Monday, 30 January 2017


Andrew Kotting’s 1996 film, Gallivant, charts a ragged journey around the entirety of Britain’s coastline. Parallels could be drawn with the psychogeographic impulse of Iain Sinclair (who has worked with Kotting and written on his films), or the films of Chris Petit and Patrick Keiller. However, where Sinclair itches with an underground literary neurosis (all occult alleyways and hidden districts, writers and places feverishly constellated as steps are taken and retaken along the overlooked) and Keiller’s Robinson films wryly observe a kind of flat documentation (I have yet to see any Chris Petit, but Sinclair’s essay ‘Big Granny and Little Eden’ persuasively draws them all together as a generation of filmmakers that were reinvigorating a way of seeing/travelling Britain), Kotting is a more mischievous and bounding presence. The film is a lovingly stitched home video where both travelogue and diary are spun into a hand held odyssey: at once poetic and absurdist, itching with energy and yet accommodating the possibilities of an essay film (Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil was an important touchstone for Kotting). Pockets of contemplation appear without thesis, pagan giants and sword dancing twist into lugworms and washing lines, there is no time for the bland coherence of any one singular thread – all is fraying and brought together, unrelated but somehow speaking.

It is an improvised journey, restlessly awake to the ‘happenstancial’ of chance and accident; zipping through lanes in a camper van and led with boisterous humour and energy by Kotting himself, bringing together his 85-year-old grandmother Gladys and his 7-year-old daughter Eden in a madcap trip that explores generational and geographical distance but never succumbs to sloppy metaphor. Where and when proximities bridge and blur the distance of miles or years, Kotting’s film eagerly jumbles its strands in a bricolage of communities, landscapes and conversations, held together by the film’s driving cohesion: the growing bond between Gladys and Eden. This is a relationship that incorporates and extends many of the film’s preoccupations: language, age, mobility, change, tradition, signs…

Eden has Joubert’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes ataxia, sleep apnia, hyperpnea (abnormal breathing patterns) and (among other symptoms) a disturbance of balance and coordination. The life expectancy is drastically reduced, a grim prognosis which Eden Kotting has gone on to continuingly defy. There is a sense with Gladys, at 85, of a stoic realism in facing the remaining years that, like Eden, could be cut short in the film’s imagined future: an off the map kinship that heightens the significance of their travelogue. Yet Kotting never exploitatively dwells on this, there is no sentimentalism wrung from their time together and no contrivance of a narrative beyond the journey’s own circularity. What is brought out is the fizzing drama and comedy of communication: where Eden communicates through high pitched monosyllables and a form of sign language, Gladys witters earnestly or remarks with frank and piercing humour. A family trait.  

The film opens with a man that appears to be standing in front of a weather map, or a map of England, or both. He appears to be signing as a clipped voiceover introduces the film in a prologue that adopts the tones of public service broadcasting.

                        G A L L I V A N T                 the title appears as though glimpsed
lettered in a window’s grime, found
                                                            dirt on the lens 

Throughout language is unmoored, Eden signs broken sentences, place names appear and disappear, subtitles suggest ‘mystical thematic threads’ which in turn suggest little more than the suggesting property of language used in this context, communicating, trying to point, but as one sign encountered warns, ‘DO NOT ANCHOR BETWEEN SIGNS’. The man that is seen signing at the film’s start is revisited later, the camera draws out and reveals his vocal counterpart: “This is the shabby second hand symbolism of our times that my grandson has been driven too!”

The film’s sound is a collage of sampled loops, what sound like the quaint and informative broadcasts of lost radio stations, or public service messages, circulating conversations, echoes, Kotting’s own observations, sound effects, cut & paste relics from bygone transmissions, parodies, pastiche, and the constant performance of a kind of ‘Britishness” … or, more provincially, a Queen’s English that seem to grow exclusively around the early BBC…as though spawned between a microphone and a tea cup, poised between efficient upper class news anchor and the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ of a carry-on travesty…these sounds, these scraps of audio tradition, they all crowd and swirl in and out of the film’s consciousness –memories that arrive in flurries to announce their own departure, disappearing allusions, names and artefacts drawn to obscurity, eroding with the coast –

