One of the reasons I’ve lost interest in mainstream film is its utter unreality. All too often, what I see portrayed on the screen holds almost no relation to the world. However, i’m not saying I want every movie to be gritty and realistic. It would simply be nice to relate on some level to the characters, setting or even pacing of a movie. Rick Alverson, and directors like him, seem to be reacting to that with a tense fascination for the awkward. That holds my interest much more, and i’m glad to see it increasingly seeping into popular culture.
Unfortunately, this approach still sits mostly on the fringes of expression. In fact, British filmmaker Danny Fowler is so fresh to those fringes that i’m lucky to know of his work. I can’t deny that, since one of my key tenants for Secret Cave is “no bullshit”, Fowler is my cousin. I hasten to stress, however, that familial ties are in no way sufficient reason for me to write about an output. In this case, i’m confident enough in the creations of my kin to want to give them a spotlight. In many ways, it’s odd to follow my own rules of formatting by referring to someone I’ve known his whole life by merely a surname. Still, take that as some small indication of the sincerity of my thoughts.
Fowler’s first major work in the medium was the quite excellent My Family. Made on a shoestring budget and impulsive shooting schedule, the results are staggeringly pure. Still a release of deeply developed themes and plot, beneath its scattershot production, My Family was released to some serious acclaim in the hometown Fowler and I share. Set in Grimsby, a humble Northern pimple at the head-end of Lincolnshire, its timing was quite divine. At its release, it provided a perfectly placed alternative to the mean-spirited Sacha Baron Cohen vehicle, Grimsby (or The Brothers Grimsby for US audiences).
As someone who grew up in its setting, the truth of its portrayal was what really bowled me over. It was quite a contrast to its wide-release equivalent, which was an entirely dimwitted affair from start to finish. While, obviously, far from perfect in its production, it showed Fowler to be a filmmaker of immense potential and promise. Since, he’s been mostly stewing on a variety of a projects while fulfilling a few studious obligations. Returning just last week with his latest major release, Natural Signing Stone, that promise seems to be something he’s running with in strides:
Despite a shorter length, Fowler seems wholly comfortable lingering on something. That’s one of the major appeals for me. Its lengthy sequences are marvellous in their chutzpah. For a creative this young, that eye for unusual pace is remarkably sharp. While it’s true that he’s still limited by the level of equipment at play, his use of the tools at his disposal is inspiring. It’s not just how well he can stretch out the reality of a scene either. The comic timing is beautiful throughout, making Natural Signing Stone a truly hilarious visual ditty. Like many examples of its kind, its comedy keeps it from pretension at practically every step.
I know personally that his visions have much in the wings. Fowler’s films aren’t perfect, but he’s on a curve that few can relish. To watch him grow and develop as a director, writer and actor is as much a joy as the films themselves. In time, I know he’ll have a behemoth of a catalogue behind him. Where this will take him is impossible to predict, but I can only hope he’s given the shot he deserves. All I can say is that I’ve taken far more from My Family and Natural Signing Stone than almost anything else I’ve seen in the past year. We truly care about the nurture of burgeoning expression at Secret Cave, and I think Fowler’s just one of an entire sub-culture slowly forming.
As a final aside, Benjamin and I have been discussing taking contributions and submissions for features here. We’re still working out exactly how we’ll go about it. However, if you’re a young creative, watch this space for the potential of your own spotlight. Updates pending. We’ll post some kind of manifesto once we can agree on one…