A Dream From The Bath


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

A Dream From The Bath
"A thought-provoking 22 minutes."

A flight of fancy and an insightful examination of how cinema is repeatedly co-opted into the promotion and projection of national identities, A Dream From The Bath follows the musings of a filmmaker as he imagines his next film from the temporary privacy of the bath tub. Originally screened on Channel 4 and made as a response to the British Films Act of 1985 - legislation that connected film finance and the manner of defining films as "British" - Marc Karlin's short suggests that the then-current state of affairs was that "if images were to survive economically, they now had to be sold as ambassadors of a nation" which in turn meant "sentencing images to years of national servitude".

Karlin's filmmaker is attempting to resist this insistence that cinematic images have to stand for something more than themselves - he complains that each relationship onscreen is inevitably taken as representation of "a national neurosis". The unnamed and unseen filmmaker (Karlin himself?) believes that cinema has yet to give a voice to new realities - and that is where he wants his images to transpire. At the same time, he acknowledges that the nationalistic trappings and heritage that he wishes to avoid are still part of him and what he creates - cinema isn't created in a vacuum and in consciously defining himself in opposition to dominant cultural articulations of the national, his film will implicitly and unavoidably acknowledge those representations in some way (even if from a position of opposition or subversion).

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The older cinematic images chosen as illustrations of how cinema has been used in defining (or making cohesive) an 'approved' Britishness - including Brief Encounter, The Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence Of Arabia, and I'm All Right Jack ("as if the cinema only existed to reinstate you in the natural order of things") - are arguably still ingrained in a dominant sense of British national identity, precisely because British cinema has been utilised to project particular sorts of images of the British or, more specifically, the English, at least in terms of the examples given. Or are these images only still ingrained in the minds of cinephiles? These days I'm All Right Jack might be less well known in comparison to those other titles but arguably the class and labour relations satire depicted in the Boulting brothers' film is still understandable to modern British audiences because it fits with seemingly perpetual national stereotypes (perpetuated because of - and through - their repetition in various cultural formats).

Karlin goes beyond the creation of cinematic images to the manner of their exhibition, lamenting cinemas that once had the grandness of "ocean liners" being reduced to ruins "without a word of protest" (still ongoing some 30 years after this film was made), and arguing for a cinema controlled by and for the community. A Dream From The Bath is in some ways a manifesto, or a statement of intent - the film ends with the filmmaker having thought out his film in his head and is only left with "the humble task of making it". It is a thought-provoking 22 minutes - the director succeeds in making his audience question the content (and intent) of the images onscreen, something that is still as necessary today as it was in 1985.

The film is showing at the AV Festival 2016 as part of a showcase of the late director's work, but is also available to rent from the Marc Karlin Archive on Vimeo.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2016
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Response to the 1985 Films Act.

Director: Marc Karlin

Year: 1988

Runtime: 22 minutes

Country: UK


AV Festival 2016

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