It’s al­ways dozi­est be­fore the dawn

A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARK­NESS ★★★ Di­rected by Ben Rivers and Ben Rus­sell. Fea­tur­ing Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe Club, IFI, Dublin, 98 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - TARA BRADY

The beau­ti­fully ti­tled A Spell to Ward Off the Dark­ness marks a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween three fas­ci­nat­ing artists: hypno-doc­u­men­tar­ian Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea), ethno­g­ra­pher Ben Rus­sell (Work­ers Leav­ing the Fac­tory, 2009) and doom-metal master Lichens (aka Robert AA Lowe).

In the­ory, the film forms an “in­quiry into the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a spir­i­tual ex­is­tence within an in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar western cul­ture”. In prac­tice, three very dis­parate films emerge, linked only by the pres­ence of Lowe.

An open­ing seg­ment chron­i­cles life in an Es­to­nian com­mune, a place where chil­dren frolic freely and grown-ups re­call a sauna-based group fin­ger­ing ses­sion that sounds aw­fully like a more cosy vari­a­tion of the Hu­man Cen­tipede se­ries. A sec­ond tran­scen­den­tal­ist chap­ter sees Lowe play­ing Walden in the woods. Fi­nally, we cut to ex­ten­sive footage from a black metal con­cert.

There are, cer­tainly, some in­ter­est­ing con­nec­tions to be made be­tween nat­u­ral rhythms and the stonier end of the metal con­tin­uum. There is also an in­ter­est­ing Venn di­a­gram to be drawn, de­pict­ing lesser-spot­ted sub­cul­tures, us­ing the film’s cast as a model.

The idea of search­ing for magic in the mar­gins of re­al­ity, how­ever un­sci­en­tific, ought to pro­vide enough of a frame­work to support an ex­per­i­men­tal doc­u­men­tary.

Sadly, it doesn’t. This mud­dled cu­rio doesn’t co­a­lesce into any­thing, even by its own dreamy, as­so­ci­a­tional terms. None of the in­di­vid­ual seg­ments feels like it be­longs near any of the other seg­ments. There’s no flow, no in­ter­nal logic.

We’re left watch­ing a film at war with it­self. What kind of viewer will en­joy its hip­pie-friendly over­ture, the Thoreau sec­tion and then an hour of Lichens on stage? A very schizoid one, in­deed.

Robert AA Lowe makes for an enig­matic tal­is­man. But it would re­quire a prop­erly pow­er­ful in­can­ta­tion for Spell to trans­late into magic.

Cul­ture clubbed: Robert AA Lowe

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