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Felicity SparrowClick here to Print this Page
Ian Bourn
Of Course, There Were Other Cups of Tea.

Another strand in Bourn's work is the playful, dramas created from the minutiae of life which knowingly depend on our sense of recognition for their humour. Rather than the fixed shot or long take of the 'diary', these usually consist of multiple shots and viewpoints, either edited for single-screen monitor playback or presented as multi-screen expanded-cinema work with Housewatch.

The End of the World (1982) is perhaps Bourn's best known work, having been shown as part of Channel 4's Ghosts in the Machine series and extensively toured in the UK and abroad by the British Council. It is a perfect short film, haiku-like in its simplicity. Almost nothing happens. A man interrupts his video game to make his girlfriend a cup of tea, then takes it out to the garden where she is lounging in a deckchair, together they sit enjoying this sunny suburban idyll.

The protagonists are Bourn himself and the late artist, Helen Chadwick, both role-playing, acting out a 'what-if' scenario of domestic harmony. As in so much of Bourn's work details go unexplained, they're there for one to note, their oddity to be deciphered or just taken for granted. Like the house is unfurnished: just bare floorboards, an armchair, a video-game console, the kettle on the floor next to the tea-tray. If this is an enigma, the garden is even more bizarre: leylandii trees like regimented soldiers line the fence; in the lawn, a curving path of flagstones that goes nowhere.

End of the World sets up a pattern of cutting, between inside and outside, his view and her view, mirror-like reflections, close-ups and long-shots, which mimics the way many television dramas establish that something important is about to happen. Given its title, we anticipate a portentous event. What we get is a tea ceremony.

This playfulness is also evident in Bourn's shortest works: visual gags which subvert audience's expectations. In Out of It (1991), a one-minuter made for the BBC's Late Show, what we think is a man taking a piss turns out to be something altogether different. The Kiss (1999), made in collaboration with John Smith and originally shown as part of a Housewatch presentation as a multi-screen projection, also plays with genre expectations. Featuring a lily, what seems to be a time-lapse birth-of-a-flower, typical of scientific horticultural films, turns out to be a more sinister process.

Sandwich-making and mugs of tea feature in The Good Value Café (1986), another multi-screen presentation made for Housewatch's 'Cinematic Architecture for the Pedestrian'. Diners and chef appear, each on separate windows of a house, back-projected, for viewing from the street outside, the ensemble comprising the interior of a typical working-man's cafe. Each character, Bourn amongst them, waits for his food, eats, or reads the newspaper while commenting on the topics of the day. Subject matters range from the Miners' Strike, to the artistic merits of Poussin, to greyhounds. Each airs his opinions and pontificates on life in general. The effect was (for its complexity can't be repeated) a visual and verbal tour-de-force, anticipating in macro-form the split-screen formats of Mike Figgis' Time Code and Hotel.

This playing with different forms of narrative and points of view extends to the short experiment Breathing Days (1992), about one man's dealings with authority figures. Instead of reverse cutting between characters or deploying double-projection, the glass barrier between interviewer and interviewee is used as a reflective device, so that both appear together, superimposed on screen.

Bourn's recent Alfred Hitchcock (2000) returns to Lenny's terrain. An unseen Bourn and his companion, mini-cab driver and sometime rock musician Alan Freedman, drive through Leytonstone and its environs, chatting amiably of murder and firearms. Freedman is an expert on the latter, makes his own bullets and carries gun and ammunition in his car. Their round-about journeys take them to scenes which recall Hitchcock's films (the fairground in Strangers on a Train, The Birds) until finally, on the wall of a petrol station, they find the Waltham Forest Heritage plaque: 'Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born near this site at 517 High Road Leytonstone on August 13th 1899...'

Bourn appears but briefly, in the b/w prologue, when be-suited and Hitch-like, standing in front of theatrical curtains, he introduces the film in similar style to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series, offering to throw light on the subject of film entertainment.

Ironically, despite its theatricality, this is the 'real' Ian Bourn, the film-maker introducing his film, a far cry from the character in Lenny's Documentary; it is also his voice, his chuckles, we hear from the car, just as it is the 'real' Leytonstone we see, rather than the hinterland of Lenny or Terry or Grant.

Felicity Sparrow
Still from Alfred Hitchcock by Ian Bourn, 2000
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