Late at Night – Voices of Ordinary Madness
Thursday 10th October, 6.30pm – Rich Mix, Screen 1
Saturday 12th October, 9pm – BFI Southbank, NFT3
Directed by Xiaolu Guo, herself an immigrant to London’s East End, it’s clear by the snippets of her voice that murmur throughout that she’s thrown her heart and soul into this documentary and gone to great lengths to make it what it is: a mesmerisingly powerful piece of work. She extracts laughs mixed fluidly with gut-clenching intakes of breath from the audience faster than the frames flick across the screen.
This is a hypnotic sequence of scenes from life in the East End – bankers interspersed with fishmongers, an elderly African man mournfully singing in his native tongue about prostitutes, and two young women giggling about promiscuity on the busy shopping streets of London to name a sparse few. There’s no facet of life that isn’t explored, interspersed with an ironically fey Warhol-esque newsreader who covers news topics such as the demise of Amy Winehouse and the dreadful naming skills of Posh and David Beckham, before cutting back to a bite of reality in the shape of a heavily accented voice dismissively talking about wanting to “kill myself and all that shit”.
Reality hits a million times over with this documentary, and even the filming style itself is brutally honest. The frame shakes and it feels akin to a amateur home movie – starkly honest, as the cockney fishmonger turns from the camera and calls out an aside of “yes darlin’, that’s a tenner,” before grinning and slipping out of frame to go back to making his living in the stall he’s worked since he was a child.
The incomprehensible contrast between the intimate, closely filmed portraits of the people living hand-to-mouth and the formalised portrayal of those like the banker (who delivers a brief lecture about socialism and the need to create wealth to equally spread wealth) dramatically illustrates the different worlds that throb for space within a small expanse of city. The irreconcilable distance between these barely scratched stories screams out as the documentary shows the lack of understanding of normal, popular culture and what one may think it means to be a Londoner. The perfectly coiffed newsreader is presented on increasing tables of identical screens, until we are suddenly jolted back into a single finishing shot of her wishing London “good luck” – the audience left knowing that some of us are certainly going to need it.
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