TEXTS & PRESS
A home of geometry and poetry - Mattia Fiorino (il tempo impresso, 2019)
“A journey, a home for the exiles” is the subtitle of the article presenting this pseudo-section dedicated to Laterale Selection 2019; A Return is, among the exiles, one of the most exile and in need of a dwelling, a film that makes the concept of return its raison d’être. His creation is, in fact, given by the alternation of footage of two different places that the director has impressed on film and that he overlayed according to criteria that could be defined as harmonic/musical rather than logical-syntactic.1 It is not difficult to have the sensation to be in front of what Jonas Mekas called “glimpses of beauty”, yet there are differences in the way in which these two directors relate to their personal “glimpses”.
In films such as Reminiscences of a journey to Lithuania, the subject (Mekas) is external to the object (the house) and contemplates it with a sweetness and sincerity proper to the Lithuanian director, who remains abstract (his off-screen speaking is a clear one exemplification) in the very idea of using cinema as a blank sheet on which write about memories and thoughts. Here, then, his old house is a goal, something on which focus from the outside. In A Return, on the other hand, the director is on the inside and looks outwards, his gaze projected from the house towards what lies beyond the window, the aestheticization is also intrinsically given by the form and not “attributed” to the content. In other words, the aesthetic of the “glimpses of beauty” of Edmonds differs from those of Mekas in the will to assemble “glimpses” poetically intense a priori and not made such by something that is linked to them (in the case of the second director that “something” is given by the awareness of his position towards what is taken up, awareness given by the famous writings that appear in his films and by his practice of “lyricizing” memories and thoughts).
The places of A Return transmit – in their exchange and mixing – the warmth and beauty of a nest, the faces of loved ones, animals, trees, skies: everything is home, everything is a single atmospheric representation of dwelling and proximity.
The relationship between the two places in which the film fragments were shot is interesting as an alternation and overlaying of two macro-aspects of the image: the geometric-linear one and the pictorial-sfumato one. What in fact differentiates the two locations is the director’s choice to reproduce structural elements and natural elements in the transition from Berlin to the south of England, weaving them and creating completely new forms, now angular, now curvilinear, finally merged to create a new house.
This (re)alignment of images is nothing but a mixture of suggestions sedimented in memories, a common process that concerns memory and that leads to the re-elaboration – clearly distorted – of a place that is not what it really is, and that at the same time it is what it is (the poetic truth of memory consists precisely in its opacity).
In the artist’s eyes the world is exactly the one in the works, with his personal rules and schemes. Returning to the Mekas-Edmonds comparison it is possible to clarify further the question concerning their perception of things around them.
The first one observes the world in a completely natural way (where “natural” means the mechanical representation given by the camera) and yet – here is the pleasant paradox of the director’s cinema – gives to its viewer an extremely unique and personal vision, modulated and artistically formed after the shooting and before the completed film; the second starts from a vision that is aesthetically realized in the frame itself, created by him in the moment of shooting, poetic in its completeness and realized in the symphony staged in the completed film. It could be said, remaining in the musical sphere, that the cinema of Mekas is composed of songs and that of Edmonds by instrumental pieces.
The most complete expression of this musical idea of the film is perhaps the choice of using as a soundtrack the sound of a river that meets the sea2, one of the most powerful scenes to which one can think in relation to the idea of overlaying and natural interweaving of images: it is precisely in this way that the fragments of the film follow one another, according to a purely instinctive and “natural” logic, as if the images were attracted to each other and the director’s task was only to satisfy this tension/attraction. The return home is, in this case, a non-physical journey (as been said about the position of the director towards the places that have been filmed – he looks at everything from the inside. He is already at home, basically) mnemonic and evocative, in which mathematics and poetry dialogue with each other and finally converge: Mondrian and Kandinskij, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, Policleto and Fidia, Bach and Händel. A Return is a symphony of «two worlds become one».
Toni Pipolo - Strangest Things: on Projections at the 56th New York Film Festival (Artforum, 2018)
James Edmonds’s A Return is a bracing demonstration of the continued power of montage and of 16 mm, bringing widely disparate spaces together in a manner so personal and visually arresting that it recalls the work of Stan Brakhage—all in six minutes.
Michael Sicinski - Toronto: Wavelengths Preview — "We Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Contrarians" (MUBI Notebook, 2018)
There are few pleasures as profound as discovering a first-rate talent, and James Edmonds fits the bill. He has been making films for quite some time, although his work clearly hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Fortunately, a number of programmers are rectifying that with his latest film, A Return, a near-perfect marriage of impulses that are often understood as being in competition: the formalist and the personal, the structural and the atmospheric.
The film is about literal returns, as it captures Edmonds’ movement between Germany (where he was working on a film restoration project) and his home in the U.K. One observes certain things about A Return as it unspools; it’s a film that gradually teaches you how to watch it. In the first half, we see various superimpositions around the foyer of an apartment building, and these segments are notable for their rectilinear character. There are motifs: light through a stairwell, potted plants, and views of a city out the window. The superimpositions not only overlay the gridlike structure of the bannister over the organic plant forms. Edmonds also moves the camera in opposing directions, resulting in a push and pull of linear movement. These portions of the film echo the work of Stan Brakhage and Robert Beavers, but have a countervailing tension all their own.
In the second part, we are clearly back in Britain. It is not only the sheep fields or grayer weather that reveals this. Edmonds masterfully captures the palpable air of Blighty, the thick fog and the granular light that registers on the filmstrip as chunky grain. And as we see specific details—a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, or an older man backlit against the windowed wall of a kitchen—Edmonds gradually moves us out into the landscape, and finally out to sea.
