CAROL MORLEY: A QUANTUM LEAP FOR CINEMA

by JUDE RAWLINS, London, December 2018

Carol Morley is a true artist. I know this because my first response to her work is always an emotional one, and then only later do I start to think about it. I donít so much watch her films as just let them happen in front of me. Like all great artists, from Kubrick to Scott Walker, the normal rules donít apply, and if you try to apply them then it is you, the audience, who is wrong. But thatís okay because the audience can always try again with repeated viewings. The artist must live with their work. And I believe that Carol Morley will live very successfully with hers.

I first encountered her work when I caught a late night TV broadcast (I am guessing it must have been Channel Four) of The Alcohol Years, in which she bravely tries to assemble a portrait of the part of her young life largely lost in booze-drenched blackouts in Manchester, by interviewing others that were there who can hopefully fill in the gaps for her. Some of the revealed shenanigans are funny, many of them are actually very sad, and I found myself identifying on some level with most of them. It takes proper D-Day courage to face oneís own demons. And you canít get more courageous than that.

But despite the necessarily self-referential nature of The Alcohol Years, Carol Morley is far from self-obsessed. If anything sheís obsessed with everything, at least when something tweaks her interest she seems to dive in with a relentless passion. Indeed, with hindsight and her only subsequent documentary Dreams of a Life, which examines the mystery of Joyce Vincent, who lay dead in her flat above Wood Green shopping centre for three years before she was discovered, what we learn about Carol Morley is that she is genuinely interested in the mystery of life, like an existential love for existence itself. And you canít get more existential than that.

Iím a bit of a clever clogs, so I guessed correctly that sheíd read Alexander Mackendrickís book On Filmmaking, because her film grammar is immaculate, some of the best Iíve ever seen that wasnít in a silent movie. Iíve been there when lazy (always male) thinkers throw names at her like David Lynch, which (while complimentary, after all who does not adore Lynch?) always belies the fact that Lynch himself borrowed more than heavily from Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Preminger, Hitchcock and Lean. Indeed there is a scene in her latest movie Out of Blue that someone at a Q&A likened to Lynch. Which astonished me, because I thought, if anything, it was a light-hearted doff to The Shining.

Iíve seen Out of Blue three times now, and I swear itís a different film each time I see it.

(Donít be dissuaded by foolish critics who constantly want to draw attention to gender diversity in film. Cinema is a truly universal language, and we all know that. Either you identify with the protagonist or you donít, their gender has nothing whatsoever to do with it. In fact, believe it or not you donít even have to be a female director to have a female central character in your film. For my money Jonathan Glazer is far and away the best British male filmmaker of our time. Heís made three films, the first was very good and the last two were masterpieces, both of which featured female protagonists and would be unthinkable any other way. Just saying. Not being a girl is no excuse for critical misogyny.)

It also gives the role of a lifetime to Patricia Clarkson, who for me stole the show last year in Sally Potterís ludicrously wonderful film The Party, despite serious competition from Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer, and a career-best performance by Kristin Scott Thomas. Clarkson is spectacular in Out of Blue as a recovering alcoholic homicide detective, whose latest case unlocks some long-buried demons before delivering her to a much needed spiritual awakening as she learns through the course of the investigation about the fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics.

Yeah. Thatís right. I said Quantum Mechanics. Because the best physics in the world that we currently have cannot say with any certainty that the past does not echo the future just as the future certainly does echo the past. Time is not linear, we just experience our reality through a three dimensional linear projection of a fourth dimensional quasicrystal, itself a shadow of an eighth dimensional crystal. On the one hand this means that all religion is wrong because if time is not linear there is no beginning, middle or end, and thus no requirement for creation. However, our best available science strongly suggests that one of the building blocks of reality is consciousness, which would mean that consciousness cannot be limited to our rather limited dimension. And I would love to talk at Planck Length about the Golden Ratio, quantum gravity, the speed of light and causality loops, but you can read all that stuff for yourself if you haven't already. It starts with Einstein and takes in Schrodinger and Heisenberg, pretty much concluding with the late Stephen Hawking. Look it up. Wikipedia it. They built the Large Hadron Collider just to find out.

Thereís a scene in Out of Blue when Clarksonís character Mike the detective explains to one of her co-workers that we are all stardust (this is factually true, because we are carbon-based lifeforms, and as far as we know the source of all carbon in the universe are stars.) Mikeís co-worker says he doesnít buy it, despite having just been told that it was a simple statement of fact. And right there you have the human condition laid bare alongside all its inherent arrogance. Blink and youíd probably miss it. Thatís how good Carol Morley is.

Woody Allen once talked about seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time and not particularly liking it, then seeing it again a short while later and liking it much more, and on the third or fourth viewing concluding that 2001 was in fact ďa knockout.Ē He then makes the point that sometimes, in rare cases, the artist is truly ahead of the audience. In my experience all art forms, but cinema in particular, are at their most rewarding when this is the case. The first time I saw Out of Blue I loved it. By the end of the third viewing I was convinced it is the most important film I have seen in a decade.

Carol Morleyís films are not burger and fries with ice cream, they are lobster and truffle linguine with spinach on the side followed by chocolate bread and butter pudding with lashings of fresh mint leaves. Thereís nothing wrong with Burger King but Carluccioís it is not. Those fresh mint leaves will change your life. 

So Iíve managed to write quite a lot about why I love the work of Carol Morley, and why Out of Blue is such a devastatingly good film, but without actually giving too much away. I am reasonably pleased with that, but I would urge you to give yourself away to it at the nearest opportunity, which I believe may be around March 2019 when it gets a full release. Seems like an awfully long time to wait I know. But it will be worth it. I may be able to write about it more thoroughly once I've seen it six more times. Watch this space. Or indeed fill this space by watching Edge and The Falling if you havenít seen them already. And if you have, just watch them again. You only live once.