Late At Night: Voices Of Ordinary Madness

Late At Night: Voices Of Ordinary Madness


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Late At Night: Voices Of Ordinary Madness opens with black-and-white file footage of a chimp in a rocket. Next an actress (Juliette Brooks) is shown reading a real news item, jarringly accompanied by the text of an aphorism from Samuel Beckett. The actress and her 'late news' readings will recur periodically through the film, each time multiplied into a greater number of split-screen grids, Warhol-style, and with a different text (variously from Marcuse, Marx, Kant, Orwell, Joyce, Brontë, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Blake, Huxley) to ironise and frame the mediated actuality. The chimp, too, will return for some ring-compositional closure.

While all this helps lend shape and formal structure to what is otherwise a series of highly varied vox pops that director Xiaolu Guo (She, A Chinese; UFO In Her Eyes) has shot around London (or, in one slightly incongruous case, Glasgow), it also serves as a statement of intent. For Guo is likening the rush of our human experience amidst rapid changes beyond our individual control to the headlong flight of that doomed ape, while also presenting her work as an alternative nocturnal broadcast mixing street-level reportage with a broader ideological and philosophical framework. Guo herself may never appear on camera (although she is occasionally half heard posing the odd question), but this is very much in the territory of the film essay - a personal exploration of the madness, both literal and metaphorical, of contemporary British life.

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A key motif here is decline, whether it is the Ghanaian immigrant attributing his mental illness (the 'voices' that he hears - a reflex of the film itself) to the harsher life in England; or the market worker complaining, "The old times were better, stuff has changed"; or the painter reminiscing about "the good old days" and lamenting the current generation's work ethic; or the disgruntled tax accountant who regrets the loss of community spirit that she remembers from her childhood; or the model cum hairdresser cum fitness instructor who "just really can't stand the country any more, what it's become"; or the cafe owner who describes the drift of his traditional East End customers to Essex; or the landlady at an ex-servicemen's club who describes her dwindling business as "too old fashioned"; or the working-class kid who aspired to take up a radical priesthood but on the way became a social worker, a committed atheist, and finally a banker, and who now acknowledges that the current accumulation of virtual debt in his profession has little to do with the ideal that wealth creation can serve wealth redistribution.

All this culminates in Mark Fisher, cultural critic and author of Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009), arguing - amidst a montage of images of the City's glistening financial centre - that even the so-called End of History is coming to an end.

And finally, with the last word on madness, is the ex-crim and ex-con who claims he strangled his prison psychiatrist "because he wasn't listening to me" and "I was just fuckin' angry", rather than because he was, as it says in his official records, "a schizophrenic with psychotic tendencies".

Built upon a variety of different perspectives, Guo's politically engaged sort-of documentary is more an episodic tapestry of suggestions than anything like a coherent argument - or a series of British snapshots rather than a panoramic view. Were it not for its abbreviated duration or its artificial 'late news' structure, the film might even seem meandering or directionless. Yet as it stands, Late At Night: Voices Of Ordinary Madness gives an economically and culturally diverse group of (mostly) Londoners a platform to have their say about the state of the nation, and so comes to resemble Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner - where part of it was also filmed, and where yet another video'd contributor gives voice to ordinary madness by enthusiastically singing the praises of colonialism and human exploitation as the markers of Britain's greatness.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2013
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A portrait of the frenetic East End of London.

Director: Xiaolu Guo

Writer: Ciompi, Xiaolu Guo

Starring: Mark Fisher, Juliette Brooks

Year: 2013

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK, Switzerland


London 2013

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