Edmonds’ film is packed with small gestures that are so controlled as to virtually explore. The pan down from a stair rail, oriented on the vertical and horizontal axes, to reveal the relative chaos of a potted fern, has the power of a firework, simply because Edmonds’ camera has zeroed in on this unexpected detail. A Return is a subtle collision of these domestic micro-events, articulated with other images that capture the expansiveness of land and sea. This film is a little miracle.
Jordan Cronk - Cosmic curiosities: umpteen highlights of Toronto’s 2018 Wavelengths showcase (Sight and Sound Magazine 2018 - BFI website)
In a manner after Matsumoto and Dorsky, the 35-year-old Edmonds’s quietly astonishing A Return traverses spatial and temporal boundaries with a preternatural command of form. Comprised of two reels of 16mm film shot in Berlin and his hometown in the south of England, the film brings these disparate locales into communion with one another through intuitive juxtapositions – achieved through multiple exposures and gentle superimpositions – that marry the soft light of domestic spaces with muted coastal skies, and intimate scenes of urban and rural life with the grandeur of the natural world.
Accompanying these intoxicating images are sounds – of rushing water, whipping winds and unsettlingly alien sine waves – that the filmmaker captured on location. On evidence of A Return, Edmonds, who’s spent considerable time in recent years working with Robert Beavers (another, even more obvious touchstone), possesses an innate sense of place and a spirit of creative curiosity to match; his quicksilver montage, brisk but never hectic, manages to locate an emotionally resonant space through familiar forms, building upon tradition in fresh and inventive ways.
Alonso Castro - A Return (James Edmonds, 2018) (Desistfilm 2018)
Cinema and poetry can be bonded strongly, but such an association doesn’t occur gratuitously, and one can’t expect it to happen out of the blue. The cinematographic language has the potential to explore narrative and aesthetically, achieving a harmony between what’s been represented and the representations through symbols or concrete facts.
In the case of English filmmaker (currently residing in Berlin) James Edmonds’ A Return (2018), the link between cinema and poetry is more than explicit. There’s a harmony in the composition between cut and cut that happens, in most part, because of its narrative fluidity. The movement of the film is established only through the composition of each frame, of each situation portrayed, by the camera of the filmmaker, acquiring different textures from the texture of color 16mm film, and lighting tonalities.
In A Return, there’s a vivid reconstruction through fragmented situations of quotidian life moments symbolized in images that flow in constant transposition. Edmonds’ film acquires an aura of intimacy in different environments of his life in Germany and England. Each situation is represented with austerity in the amount of shot objects; however, visual elements like color and light are the ones who conduct the composition of the image in each scenario, represented through pictorial frames.
Thus, Edmonds’ films acquire a form of poetry through the use of cinematographic resources –such as lighting, colors or movement- to compose the situational frames, in low, subtle key, of the scenes of his everydayness in rural and urban spaces of Germany and England. The poetic potential of cinema is exploited in A Return, focusing the gaze in those insignificant fleeting moments of quotidian life.
Chaos Versus Frame: in conversation with James Edmonds (intro) (la furia umana 28, Toni D’Angela 2016)
The cinema of James Edmonds (1983) explores the complexities of the real not as a mere substance named “reality” but in its most fluctuating and Turnerian correlation, in those uncertainties that make it impossible to fix it in any specific point in space. A splendor in the world. His last film Movement and Stillness (2012-2014) assembles a series of motives and topics that are recurrent in his work and that situate him within a tradition bringing together Peter Gidal, Leighton Pierce and even Jean-Claude Rousseau. A poetics of space. Edmonds composes a poem about inhabited spaces, a dialectics without synthesis between the internal and the external. The almost fixed frame moves as if it were shaken by the wind, in the same way hung up clothes swell, the camera cuts across rooms, the exposure to the light makes the composition of the images iridescent: stains, halos, colours. The immeasurable intimacy of the house, the intimacy of the open space, the flesh of the bodies, the vapors, the stain glasses that evoke the work of Joseph Albers, the chiaroscuro produced by the shutters, the windows from which the trees outside appear – the ramifications of Being – all of this united by the very fast and kaleidoscopic montage. Movement and Stillness is an “aleph” in which the seasons alternate (the snow and the flowers), and with them the day and the night, the lights and the shadows, figuration and abstraction.
Since After Hours (2005) Edmonds intertwines the mobile and the immobile, the internal and the external. In this work an office building is almost like a moving film: the lights from the windows shine in the night as if they were film perforations sliding. Handheld camera, panoramas, still lives and improvised rhythms. Night and day. Space is not just something we simply inhabit. A deserted building is like a film: it has a history that is revealed by the play of light and shadow on the various elements that compose this space. Also Inside/Outside (2008/2015), that begins with a flirtatious interaction between the clear and the blurry, is like the previous film filled with corridors that, through superimpositions, cross over each other – or perhaps only one or just a few. A constellation of internal and external forms, in a continuous return, moving from closed to open form, from one film to another. Overland Collages (2015) is his most fragmented and abstract work, with echoes of Norman McLaren, a string of lines-force, in fact, from Movement and Stillness.
The segmented and associative montage of Edmonds is not governed by cuts seeking to connect signifier and signified but rather by a lacanian capitoné point (or cushioning). This is an anti-representational and anti-narrative knot, which makes the signifier/signified relation a more dynamic, fluid one, and which does not work with a descriptive language but institutes a topography of desire – a fabric weaving itself with an already existing one. A flux as infinite as desire. A ramification through the frame of windows that open wide the splitting of Being, as a work in progress Sternwarten der Welt. It is not in any case a form of welding – a simple intersection organized around anchor points – but rather a collage inspired by Burroughs’ cut-ups, as it is intimated in another of his works in progress, We all live in the Blue Image Forever. In this case a lyrical quality speaks of another inspiration of the filmmaker, Stan Brakhage.