The Life Size Zoetrope by Sarah Cox
'Mark Simon Hewis’s film takes a fairground ride and turns it into a human zoetrope.'
Once Upon a Time There Was a Wheel…
Its an audacious approach to filmmaking made all the more exciting by the fact that he was never sure if it would actually work.
When I talked to Mark about his film he didn’t mention that he had hired a massive aircraft hanger just outside Bristol where he put a huge spinning fairground ride and persuaded 50 of his friends and students to spend the day strapped on to it. Nor did he say that each person held a book of previously filmed scenes of action, each frame printed out and stuck onto sheets of paper and meticulously arranged in order to create an illusion of motion.
The fact that he had created a huge human zoetrope and that it actually worked (bar one digital zoom and some minor repositioning) was ultimately less important to him than the character of a man whose life story is relentlessly played out within this contraption.
The film never romanticises or tries to conceal the magnificent artifice that has been constructed. But the moment the ride clanks into action it’s surprising how quickly the illusion begins. The successive printouts seem to spew out from the guts of the volunteers and we are drawn in to this story of a man who is fighting against his humdrum and rather harsh existence.
A deadpan narration retells the story in iconic and often funny clips of school fights, snogs, teenage pregnancy and a dropped baby. A would-be ‘rock and roll lifestyle’ is worn down by the tragedy of tedious time. The man who can’t look after himself spins through his life, and only when he finally reaches his nursing home does he learn to accept his fate and start to enjoy his allotted time. So we do get a happy ending; a small but authentic one.
This film seems to confirm the theory that we crave narrative above all else and that we look for and respond to what is human and where we can empathise. The device Mark chose to tell his story is impressive, and in fact becomes part of the narrative, but it is the story within that stays with us.
The Life Size Zoetrope ends with a genuine, heartfelt cheer, a spontaneous moment on the shoot that Mark chose to leave in. The inherent message of the film seems to be ‘Life is shit and then you die’, but there are moments and achievements that make it worth living -like the risk he has taken with the making of this film and its achievements, for instance. That’s worth a cheer for sure.