Usually when a photographer makes the transition to moving image alarm bells start to ring. You imagine a piece that is beautiful to behold yet sadly lacking in depth and narrative. Yet remember that Hunger and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen started out as a photographer and artist. For those who possess the talent it is an inevitable transition to make film.
For renowned fashion photographer Tim Walker, his debut short The Muse has taken his understanding of image and tone and crafted a beautiful and haunting film that is visually stunning yet not in substitute of story and emotion.
The film is in essence a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Although the all singing, all swimming, Disney version will be what dominates most audiences understanding, this is a much darker story. There are no hansome and noble Princes in this film, just a man who cruelly imprisons a woman for her beauty. Wanting the man to see the real her, all he sees is the vision of the Mermaid.
The story is very much an examination of the narrator’s grief after his muse’s departure. Things are not fully explained as to how she left him or even how he found her but we watch as the man reminisces over his loss. In terms of action, not a lot happens in this film. It is a film about an inner struggle with the audiences as the spectators. What this film lacks in pace and action, it makes up for in intensity. You are engrossed by the image of the Mermaid in her tank and even sympathise with the man despite his cruel actions.
For his first short film director Tim Walker chose to capture his work on film as opposed to digital. Despite the director having the upmost respect for the format of digital and what is allows filmmakers to do, he wanted the film to have an old school look and feel. From the opening shot of the man walking through windy grass to his submergence in water, every frame sets tone as well as intrigue.
The piece opens with long panning and tracking shots of the sublime landscapes the narrator inhabits. This demonstrates his isolation despite the beauty of his surroundings. Yet as the piece progresses close-ups become dominant, used to see the struggle the man now faces. It is in theses shots the piece comes to life as the camera focuses on the emotive face of actor Ben Whishaw.
Whishaw is a truly remarkable and yet strange actor. His boyish charm and innocence are perhaps the first things you notice about him. These are used so brilliantly in roles such as Perfume that offset the darkness of his characters. His quiet but strong voice and smaller stature make him feel like a younger talent yet his command and dominance of the screen means he can be easily described as a masculine actor. In The Muse despite only having a few lines of dialogue every thought and emotion is so brilliantly felt in his visceral and powerful presence. Known for his intense roles he has in no way pigeonholed or typecast himself. With more commercial, yet just as accomplished roles, in Paddington and as Q in the New Bond films his status has grown. He is an actor who you feel is capable of any feet and he dazzles in this short film.
Although her role in the film may be purely visual with no dialogue Kristen McMenamy dazzles as the imprisoned creature that so mesmerises the films narrator. Possessing an otherworldly look you will believe that Mermaids exist once you see her in water.
A dark, haunting and dream like piece from first time director Tim Walker. The piece is ruled by Walkers keen artistic flare but not in sacrifice of depth. With a mesmerizing turn from the very talented Ben Whishaw. We can only hope Walker continues in the direction of film making.