Gallivant I

By Kimberley Cooper

Additional decoration – in words and images – by Andrew and Eden Kötting.

Andrew Kötting’s first feature Gallivant is an idiosyncratic grand tour of the UK.

The BFI/Tall stories production Gallivant directed and written by Andrew Kötting takes its audience on a three month, 6000 km, odyssey around the coast of Britain. While it is indeed a 'snapshot of Britain today', beautifully and innovatively filmed, it transcends the literalness of a travel diary and becomes a multi-layered narrative. It is a film that is sad, warm, funny and full of visual metaphors suggesting the zeitgeist of a multi-cultural and multi-media society set against the deep heritage of the land.

Gallivant was inspired by Andrew Kötting's fascination in exploring his own country. The film revolves around himself, his 85 year-old grandmother, Gladys, and his 7 year- old daughter Eden and the relationship that develops between them as they encounter the people and the places, the legends and landscapes on their journey around the British coast.

Kötting uses different visual styles to create a more surreal meta-narrative, using both Super-8mm colour and 16mm sync colour film: Super 8 for shots of the different landscapes, people and places they encounter, and 16 mm for interviews and conversations. Breathtakingly beautiful and intensely coloured shots of the sea and the ebb and flow of its tides, the clouds as they tumble through the sky and the seeming permanence of the landscapes are filmed in time lapse and capture the hypnotising relentless rhythm of nature. Juxtaposed against the timelessness of these landscapes, we see the temporal and human side. Gladys and Eden's relationship develops and grows as each shares with the other their view of the world. We also meet an array of characters from Lands End to the northern tip of Scotland who talk about their lives, the places in which they live and the traditions and legends that inform a spirit of place.

Often, as we are watching a personless landscape a voice-over, perhaps someone Kötting, Gladys and Eden met along the way, perhaps a mock ‘50s television compère, will provide a memory, a story, or a tale. Time has passed, and once it was different. Old ruins, sea views, cliffs, fields, towns, and factories are all given meaning through the characters that talk about them. These places are given an infinity of existences not only in the material world but also on a metaphysical level, shifting and flowing on the ebb and flow of time.

The passing of time and, in particular, the importance to people of stories, legends and history is exemplified by the friendship between Gladys and Eden. Both of them are nearing the end of their lives – one having lived a very full life, and the other having hardly begun hers. Suffering from Joubert Syndrome, speech is difficult, if not impossible, for Eden. In contrast, Gladys constantly chatters to Eden telling her about Eden's father as a child, of what she thinks of the state of the world today, and magical stories.

Eden's attempts at speaking sound like sweet little angelic cries while her hands make her words. There is a subtlety in her sign language; her hands move indistinctly through the words of her language gently flowing in a sentence of meaning that is lost to us without subtitles. A particularly magical scene stands out where Eden stands on a bare hill bathed in afternoon sunlight – behind her, St Catherine's Church. Filmed in a speeded, jerky way the wind whips through her hair, mirroring the way Eden must see the world with her tics and jerks caused by Joubert Syndrome. Subtitles interpret Eden's signs to her father: "Eden's cold and hungry. Home. Bed. With big granny and daddy. St Catherine was tortured on a wheel, over there, by the boats and fish. Food please, daddy."

Kötting symbolises Eden's growing mythology with an interesting visual motif: shots of little statuettes of the Virgin, a monk (perhaps the patron saint of travel, St Christopher) and a 'lollipop lady' (the lady in a yellow coat who stops traffic to let children pass) perched on the dashboard of their van throughout their journey. They seem to represent Eden in her innocence, the devoted father and big Granny. These are the characters that populate Eden's special personal mythology.

Everyone has their own particularly meaningful space, objects, histories. Kötting uses footage of little beach side houses that are identical, the only differences being that maybe one is painted a different colour, the other has a different door frame, or another has a different garden. He gives us an interesting metaphor for showing how we share a heritage, a similarity, but how we add our own little touches. Interviews with people are filmed in Super 8 and the voice-overs are out of sync with the movement of peoples' mouths – it could be anyone speaking, telling their story.

The voices of all the characters Kötting, Gladys and Eden meet on their journey are carried up into a meta-discourse where individuality falls away leaving only fables. Some fade as time passes; others grow and change like Chinese whispers.

There is an intermittent commentary by a weatherman who communicates through sign language filmed in black and white throughout Gallivant. It is this commentary that crystallizes the theme that humanity has lost touch with a personal mythology that provides life with meaning, and has become lost in the alienation and schizophrenia of post-modernity. He tells us that, "The past is hidden beyond the internet in some object of which we have no inkling, this is the shabby second hand symbolism of our times."

This is the legacy of progress. However, as the camera sweeps across a landscape of squiggly waterways left by low tide along a beach, a voice-over says, "he reflected that, when you zoom down on sections of it, what looks rather chaotic appears to have regularities in it, and the notion was that you might measure it with some callipers – you might get an answer of a kind. In fact it would boil down to the question of how long is a piece of string."

In the fractal curlicues of the British Coastline, in the lives of Kötting, Gladys and Eden and all the people they meet, there is an infinity of other worlds. Gallivant gives us a glimpse of a continuity and, like the legends of old, the magic of the commonplace. As William Blake put it in Auguries of Innocence: “To see a World in a grain of sand and Heaven in a wild flower Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour”