With pure sympathy and heat, film-maker Carol Morley has created this likable, beneficiant, imaginative response to the work of the neglected English artist Audrey Amiss, performed right here with beady-eyed gusto by Monica Dolan. And if the film lastly has a little bit of a tender centre, then that is partly due to Morley’s refusal to fetishise the supposedly transfigurative ache of psychological sickness.
Sunderland-born Amiss skilled as a painter on the Royal Academy within the Nineteen Fifties, had a breakdown and was out and in of establishments for the remainder of her life, lastly taking a secretarial job however restlessly creating unsold and unseen artwork, within the type of uncooked impressionistic sketches of her every day existence and an autofictional collage-journal of discovered objects – packaging, flyers, leaflets – to which she added stream-of-consciousness diary entries, a constantly up to date real-time manuscript document of a hidden life. It’s held in an archive on the Wellcome Library in London, which Morley was the primary to look at (biographers will certainly come later). She found Amiss’s passport with its scribbled entry beneath Occupation: “Typist Artist Pirate King”.
In some methods, that is like Morley’s 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life, which sought to reconstruct the lifetime of a mysterious forgotten girl who left no direct testimony after her tragic dying. Right here, Morley has an enormous quantity of archive materials to attract on, however has chosen as an alternative to springboard an imagined narrative from only a few telling particulars: an old style street film.
Dolan performs Amiss in a chaotic London flat, twitching and flinching with a form of hypervigilant defiant unhappiness, at all times suspecting conspiracies towards her, brooding over the previous. Kelly Macdonald performs an imaginary social employee Sandra who comes as soon as a fortnight to endure a nonstop barrage of abuse from Amiss. Cantankerous and not possible and fully ungrateful, Amiss calls for that Sandra drive her to a “native” artwork gallery marketed within the paper the place she is certain she will lastly get exhibited. In opposition to her higher judgment, Sandra agrees, with Audrey revealing no deal with however airily assuring Sandra that she’s going to give instructions. It is just after they’ve been on the street awhile that Audrey reveals she means “native” within the sense of native to the place was born: they’re driving to Sunderland for an incredible reckoning together with her childhood and her sister Dorothy (Gina McKee). Sandra has no selection however to agree and so as to add insult to harm, Audrey nicknames her Sandra Panza.
From right here, Audrey hallucinates and misinterprets virtually the whole lot that’s offered to her senses, however by no means neglects to assemble all of it in her bulging scrapbook. With out Dolan’s boisterous efficiency, and with out the clever sensitivity of Macdonald to counterbalance it, this might need been lower than the sum of its elements. The casting works with the writing and the black comedian and tragicomic nature of their ordeal is commonly hilarious. Dolan’s Amiss is nearly insufferable in her incessant gabbling: she by no means stops speaking, by no means stops denouncing and self-justifying, irrespective of how a lot she disgraces herself in public. When she insists on driving for some time and naturally crashes right into a tree, she rhapsodises into her deployed airbag in regards to the creative qualities of the tree and assaults Sandra for failing to understand it.
Like many street motion pictures, maybe, that is heading a method – in direction of epiphany and catharsis of the type that Amiss maybe by no means knew in her lifetime. However it’s tremendously shot by Agnès Godard and the compassion of the movie is palpable. Now we want an actual exhibition of Amiss’s work.