Upstairs, the samples of earlier work manage to achieve the unhappy balance of seeming both facile and obscure, with a tedious insistence on poking sexuality into every orifice, even those where it doesn't belong. Does a photograph of some spray painted pubes really complete an exhibit of photographs of gardens owned by slave merchants, and mirrors engraved with old press cuttings of slave auctions?
Luckily this film captivated me within a few seconds, such was its beauty. It's a cliché to say that each frame could be a work of art in itself, but the photos outside testified to its truth in this case. Each shot, whether of mouldering books in dusty courtrooms or houses filled with ruined furniture slowly collapsing, was ravishingly beautiful. When I went to see it a second time, an entire class of 5-year-olds sat transfixed throughout its entire 30 minutes runtime, without making a peep. Credit has to go to the cinematographer for composing such beautiful shots, as well as moving the camera so precisely, slowly, and gracefully.
At times, then, the film seems to be about uncaring nature versus the transitory being of man. Plants have invaded their once grand palaces, spiders' webs gently dance in the breeze. Dogs yawn and skulk the empty streets. Shots of desolate deserts show a nature inhospitable to man, one we are no more at home in than spiky bushes clawing thirstily at the cracked earth. We hold on tenaciously, but it is only a matter of time before we pass on.
There is one, brief shot of a human though. A close up of a woman's back shows the folds and colours of her sari as if they were an abstract, a single wisp of blonde hair speaks of themes of miscegenation. Immediately after, she is contrasted with a peacock. Speaking as someone who kept peacocks as pets when I was a child, an animal more stupid and vain could not be found, caring, as it does, for nothing so much as its own reflection.
Are we, though, hopelessly fascinated by our own time and its cultural ephemera, really so different when viewed on a grand scale? After all, as Yellow Patch reminds us, 'In the long run we are all dead.'