Monday, June 29, 2015

Assignment 4: constructing a narrative

Pre-production notes

Aim: to create a short documentary sequence representing a portrait of a place, capturing the spirit and feel of the place as well as what happens there.

Chosen location: my flat in Whitechapel, conveying a sense of the sadness I felt while my husband was away in hospital for several months; using creative ‘licence’ to make things look more dismal than they were – need to be very selective about what is shown.

Shot list

  1. Gate with spider webs
  2. Hanging basket
  3. Pond pump
  4. Dead plant on ground
  5. Buckets
  6. Bird feeder
  7. Shed to wheelchair (panning)
  8. Electricity box
  9. Mantelpiece (panning)
  10. Bathroom chair (half-hidden)
  11. Clock
  12. Hallway (me walking past then towards camera)
  13. Fridge (wine)
  14. Drainer (glass)
  15. Pouring wine
  16. Sink (dripping)
  17. Bean can into sink
  18. On sofa watching TV
  19. In bed
  20. Getting up
  21. Empty bed
  22. Sitting on bed
  23. Close-up of blinds

Rejected shots (due to time constraints):

Water bowl
Tatty sunflower leaves
Blanket on washing line
Dying palm leaf
View to closed door down hallway
Pan of lounge walls
Close up of gas box
Close up of boiler lights
Sink in bathroom
Taking the wine away
Light pull in bathroom being turned off

Chart of narrative structure


The final sequence


This short film represents a portrait of my home during the long period of time while my husband was in hospital in Oxford.  He developed life-threatening septicaemia from a bone infection last September and has only recently been discharged. 

I adore our small, bohemian flat but was surprised to find very little comfort in my environment without him.  During this time I came across Philip Larkin’s poem, Home is so sad, which gave me the idea for the title and theme of the project.

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

My main visual inspiration for this assignment was Yellow Patch by Zarina Bhimji (2011). According to one critic: “… within the empty spaces of elegant decay she depicts, I see the patina of people and the breadth of existence that it would be hard to find in a hundred straightforward stories or cinematic clich├ęs.” I was mesmerised by this work. It really forced me to slow down and think about what the artist was trying to convey.

Our flat is very colourful, alive and inviting so it was quite a challenge to depict the space as anything less than vibrant and cosy. I wanted to establish an atmosphere of loneliness and neglect and so selected dead plants, stagnant water, and an empty bird feeder. I filmed these close up and with shallow depth of field to accentuate the feeling of isolation and abandonment and to encourage the viewer to contemplate the sadness of the moment.

The wheelchair under a tarp on the deck gives the first real clue that, while the space is inhabited, someone is absent.  The ambient city noises reinforce the sense of solitude whilst life goes on outside.  The camera focuses on the passage of time with the (hardly moving) electricity meter and the clock. Cut to photos of us as a couple on the wall, as I arrive home to a silent flat.  The empty fridge and my immediate beeline to the wine indicates a less than happy household.

I have tried not to be too heavy-handed with the symbolism of being alone in the flat but used indicators such as my hand on the bed, whilst I stare at the confining ‘bars’ of the blind.  There are some inevitable ambiguities about the actual story here (is the husband dead or has he abandoned his wife?) but I am hopeful that I have captured the atmosphere of a home that feels empty and melancholy.  This is my portrait of a home that is so sad.


  1. Hi Helen, First of all, please give my best wishes to Matt. I hope he is well on the way to recovery. I liked this little film. You have thought very carefully about what you wanted to convey and I think you have succeeded. I did think at first that perhaps you needed some music at the start but I soon recognised that the background sounds that you included were more effective. The music you chose for the final sequence fitted perfectly. Well done.

  2. Hi Helen, It's a very poignant video and has enough ambiguity as well for the viewer to put in their own 'narrative'. Lovely piece of music at the end - just short enough and fitting the theme.