Oliver Harrison is a man that Cat on the Wall has known for a fair amount of time as an experimental man specialising in kinetic typography. In Jordan’s travels throughout animation history this modern day renaissance man has appeared as a weaver of tales more than once, and, with a musical history including the hardy cult group Satan’s Rats, it’s of little surprise that we’d end up with a particular interest in a true auteur.
His work has a quality that carries the unusual themes and fantastical elements that reminds one irresistibly of Kubrick. Tales and ideas rooted in studies of the human psyche, the human language – the more complex and beautiful aspects of life and record. Often complicated subjects that remain translated into a language any man or woman can understand.
Like Kubrick, there’s a feel that his pictures are intentionally rough around the edges, thriving as much on their imperfections and more grotesque detail as they do their beauty. After all, such things are relative – how can one recognise beauty without ugly in the world?
In 2013, his latest picture, The Fallen Word was released forming – a fifty one minute fairy tale weaving between a historical satire, a study of language and the power of the very words that leave our lips.
When an alternate United Kingdom is taken over by ‘The Exaltation’ – a victorianesque dictatorship sect that acts to forbid the use of language as anything but an essential tool of communication, there remains a small series of gangs acting as a resistance – ‘The Georgians’. Each of different locales, each of different prevalent styles. These gangs fight for supremacy using only one weapon – the spoken word.
Immediately, to your intrepid, sad, lonely history buff, it’s clear that Mr. Harrison has taken a prevalent inspiration from the changes between these two historical eras – the end of slow, artistic thought and the introduction of efficiency and rigidity. The closure of expression, the ‘stiff upper lip’. The self-contradiction of forbidden fruit. These Victorians that are represented by The Exaltation are themselves, filthy, perverse creatures, regardless of their enforced attitude.
Composed of some suspiciously intense typography with the tradition of the director’s skill firmly in play, and yet matched – and surrounded – by a beautiful, crooked landscape that flows in smooth, curved shapes and soft edges. There’s a delicate, strange bloom that remains throughout the picture, irresistibly conjuring images of an old filmstrip.
Visually, the obscenely tall toppers, rococo curves and elegant, smooth shapes that completely ignore the realms of reality are disorientating, and actively blur the lines between animation and simple, physical cinematic wizardry. The mixture of technique is sure to grab any creative mind in an instant. The curved streets and waving buildings are lit in such a way that a movement of the camera seems to swirl them further around themselves. It carries a constant dreamlike state.
I think my favourite aspect of the film’s thoughtful musings is how clearly the use of poetry is used in a similar sense to gang culture. Each poet has specialities, be it harsh, biting words, romance, violence or simple wit. The result is that these ‘fights’ between gangs, bards and balladeers become strong highlights of the picture’s admirable repertoire. They’re sprinkled with humour and word-mangling, and give Harrison time to use his kinetic typography thoroughly to illustrate. It makes for an image you won’t see elsewhere, a mix of time periods, stereotypes, styles and languages to form something dripping with intelligent eccentricity.
The eponymous ‘Fallen Word’ provides a well rounded literary device – in a beautifully ironic manner that represents the pen being mightier than the sword with perfect blatancy. It represents the most powerful of all utterances, a near deux ex machina that is, like any word, of one purpose – to kill. Its powers are never seen at their fullest, the word never uttered. Like all great devices, it’s left to the imagination, and the impact it carries throughout is surprisingly hefty.
With inspirations such as the punk era being introduced to perhaps the least likely candidates of cultural contrast, the inspired work that’s gone into The Fallen Word may make some scratch their heads – but a voracious reader, poet, artist, or simply a creator will take great solace in the fact such a film exists. Very much like Rocky Horror has become a reassurance for the alternative, camp and perverse, The Fallen Word is perhaps the reassurance for those with fingers dipped into an elegant rebellion.
It’s a theory I’ve often carried that one of the biggest flaws in today’s media is that those claiming to be creators have stopped reading books. Oliver Harrison is a man who reads. His film is a picture that reads. And you can take that to the bank.
The Fallen Word is deserving of an audience for the sheer freedom of expression and often bizarre concepts that build such a fascinating universe.
Perhaps that’s what makes it all so fantastical. This isn’t a film – it’s another world. A world that exists in a grotesquely obvious yet mysterious manner that is entirely self-referential yet entirely reserved and with great lore.
“Some of them are quite rare…” says the etymologist, surrounded by words such as ‘originality’, ‘humility’ and ‘joy’.
“I’m taking care of them – until the world is ready for them again.” he says – this time showing ‘art’, ‘passion’, and ‘hope’.
It’s a particularly charming moment. Silly, in many ways. Certainly not a subtle one. But it’s this charming, witty silliness that adds a dimension to the film beyond your typical art house cinema. The willingness to entertain on all corners.
The Fallen Word is a triumph. A strange triumph, perhaps. A bizarre and disorientating one. But a triumph all the same – a very real, very pertinent, tangible triumph that you should give a look-in immediately.
Humour, satire, history, literature, poetry and art rolled into a tight but oh so hypnotic script. Give it a look – you may be surprised by what lurks within.
The Fallen Word is best viewed on the limited edition collector’s DVD brought to us by Animate Projects. It’s a collection of Harrison’s work over a sizeable career, dating back to 1988. There also includes a fine booklet with information, images and an essay by Animate Projects’ Gary Thomas.