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Monday, 3 January 2011

The Still, sad music of humanity

I began writing the screenplay for "I've Seen Angels" at the
start of the summer of 2010 - largely as an exercise to work
with young actors from West Wales and to create a piece which
would hopefully engage them, challenge them and develop their
understanding of the visual techniques and processes they'd need
to develop for successful screen acting.

I also knew the film would be shot by a very inexperienced (but
talented) crew and there was absolutely no budget whatsover.  These
factors help to temper and, hopefully, focus the writing.

In my screenwriting work, I've also tended towards the creation
of feature-length, highly realistic and usually historical subjects.
Many of these are now caught in 'development hell'.  Producers,
associate producers, script editors form an army of critics who
question, ask, and demand changes.  Timescales as measured in years. 
So it was refreshing to have complete control of the creative writing
process and fly solo for a little while.

So even though the writing began last summer - the themes of the story
have been with me for many decades - it's impossible, and irrelevant
to determine where these have come from.  Like Ingmar Bergman's 'snowflake'
the themes and ideas in "I've Seen Angels" have grown consciously,
mysteriously, untraceably, rationally, visually,
a snowflake which becomes a snowball which runs downhill, gathering form
and momentum.

Consciously, however, I can pinpoint some key moments and memories which
inform all of my screenwriting work.

The first was the notion held in the title of this blog post:-

"The Still, sad Music Of Humanity"

written by William Wordsworth in his poem, "Lines written a few miles
above Tintern Abbey".  The poem itself, one of the greatest in the
English language, expresses ideas of time, place, memory, loss and most
importantly two ideas - the triumph of human imagination over death and
the discovery of an ethical imperative at the basis of all great art.
What I've tried to do in "I've Seen Angels" is find a form of cinematic
expression to the idea of a life, and lives both tragic and beautiful at
the same time: that out of death a compassion is born, and a recognition and
reconcilliation with the Other - in the same poem Wordsworth decribes this

"...little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness, and of love."

I assume I've blended this idea with another phenomenal passage from "Tintern

"...And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things..."

There's nothing original in the idea of the young girls becoming 'angels'
(they lost their 'wings' in the first draft of the script thankfully) -
Wenders's "Wings of Desire", Powell and Presburger's "A Matter of Life
and Death", and a dash of Hirokadu Koreeda's "Afterlife" to name but three.
What I hope is different in "I've Seen Angels" is the development of
character arc's which explore and express ideas of forgiveness, remorse,
guilt and acceptance - all acts which depend on reflection and understanding
being developed (and in the case of a scenario, shown through action).
Ultimately, these lead to the film's nameless and possibly unremembered
acts of kindness and of this case, I hope, remembered by an

Another huge influence on my writing is the work of the great philospher
Emmanuel Levinas.  I could also rationalise that a theme I've continuosly
explored is held within the following quotation:

"...Do you want me to tell you something really subversive?
Love is everything it's cracked up to be.  That's why people are so cynical
about really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything
for.  And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more..."

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