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O.K. Rick [Review]

Jenny Brownrigg responds to the Florrie James work screened in February at the Glasgow Film Festival.

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K. Rick, Florrie James, Glasgow Film Festival, 24 February, 2015

 

O.K. Rick [1] opens with an official looking man in standing in the sea, making underwater measurements of the land. As the waves gently push the man and his calculations around, it appears a particularly futile gesture given the use of a domestic tape measure. This scene symbolises the sources of the film, namely the ownership of land as a contest between officialdom, commercialism and local community.

 

The two female protagonists of O.K. Rick are Rick Blaine and Victor Laszlo, named after the male anti-hero and resistance fighter from 'Casablanca', 1942. Their Ilsa Lund, the third element of the triangle, is the island Mainland-5. Laszlo has travelled there to conduct a census of the population, with Blaine, the local, as her reluctant and world-weary assistant.

 

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

Rather than draw from one location, O.K. Rick cleverly creates a composite idea of place to create Mainland-5. The film combines shots of both island and city locations from Shetland, Orkney and Glasgow, including peninsulas, island roads and the interiors of pubs, homes, a chippy with the interior of a 1950s' diner, an amusement arcade and Glasgow Film Theatre.

 

Laszlo, we find out, is a poet as well as data collector. Throughout the film, she borrows from the words of Charles Olson's poetry volume Maximus. One voiceover accompanies a panning shot over the dunes and sea of Mainland-5:

 

... o my people, where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen

when all is become billboards, when, all, even silence, is spray-gunned?....

.... when even you, when sound itself is neoned in? [2]

 

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

The film casts land as a commodity, in both present day and historic terms. As the two officials absurdly measure the shoreline, O.K. Rick also features shots of broken, barnacled oil pipes running along the coast or littering a field, as if oil production could be a thing of the past in this futuristic setting. O.K. Rick also interweaves scenes from a court room setting, where a man recounts aspects of Udal law, which was established in Norse times, and is still upheld by Orkney and Shetland. It defines ownership of the shoreline as one which extends to the lowest spring ebb, rather than the distinction of the high water mark, as recognised throughout the rest of the UK. This law has had impact on where conglomerates can lay oil pipes and cables. 

 

In considering the structuring and cadence of O.K. Rick, it is important to return to Olson and consider his 1950 essay Projective Verse (projectile (percussive (prospective vs The NON- Projective. Olson defined projective verse as ‘open verse’, dependent on forward movement from one perception to the next. He saw the 'kenetics' of the piece creating a transfer of energy from the source or question to the poet, then poem and reader. The law, Olson concluded, was to:

 

... get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. [3]

 

O.K. Rick creates its own energy, continuously opening outwards in form and content. The film, whilst having a coherent storyline, consistently refutes a static singular narrative. The non-linear form of O.K. Rick is organised in a sequence of stanzas often introduced by title captions. In the section Rick Blaine and the Free-Winged Eagle, Laszlo reads out loud text from an old article written by Blaine. The author, long since disenchanted with her activist past, drowns Laszlo out by using a hand blender. A second section, entitled Against Something Abstract shows a bunker like corridor with its lights flickering on and off, in time with the soundtrack.

 

When the story returns to the protagonists, the 'kenetics' of the piece that Olson refers to are such that the characters are always found in between places and in mid action. They are hitch-hiking along a road; traversing a peninsula; in mid-conversation; walking towards a nondescript petrol station or being slowly reversed in a car by a tattooed local in a vest. In terms of the trajectory of the narrative, nothing is resolved. The census questions which Blaine finds useless are not improved upon—Laszlo never finds the depth of information she seeks from the islanders nor forms any real sense of camaraderie with Blaine. However, this is not a wilful negation of audience expectations. Rather, it is closer to a discussion that Blaine and Laszlo have about the census:

 

R: Why don't you want to define it?

V: I don't want to define it in those terms because if defining it is giving it a narrative I don't want to presume.