The film shifts between 35mm and Super 8 with the giddy wheeling of a child’s perception (recalling the diary films of Stan Brackhage, or, more contemporary to Kotting, the phantasmic cut, zoom & paste of Guy Maddin). We are constantly split between the desire to document and a desire to escape documentation, into something more unpredictable and reckless. Kotting will often film someone or something from a relatively conventional stasis, and then follow up with a more haphazard wheeling of macro sequences… whether it is a person speaking

“keep away from Swansea on a Saturday night, 
                     its like the Wild West”

“I think about dying a lot”
                                                “what happens after –

“You don’t see the Welsh on TV
                                                            “Who the fuck is Gladys?”
“The tide always goes out
                                                            dunno where it goes
            but it always comes back.”     
                                                            “you can fuck off back down South”

“The only thing I hate is a thunderstorm, thunderstorm and mice”
                                    “My hat is a tea cosy –

“ – on a day like this you can almost hear the ghosts…”

or playing an accordion in Grimsby as the tide begins to swill around muddied shoes: the camera first observes, and then, as if unable to hold back any longer, Super 8 dives into close ups and a frantic barrage of textures, colours, skin, bristle, thistles, bees, tongue…all but forced into the mud of each moment… calling out its character into a tactile frenzy of detail.

allotments, terrace housing, burial grounds, makeshift football pitch, power plants, bridges, upturned boats, tent, camper van, kite, beach, sky, clouds, sea, sun, jumping, water, surf, blown foam, hillside, grass, condensed milk, how to say, how to say, heritage? can you ken John peel, left, left to “pure chance”, shattered ankle, layabouts, government, countryside, roadside, smoke, housing, box, cube, rust, hand on tiller, graffiti on the pavilion, laughter, water, time-lapse, “Dadda”, postcards, public toilet, 99 flake, “in London they’re all too busy”, pagan, gurning, fish, red coat, bucket and spade and                        and                  and

                        Eden runs toward the camera, her movement all the more triumphant and free having earlier witnessed the milestone of her first unaided steps, and now she is armed confidently with a bucket and spade, Gladys is in the background flying a kite, everything is slowed down, the beach opens up
“One imagines some of the earliest experiences
of two small children
                                    the other an old person
                                    near the end of her life

They leave you the feeling there’s nothing more to be said –
There they all were, in the warm sunshine”

Towards the end of the shared voyage, Kotting pushes for an eccentric alliance between Gladys, Eden and himself and three oddly chosen symbolic figures. The mundane hi-vis and glamourless stalwart of road safety, the lollipop lady, is fetishized and made to become an ambiguously elevated model of quaint Englishness…or simply an appealingly comic uniform and another strange tradition. Gladys is benighted in lollipop lady garb. The Virgin Mary has accompanied their winding journey in the form of a small figurine tacked to the dashboard. In this eccentric alliance, Eden dons the religious cloth. Meanwhile, as Kotting himself frequently insists – much to the confusion of interviewees – he is the monk. This unholy trinity of travel: Lollipop, Mary and Monk are united, to what purpose and for what reason, remains necessarily unclear. This is ritual, dress-up and performance cut loose from any corresponding contours of recognisable belief – it is a playful refusal to ‘ANCHOR BETWEEN SIGNS’ and to celebrate that unresolved territory as its own ‘gallivant’. 

This is where the film’s charm exists, as an infectious adventure
                                                                                                picked up and turned over

spit, wind and soil,
broken bones
and words failing
but trying
 scavenged along shorelines
                                                                        pieced together, joyously
                                                                        taken apart

between people and landscape and the memories of both
where the proud public toilet seeks a plaque
                                                                                    in the friendly collision
dirt splash and "daft as they make 'em"
as unpretentious as a dead fish
                        and buoyant, carrying forward

                                                            (armchair held aloft, silhouettes

hold hands                               towards John O’Groats
                                    going on          and on

over the moors
sun setting

the verve of happening            happen

the film is
as the journey
with the strength
of agile improvisation,
keen-eyed, open
                                    the fun
between affirming and defiant
                where perspective is
                shared between
                the very old and very young
            ‘populated by the old, the timeless
and the anachronistic. It belongs
to the iconography of the seaside.
Pensioners queuing
For the Spring Serenade,
Grandchildren milling around
Waiting for Rod Hull and his Emu’ – A. Kotting


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