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Ian Bourn
Monolog (1998), also features a nocturnal vision of downfall.

By contrast to Lenny and Sick as a Dog it is more pared down, more Beckett-like. Bourn's image has gone, all we glimpse is his shadow on the pavement, cast from the sodium glare of street lights as he perambulates the Leytonstone nightscape. Described by Bourn as 'a pedestrian road movie,' its narrative is the walk itself. Unseen, the protagonist is Grant Lawrence, a travelling salesman, suffering an identity crisis following the break-up of his marriage and a recent trip to Japan. The tape begins in Japan, with the sound of a man practising Japanese phrases over images of a nondescript urban landscape filmed from the window of a coach. From a hotel room we hear snatches of television and see the neon hoardings of downtown Osaka. A voice dictates a letter 'Dear Personnel Officer' The voice is Grant's, referring to himself in the third person, rubbishing his disastrous relationships and his poor salesmanship skills. Back in Leytonstone, Grant wanders the streets talking to himself: 'Nobody in this business seems to get through it unscathed.' He passes brightly-lit shop windows, taking mental stock of his life, revisiting his encounters in Japan. As he turns down side streets flanked by parked cars, his view is of serried rows of terraced houses, their windows curtained and blank against the night, their occupants in bed. Or so Grant supposes, as he imagines the limited 'auto-pilot' lives of the sleeping inhabitants. Apart from the odd passing car, the monotony of his journey is unbroken. Focusing in on the paving slabs, 'Now I watch my step, keep off the cracks,' he contemplates a new pared-down life, stripped of pretences and without all the exaggerated empty gestures he witnesses in his fellow citizens. The sudden cut to a snow-covered rural landscape, glimpsed like the opening shot from a moving train, is a metaphor for the stark greyness of his life. But even the bleakest of winters has to give way to spring.

Although Grant Lawrence is another composite character, a role that Bourn assumed for the duration of his filming, Monolog draws on autobiographical detail. The film's genesis is in two unrealised projects Tips for Travelling Salesmen, a series of sketches based on Bourn's encounters with salesmen whilst working at his father's hardware store, and Ten Bulls, the misadventures of an English sales rep in Japan, a proposed episodic reworking of a classic Buddhist text. Bourn's fascination with Japanese culture is longstanding and includes learning the language. Several visits there (researching Housewatch's 'Paperhouse' tour) and an eye for the traits of out-of-place sales reps led to the characterisation of Grant. His monologue touches on themes common to all of Bourn's work: of alienation, of marginal people who struggle to make sense of a world from which they feel excluded.

Still from Monolog by Ian Bourn, 1998
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