Still Life


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Still Life
"Never did a doily indicate such doom, nor the vain hope of a banner on a Coronation mug convey such gloom."

Six 8mm shorts by Bill Douglas were shown at the opening Gala of 2024's Glasgow Short Film Festival. Many had not been seen since the late 1960s when they were made, though clips from some do appear in Bill Douglas: My Best Friend.

Though Bill Douglas would argue that Come Dancing was his first 'proper' film there's so much of his later work in Still Life that the counter might need set back. Based on a story of Peter Jewell's about a visit to the house of a woman that died intestate, this is an abstract, experimental piece, telling story through objects and allusion. There are some moments of motion among its tableaux vivant but a sequence of photographs is a masterclass in montage, not just editorially but in composition. Never did a doily indicate such doom, nor the vain hope of a banner on a Coronation mug convey such gloom.

Gerard Black's live soundtrack featured synthesised sounds that came close to a chorus murmuring at the edge of comprehension. The shape of words unheard quite apposite in an affecting tale of memory and loss. The expository intertitles feel quite bald but they quickly establish facts to get us back to the feelings. There's an argument to be had to determine if we are further from Still Life than it was from the birth of film, made in 196.8 One leaps past it as far to Quo Vadis or Melies swansong The Conquest Of The Pole. From here Douglas would go to film school, then to the Trilogy and Comrades.

When Still Life was presented at the opening gala of Glasgow's 2024 Short Film Festival Andy Kimpton-Nye, who curated the selection, described these as a picture of a "turning point" in Douglas' life, and Still Life seems to fit to an even narrower radius. Here is the pivot, the lever of talent that would lift so much thereafter.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2024
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An elderly woman is admitted to an asylum and all her possessions are removed by the council.

Director: Bill Douglas

Year: 1968

Runtime: 12 minutes

Country: UK


GSFF 2024

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