Truth Through Art: Beatrice Gibson at Pavilion

Beatrice Gibson at Pavilion

One of the more enduring and intriguing aspects of the arts is the flickering line between ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’, and more particularly the extent to which fictionalised art film may represent a reality more than a ‘truthful’ documentary. Beatrice Gibson‘s film The Future’s Getting Old Like The Rest Of  Us shown at Pavilion this week is a thoughtful and evocative illustration of this. Fictionalised truth is always a subject dear to my heart; as I wrestle through painting with my own fictionalised reframing of ‘truths’ of contemporary society, it’s always fascinating to see how others approach the challenge through other media. Beatrice Gibson’s  practice explores ideas around voice, speech, sound and sociality and the problems of its representation.

Filmmaking of course poses very special questions. Photography, somewhat oddly, has always been seen as more ‘truthful’ by the public at large than painting ever was. With the advent of digital media, people may be generally less trusting of the veracity of a photographic image than they once were, but it’s hard to let go of the belief that a photo is more truthful. With the advent of documentary film-making, this propensity to assume that film of this type depicts a ‘real’ and more ‘truthful’ representation of the world only increases. Yet as the filmaker Werner Herzog said about an incident when shooting his film Fitzcarraldo:

“… what constitutes truth—or, to put it in much simpler form, what constitutes reality—became a greater mystery to me… The two intervening decades have posed unprecedented challenges to our concept of reality.

Gibson’s script for her film was taken from the words of residents of old age homes in London, and the structure was based on BS Johnson’s experimental novel, House Mother Normal which allows for the characters’ actions and conversations to mix and intertwine. This structure results in an almost surreal take of displaced and wryly humorous conversations and interactions between the group of characters. Gibson describes her scripts as ‘playing out by chance’: situations are ‘composed, but then fall apart’ as the actors, liberated from conventional direction, take charge of themselves.

The film is beautifully edited and made. The soundtrack has a musical rhythm and quality, and there is a careful pacing of the imagery, ranging from close-up detailed video ‘stills’  of fractious, nervous, bony hand movements, to wider shots and evocative metaphorical use of near and distant focus. The lighting had a soft, almost ethereal quality, a hint of the ‘re-framing’ of the subject. Because the only ‘unreality’ of this depiction of old people towards the end of their days was the aesthetic perfection enveloping them. That was fine by me; I entirely accept Gibson’s contention that fictionalising and re-framing the subject-matter may result in a closer ‘truth’ than ‘pure’ documentary would have done.

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