exploring art and writing

A film by Andrew C. Tanner: Masterpiece.

In Film and Documentary on January 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Image still from Andrew C. Tanner's film 'Masterpiece', 2011

For the person who has chosen to undertake a creative vocation the mind can be a challenging and volatile environment: contained within it are pastures that bind every concept, every analysis and every piece of self-deprecation together. These realms can be fed to the point of gluttony until they become inherently viral, and from this we can glean the archetype of the tormented artist, or rather the agonising genius. In Andrew C. Tanner’s latest film Masterpiece we are offered a glimpse into one such mind, from the sudden comprehension of an idea to its final formation.

Something that a film such as Masterpiece accentuates is that even nascent concepts have weight to them; they rest on a delicate web that separates the mighty from the everyday, until the web is no longer taut. It can expand and begin to ingratiate itself into the intimate, personal aspects of your life that were previously escapist. The instant that one of these ideas overwhelms you, the web shatters into fragments and infiltrates every part of your consciousness: you are obsessed. For those few who are a fleshly mix of the right ingredients, these qualities are able to grow into masterful, uncompromising and profound ideas that can be expressed with enough expertise to do them justice.

The obsessive artist is closely associated with the struggling artist; one must suffer for one’s art, as the saying goes. In terms of art, literature and – in the case of Tanner’s protagonist Martin – cinema, this modern archetype is as entertaining as it is dangerous: entertaining for those enjoying the product of the artist from a safe distance, and dangerous for the creative mind that forms the product. There is a myriad of historical, modern and contemporary artists whose lives are encompassed by tragedy, either through self-infliction or sheer unfortunate luck. Their creations are synonymous with their own lives, but one may assume that it was this devastation which provoked the compulsive (and, one would hope, cathartic) creative force that so many of them possessed.

However, genius or not, once a passionate idea takes hold it can engulf you until completion. It is a sensitive topic for an artist and filmmaker to address due to the polarities that it consists of: instigating a brilliant idea and allowing it to devour you, or instead remaining socially and emotively coherent whilst sacrificing divine inspiration; in essence, the fear of having to decide between all or nothing. It is these themes that are so succinctly addressed in Masterpiece.

My reason for opening this article with allusions to the creative obsessive is to introduce the premise of Masterpiece. Take, for instance, the prologue: it begins with the quote “creation is pain, when we create we must also destroy”. As the story unravels we watch the protagonist, Martin Lloyd, as he is struck one night with a brilliant idea for a novel and so embarks on a prolific journey solely aimed towards its completion. Together with the cast and crew, Tanner has woven together a story that is harrowing, insightful and, ultimately, optimistic towards those struck by a more intoxicating creative impulse.

One of the major successes of Masterpiece is Tanner’s and fellow scriptwriter Rhys Hills’ decision to keep its focal point simple: at no point is Martin’s novel revealed or dissected; we are merely offered fleeting glimpses at samples of the text. The consequence of this is that for the duration of the film we are focusing solely on Martin’s increasingly neurotic state of mind and the repercussions that emanate from his obsession. After all, the notion that a fictitious concept can devastate a person’s reality is morbidly appealing.

The isolation and fury stemming from Martin is often beautifully reflected in the cinematography of Masterpiece, be it via the ominous landscapes of the sea or through the claustrophobic and erratic portrayal of Martin’s rage. In addition to this, Andrew Jones’ predominantly piano-based soundtrack is absolutely stunning as it waltzes from scene to scene, imbuing every moment that it inhabits with emotive darkness.

The film’s coherency is also largely thankful to Mark Paul Wake’s impressive performance as Martin. His portrayal of a person spiralling into the realms of fervent obsession amplifies in rawness as each scene progresses. Sarah Louise-Tyler’s interpretation of Martin’s girlfriend Kate is equally admirable, despite portraying a character who at first comes across as inexplicably disapproving; the instantaneous jump between the couple’s apparently blissful relationship and her sudden onslaught of nagging seemed surprising at first. Whilst you do soon come to sympathise with her character, a more gradual deterioration of the relationship would perhaps have been useful in establishing this sympathy.

In regard to the predominant topic of Masterpiece – the creation of the written word – the film contains some particularly poignant moments within it. Martin’s rampant emotional and physical deterioration is at times summarised in quieter, subtler moments: “Leon needed someone because…” he mutters fervently at one point; Because, Because, Because: a dreaded word for the fatigued writer. Martin’s classes with tutor Rod Jonas, adroitly played by Boyd Clack, occasionally feel like a wisdom-dispenser for the writing curriculum; saying this, however, the astuteness of Clack’s character gives us perhaps the most tender moment in the film when he claims: “novels are not written, they are rewritten. All writers become obsessed with words. We need to trust ourselves more. Trust our instincts”.

Masterpiece is by no means a perfect film, but it is carried through by a talented main cast and by the evident skill and fervour of its creators. With each word spoken and each frame watched we are offered a view into a mind usurped with inspiration: the good overwhelming the good, as it were, and yet darkening a world as it engulfs the characters mind. The perception that there are those who suffer for what will ultimately be an object for another’s experience is here laid open for all to see. The remaining question is whether the cost of such genius is worth the struggle and whether it is worth succumbing to the obsession. My guess is that those who are granted it do not have much of a choice. As Clack’s character Rod puts it: “Don’t hold back, but beware: it can consume you – if you let it.”

  1. That sounds very interesting. 🙂

  2. If you are really into music, there is this movie out called Map The Music, made by Samantha Hale. It’s basically about how music influences people and features a lot of inspiring artists such as Imogen Heap and many others! I just thought I’d let you know. I haven’t seen it yet, seeing as I don’t have money to get it yet but here’s a previous look for you. http://www.insound.com/Map-the-Music—Samantha-Hale-DVD/p/INS78992/

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