November brings an autumnal chill, bonfires and the chance to get cosy with the long-awaited arrival of the annual Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF). In anticipation, our Team Assistant Sasha has been exploring the Art Collection through film:
For those who haven’t heard of LIFF, it is an annual city-wide film festival that occurs throughout Leeds that brings the most exciting contemporary selection of international films of the year. It not only celebrates the newest films but also the history of Leeds. Believe it or not Leeds is where the oldest known films were first made by Louis Le Prince in 1888, one of which was titled Roundhay Garden Scene. Looking back to such films really sheds light on the progress that has been made cinematically.
With LIFF on my mind whilst looking through the online University Art Collection, I was drawn to the piece ‘The Skeins Being Reeled on to Spindles’ by an unknown Chinese artist. For me, there was a striking similarity to the 2019 Korean film Parasite (one of my personal favourites). This led me to consider how these artistic mediums could overlap, how these contemporary films could bear a likeness to more traditional pieces from the Collection. Thus, the idea to compare the old to the new was born, giving an insight into the diversity of the artworks from the University Collection and hopefully inspiring you to explore the exciting contemporary films which are being screened here and now in Leeds!
To kick us off I am beginning with the film Parasite by Bong Joon-ho. This tells a thrilling tale that unfolds between a poor and a wealthy family in South Korea. Bringing to attention the disparity between the ways of life of the rich and the destitute. This hard-hitting tale takes the form of a beautifully shot dark comedy that shocks the viewer at every turn taking them along a rollercoaster of laughter and tragedy that you never want to end.
Although completed by a Chinese artist, the painting ‘The Skeins Being Reeled on to Spindles’ immediately struck me as being reminiscent of the iconic house of the wealthy family from Parasite. The crisp lines of the structure and the calming atmosphere really reflected the ways in which the house, a motif that is central to the plot of the film, was portrayed. You can see the similarities between the wealthy family’s house and the painting below:
These two pictures are almost reflections of each other – the contemporary and the past being brought together through different mediums. Despite their similarities, the painted scene shows a very different activity; we witness a family going about their life, a mother is interrupted by her children while men go about their daily errands. We see why the painting is titled as it is; the woman is creating skeins of yarn to be sold by reeling them outside her house. Therefore, this comparison, although visually similar, reflects two different ways of life, continuing the hard-hitting deeper threads of the film.
The University Art Collection has a wide range of Chinese artworks mostly by unknown artists but all of which are beautiful and crisp in their completion.
Moving to a slightly more outward horror we have The Lighthouse, directed by Robert Eggers and screened at LIFF in 2019. It is one of the weirdest, eeriest films I have seen to date. Consistently baffling and intriguing, the viewer is presented with visceral shots that could never fail to disturb whilst being dragged into the bleak world of the isolated life of a 19th century Lighthouse owner. The distinction between what is real and what is imaginary becomes blurred as we are thrown deeper into the life of isolation and loneliness.
A photograph which is part of an extensive collection donated by the photographer Godfrey Bingley in 1913 speaks to the black and white aesthetic of this film. The Godfrey Bingley Photographic Archive consists of over 10,000 images and represents his life’s work from the years 1884-1913. The images comprise of a diverse range of subjects captured from around the world but also include many recognisable scenes from Yorkshire, such as Kirkstall Abbey. The photographs are beautiful images that make fleeting moments permanent; they give contemporary viewers a visual insight into the late 19th and early 20th century acting as portals to a time gone by. Taken in 1903, the photograph depicting Holyhead Lighthouse located on an island in Wales echoes the haunting aesthetic of Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse set in the 1890s. Bleak yet striking in its authority, the Lighthouse stands strong on the cliff looking out on the sea.
Keeping the theme of horror going, we move on to one of the most iconic folk horrors ever made; Midsommar. Directed by Ari Aster, this colourful yet troubling horror is guaranteed to stick with you (only added to by the magnificent performance of Florence Pugh). Set in Sweden and based around a mid-summer festival Midsommar takes you through a confusing, intriguing series of events along with one of the most resonant intros to a film I’ve ever seen.
The screenshot I have chosen from Midsommar is one you may be familiar with; Florence Pugh in the infamous flower dress which comprised of 10,000 silk flowers and weighed around 13.5kg. The reason I chose this screenshot is due to finding a painting by Gerard Chowne, who was primarily a painter of still life subjects, which immediately struck me as echoing the May Queen dress worn by Pugh. This was due to the vibrant oranges, bright whites and pastel pinks and the dramatic lighting.
Born in India and studying throughout Europe, Chowne was based at the Slade School of Art from 1893 to 1899 and travelled mostly to Rome and Paris. He exhibited extensively with the New English Art Club becoming a member in 1905 but sadly, due to injuries, was killed in World War I. Chowne’s painting is serene in its demeanour whilst the scene associated with Midsommar, although serene in the way it is filmed, is quite violent in contrast. Both the end-products are extremely beautiful and crafted by the most excellent hand.
Finally, a bit more of a rogue film to bring us to the end of this quick exploration. Moving away from the horror films we move to the Icelandic film Rams.
The choice of this film was inspired by a piece from the University of Leeds archives relating to Marie Hartley. Part of this is comprised of black and white photographs that give us a glimpse into Yorkshire life gone by. Marie Hartley was founder of the Upper Dales Folk Museum and a keen documenter of Yorkshire through different mediums; writing multiple books about the social history of the Yorkshire Dales; making wood engravings; and taking photos. Hartley documented and collected objects from the region for a whopping 75 years with the help of Joan Ingilby and Ella Pontefract. Their recordings document a history of the Yorkshire Dales from the mid-19th century to modern times.
The photograph I have chosen is from the Hartley collection and captures a shepherd herding his ewes on Grassington Moor in Northern Yorkshire. Although the photo depicts ewes, I recalled the obscure Icelandic film Rams when first seeing this photo. The isolated moors are reminiscent of the isolation of the farmer whose purpose becomes to prevent the ram-ifications of a disease that breaks out amongst different flocks. Taking the form of a dark comedy, Rams tells the tale of how the herd forces two brothers to reunite despite an ongoing feud of 40 years. This bizarre tale became highly regarded as one of the most notable Icelandic films made and it reminds us of the importance of the connection between man and his animals.
What is even more significant from this photo is that this moment, without the intention of Hartley to record the history of the Dales, would never have been caught. Similarly, the narrative of an Icelandic ram farmer is not a typical one and yet wound up being classed as one of the best Icelandic films ever to be made.
These four films and pieces are only a miniscule introduction into the extensive offerings of LIFF and the University Art Collection. Each of these offers an insight into the rich history of Leeds and the institutions within it. I hope this comparison has inspired you to explore this year’s LIFF and to investigate what the University Art Collection has to offer!