I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff go on in cinemas in the last five years or so. As more and more people stop going to the movies as often and instead rely on home entertainment for their flick fix, so too has the home entertainment has found its way into the cinema. Texting, talking, obnoxiously loud eating practices… they’re all so common place these days that it’s no wonder people are staying home. This, of course, is nothing new. However, today at a the New York Film Festival screening of the education documentary American Promise a man pulled out his laptop. His LAPTOP! I’d seen an iPad illuminate a cinema before, but never a laptop. The man had it charging at an electrical outlet no less and early into the picture walked down from his seat and started opening folders and checking emails. I was flabbergasted, but it’s just par for the course, really. I told him to quit it and he did, but it always baffles me when I see phones light up on the other side of the cinema and nobody says anything. Don't people care? Sigh.
Still, while many people decry the death of the cinema-going experience thanks to inconsiderate and annoying people who look upon the cinema as their living room, I found myself going back to Joanna Hogg's Exhibition. I had watched just a couple of days earlier and it has clearly stuck with me. I found myself marvelling anew at the attention this film placed upon the idea that even our homelives aren't protected from the outside world anymore. The internal sanctuary of our homes have been encroached on by the busy world as much as the cinema or our workplace or anywhere else.
Hogg’s third feature – her first two, Unrelated and Archipelago, screen in the “emerging artists” sidebar alongside the three films of Fernando Eimbcke, whose latest, Club Sandwich, will be looked at next week – is an initially uncomsuming affair. A low-key look at the lives of a British couple, both artists who work from home, and the upper class ennui they experience upon selling their house. While the film is slow with its use of static camera shots and a complete lack of any errant, unnecessary dialogue, it’s the first rate sound design that make the film what it is. A densely layered masterclass in the slow-burn effect that sound can play in cinema and in life. How often do we truly pay attention to the cacophony of sounds that surround us on a daily basis? In that regard it reminded me a lot of Peter Strickland’s stunning Berberian Sound Studio (which, by the by, not enough people saw).
I found Hogg’s Exhibition to be about the way our home is no longer a sanctuary. It was once, but not anymore. As sound mixer Howard Peryer and sound editor Jovan Ajder weave together a patchwork of modern city soundscape that recalled Andrea Arnold's Red Road with less menace, the film became about so much more than just bickering artists. Watching Viv Albertine’s “D” and Liam Gillick’s “H” one could easily determine their lives were quite small, privileged in their inner-city cocoons, but in the world that Hogg has created it is impossible to not be inundated almost 24/7 by the modern world. Construction trucks, police sirens, speeding cars, street youths, doorbells, nosy neighbours, a creaking mechanics of the house itself… the characters here are so constantly surrounded by the world that D begins forcing her own unique creation upon the world for anybody to witness
Yes, that's Tom Hiddleston in a small role.
Exhibition is a unique film. It is a small film. But it is a unique, small film that subliminally subjects the audience to confront the world in a new way before they even realised what is happening. Unlike the typical kind of “home invasion” that audiences are used to seeing, this one bears no blades or bullets, but cunning commentary and a keen ear for the modern world.
Exhibition performs for audiences on 9/29 and 10/8 with director Joanna Hogg in person.