a slightly spooky way. Submarine‘s incredibly pronounced colour-coding (things related to Oliver are blue, things related to Jordana are red) also highlights the artificiality of film  as a way of presenting and organising life. Which might be the artificiality of memory as well – it does feel, as Oliver says, like he is directing the film of his life, and we are watching it. (The colour scheme is also very reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le mépris, which  does an equally good line in blue and red.)

Another Godard nod

The reference to Godard is but one of many cinematic nods (the titles above being one). In that sense it is a very meta film (I hate that expression…there must be a better way of saying that). The main reference that sticks out for me, though, is to François Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups, which is arguably the ‘big daddy’ of all youth-nostalgia films. In the several scenes where Oliver runs across the beach, you half-expect him to turn and the shot suddenly to freeze and zoom in, as in the earlier film. It’s the sort of technique Ayoade uses anyway.

Which film am I in?

Anyway, as well as all that, Submarine is a very touching, very funny film. Go watch it.

P.S. Another film which is both of those things is The Kids Are All Right, which I saw yesterday. Might write a post on it soon.

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