LFF 2017: Gray House Review
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The first thing many people will look to do is to discover how Lynchian it is. It's certainly Austin Jack Lynchian, that's for sure. The double-edged sword he faces is greater exposure because of his father along with increased scrutiny and expectation, for obvious reasons. It's hard to imagine he hasn't been influenced to some degree - much of experimental cinema in the modern age has been - but whether Austin intentionally, or subconsciously, fuses that into his work, or we are merely projecting it, is impossible to discern. It also shouldn't be forgotten that Matthew Booth co-directs and his photography is vital to the entire mood of the film.
Pitched as an examination of the working classes' relationship with their environment, it visits five different spaces across America. The opening ten minutes are essential to setting the mood, watching French actor Denis Lavant silently trawling a local river under a moody, early morning sky. This mixture of drama and documentary bookends the film; the last section sees actress Aurore Clement quietly showering and preparing to leave her home. It's hard not to think of the ideas posed by author Michael Talbot in his book The Holographic Universe the deeper we push into the abstract framing of everyday objects and places we typically view so formally.
Sitting somewhere in between being an art video installation and a more formal documentary, Gray House remains an aloof and abstract mood piece. Following the Lavant opening, we visit a group of men who have travelled from all over the country and beyond to work on a desolate oil field. Their voices and brief talking head snippets mirror the lonely atmosphere of the region, a testing way of life that offers financial reward if you can tough it out. Veteran audio experimentalist Alvin Lucier’s sound design steadily intensifies the beautifully shot bleak skylines, raw industrial machinery and sterile living quarters that surround them day and night.
Similarly, after moving on to a more serene forest environment bristling with the sounds of nature, the women’s prison complex we visit next is silently as hostile as the time spent in the oil fields. An intense, slow building hum heightens this and the oil section before it, turning stairwells, metallic piping and oppressively bland lighting into something completely alien. The women also speak of how colourless and frozen life feels in relation to their barren surroundings. Booth’s photography catches the forest adjacent to the prison overlooking the wire fences, vibrantly green and alive standing next to a concrete monolith where time stands still. Time and again, the camera holds just long enough to change the entire context, meaning and form of objects we are looking at, morphing into an abstract mosaic of shapes and colours, twisting how we interact with these objects and their relationship to us and our world. It's damn near interdimensional at times and an extremely impressive piece of work.