MemphisSundance London 2014
Some films grip the viewer by the throat from the first minute and don’t let go until they are teetering on the edge of their seat. Others soak over the audience and attempt to make you sit in awe of the screen. Memphis tries to follow the latter.
The bursting character of Memphis is blown up onto the screen initially as a man who knows no bounds to almost superhero levels; this image is soon shattered as the picture progresses and we learn his greatest battle lies in expressing his own creativity.
The picture ebbs and flows through abstract imagery and bright vivid landscapes. Visually the film is spectacularly enchanting; this technique is heavily relied upon throughout as dialogue is always sparse. The scenes where dialogue is implemented are so naturalistic and minimal that it genuinely appears as if the camera has been left in a room unattended, giving the film a rugged ambience.
The standout moments among the grey creative struggle our protagonist encounters are found in the few moments he does finally find his voice and sing. Although these moments are few and far between they are worth waiting for. Willis Earl Beal shows he has a powerful enough voice to transfer to film as his singing will send a shiver down anyone’s spine and stir up the soul. The peppering of musical parts over the film means the power of Beal’s voice is retained and still holds that shiver each time.
Although the abstract imagery holds a sense of intrigue, it does also become tiresome towards the end as the lack of any kind of practical development starts to grind. The best example of the film’s slow pace is best summed up by the large number of people in the screening who filtered in and out – nothing integral from the plot was missed as this happened. Memphis unfortunately does mirror the struggle of the protagonist: just as he struggles to find his creative voice the film also struggles to be enough to gain the audience’s full attention.
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