Directed by Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair

Asylum is a film very much derived from chaos, expressing implicitly the ideas conjured up by its title. A strange mix of both documentary and fiction, where in the future a group of people are looking back at the twentieth century. A virus has wiped out most of the culture of the twentieth century, leaving just fragments of a project called 'The Perimeter Fence' to be pieced together. These fragments make up a documentary about an exciled group of dispirate yet similar minds.

It is an experimental film that uses both poetic imagery and language, combined with documentary footage of interviews with novellists Michael Moorcock, James Sallis and Marina Warner, and the poet Ed Dorn. It is a piece continually at odds with itself, images and words contradicting one another, fighting at times for supremacy as one cancels out the other. It is not immediately accessible, a work that will either draw you in or leave you bewildered. The story that acts as a backdrop, wrapping itself around the documentary fragments, is not always easy to follow. Characters move in and out of a complicated plot, yet never show themselves as anything more than fleeting glimpses. The main characters are of course the authors themselves, who shine through the gauze layered on by the complex story, to give interesting insights into their personalities. It is a work with covers almost the whole emotional spectrum, from the fear and confusion echoed in the title to moments of laughter and humour, all of this relayed both in the story and the real life fragments told by the subjects of the documentary.

If occasionally guilty of perhaps taking itself too seriously, coming across as a little po faced, though is still very much carried by the strengths of its participants. It consists mainly of monologues, both from the narrator and the subjects of interview, with an occasional interruption by the interviewer to bring yet another piece of information from the subjects. It works best if you don't try and piece together the story and make sense of it all, rather it should be enjoyed as it is, viewed as a selection of fragments that together form to make a greater whole. If nothing more, the author interviews certainly make it a worthwhile work, leaving you perhaps wanting more from these central figures and less of the story that encompasses them. Though in a sense it brings them more to the fore than the standard documentary does.

It very much reveals itself as a low budget production, perhaps revelling in it, seeming to almost entirely consist of grainy camcorder footage, with background noise and occasional shaky camera work. Something very much at odds with the usual style you're so used to seeing on television. At times it has the intimacy of a selection of home movies thrown together by an enthusiastic family member, while at others it conspires to place a cold distance between the viewer and its fictional subjects, a distance compounded by ambient noise and visual overlays. And all the while a cold narration places an illusion of context over the proceedings.

Asylum is not something that be taken in entirely in one sitting, so it may well be one to tape and watch again. A very interesting piece, which is definately worth watching, especially if you are interested in any of its literary participants. Those interested in the avant garde or experimental should find something to enjoy it in, and even those not so enraptured with experimental works might find themselves drawn in by its very poetic presence.

Asylum is scheduled to be shown on Channel 4 in the UK on Thursday 22nd June at 23:40.


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