NIL BY MOUTH
Original UK Quad (30x40)
Director: Gary Oldman
Artist: Jack English (photography)
Condition: Very good. Rolled.
NOTES: A very personal one. As a film, for several reasons, but also the purchase itself: both reminders of the surprising shade and shine people can bring to life.
Super-16. I was obsessed with what Oldman’s first was captured on. Empire magazine dropped the detail it in its four-star review back in ‘97. I was sixteen, already making my own shorts, already shooting, cutting, working things out. Despite a brief dalliance with Super-8, I was of course forced to use video. 8mm. Hi-8.
I was aware of 16mm, 35mm, 70mm, was already developing my knowledge of lenses through my photography, but I was an enthusiastic young nerd who – when I thought of tech – it was never tech connected to emotion. Connected to feeling.
I’d never thought about a film’s use of stock being emotionally driven, of being used to help an audience feel. I’d never considered how such choices affected performance, writing or directing. How they could compliment those things. Lift them up. Galvanize.
Nil By Mouth was the eye-opener: the film that made me get seriously serious about using tech as a choice, not just a means. Flavours. Sweet and sour.
People speak of Nil by Mouth in terms of talks Burke’s Cannes win (no acceptance sweeter exists), Oldman’s exorcism, Big Ray’s strongest performance – but nobody talks of the astonishing technique of the film.
Not even Luc Besson in the most disappointing Q&A I’d ever attended (Joan of Arc: his revelation that he directed because he could not dive: nothing more, was heartbreaking for the fanboy I was at the time). Besson, who produced, explained his adoration for how every take, tick and gesture was repeated perfectly time and time again – seemingly accidental idiosyncrasies included - without flaw by its cast.
He never mentioned the grain. The urgency of its handheld camera. The bleak production design. The use of Kidbrooke.
This is not to say I did not appreciate what is – without a doubt – the film’s true anchor: the cast’s dedication to breathing real life into their roles. But for me it was how the film was captured, not created, that began my undying love for realism. I’d seen similar things (Loach, Leigh) but never a piece that seemed so untethered to being a film at all. Immediate. Dangerous. True.
For a film about love, what else could be so important than nailing these three spiraling, uncontrollable – and occasionally wonderful - elements?
It’s been a point of reference for projects – past and future – ever since. I even ‘hid’ a not-too-subtle title reference to it in one of my first shorts, True To Form: a kitchen-sink metaphysical drama shot on – you guessed it – Super-16.
The poster purchase itself is a wonderful case of how surprising people can be. When I went freelance for the first time I would edit for a now non-existent production company. When there I would frequent a poster shop around the corner just to check if this print was still there, day after day, for about a month.
Eventually, the owner asked how much I wanted the piece. I told him, enthused. He asked how much money I had. I told him, less than enthused.
It was not the asking price.
BUT… he agreed to let me have it for that amount. As he smiled, he told me he would rather it went to a good home.
And a good home I gave it, place of pride above my desk in my fiancée and I’s home office: right beside an original Mona Lisa Quad, a signed Irreversible quad and, shamelessly, a quad our own outing, NEON (that was always pitched as Nil By Mouth meets Wings of Desire).
The photography by Jack English, credited on the poster itself (something most rare) captures the honest grit of the film, and the method of almost contact-sheeting the images gives the piece an undeniable and mesmerizing motion.
Familiar. Familial. Fantastic. It’s a tough watch, that’s for sure. But such is life: for my money, something no other film’s come close to conveying.