 

At its conclusion, as Laszlo departs on the ferry, and Blaine dons scuba diving equipment, the film begins on another underwater journey completely different in filmic style, through phosphorescent seaweed and darting shoals towards an abstract black mass.

 

In terms of its refusal to create nostalgia, O.K. Rick is a clever departure in making work about landscape. Even as the camera elegantly captures wind whipping across a body of water or Blaine and Laszlo striding across a picturesque islet, the futuristic soundtrack by Dick 50 [4], an electronic revision of the theme from 1983 feature film Local Hero [5], firmly denies any trite romantic reading. The superlatively paced soundtrack combines natural sounds with electronic: the peewit of a lapwing in the soundtrack morphs into the sound of a kettle whistling.

 

The boundaries in O.K. Rick between plot, place, fiction and reality are consistently porous. At times this pleasingly operates on local knowledge, as the door to the best small contemporary bookshop, Tam's Books, Stromness opens onto a dusty antique library. In other instances, the real people captured on film upstage the actors. Luigi Corvi, owner of Glasgow's Val d'Oro, is asked by Laszlo and Blaine to answer some census questions, yet surprises them by bursting into an aria. The film returns to him as he sits alone behind the counter of his 1950s inspired diner, the red of the fridge Coca-Cola sign glowing above his head as he sings, ‘O hear the angel voices/ O night divine. [6] Blaine is later observed against the backdrop of the recognisable curtain of Glasgow Film Theatre's Cinema Two, rehearsing her own aria, her voice slightly beyond her top range.

 

The device of the census in O.K. Rick is one from which a parallel can be drawn with the dilemma of an artist on residency in a locale which is not their own. This fits the context or conditions of place, that is, where the film was developed as James fulfilled a Margaret Tait Residency at The Pier Arts Centre in 2014. The ambiguity of artists using locals to enrich their work is presented as an uncertain exchange in this film, with the power balance of creativity often lying with the locals. In answer to a question about how long they have lived in the house, a woman replies,

 

The cat's not lived here very long. Two of the goldfish have been in the house for years but two of them are quite new.

 

This answer also represents an enjoyably surreal strand of humour present in the film whether it is the two women knocking on the door of an obviously derelict house in order to conduct the census, or the tattooed driver offering the pair islander-sized hospitality in the form of a family pie for each to nibble as he finishes reversing his vehicle.

 

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K Rick. dir. Florrie James, 2014

O.K. Rick is an exciting treatise running concurrent to the tide of contemporary art film which is predominantly post-structuralist in form. It does this through an inventiveness which creates its own structure beyond the norm in its will to be 'against something abstract' whether that abstraction is defined as the nature of authority or of given formulas. 


Jenny Brownrigg is Exhibitions Director at The Glasgow School of Art


To see further work by Florrie James: 
http://www.florriejames.com

 

 


Footnotes

 
1. O.K. Rick is the outcome of Florrie James' Margaret Tait Residency at The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney in 2014. James had already begun the film on Shetland, before proposing to develop it further during the residency. The film's premier was at Glasgow Film Theatre as part of Glasgow Film Festival, 2015. The residency is supported by Creative Scotland, Lux Scotland and Pier Arts Centre.


2. I, Maximus of Gloucester, to You
, Charles Olson, 1910-1970, The Maximus Poems, University of California Press, 1987.


3.Projective Verse (projectile (percussive (prospective vs The NON- Projective
,1950, Charles Olson. Olson wrote it during an eight-year tenure as visiting lecturer then rector at Black Mountain College.


4.Dick 50
are Ross Little, Oliver Pitt and Laurie Pitt.


5.The synopsis of Local Hero is close to the issues of O.K. Rick. The film tells of an American oil corporation sending an employee over to the fictional small Scottish coastal town of Ferness, in order to buy their town and land. In the film the inhabitants play dumb but are quite keen to sell.


6.O Night Divine
, 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure.