Love is private, intimate. Speak its name aloud and the spell is broken. Share it and the magic is shattered. Except, except … in the 20th century popular culture crashed into the space between lovers, the gap between two pairs of moist lips, the air that thrummed to their heartbeats. Pop music ran away with love, spinning out each precious moment of desire or sorrow for three minutes of passion and repetitive heartbeats. But the movies, arguably, got straight to the dirty bits first. In the dark of a cinema, that is to say a tent or a grubby room, crammed next to a sweetheart or a maybe-sweetheart in the dark, we could watch actors (imagine!) play-act the the motions of love: smooches in train carriages, swoons on the hearth. Illicit affairs, happy marriages, flings, crushes … all the joy and misery of human existence on the screen. And in the cheap seats (they were all cheap), a fumble, a fondle, a kiss or maybe more. And did I mention it was dark? A private act in a public place – disapproval be damned.
Kim Longinotto knows exactly what goes on in the dusky darkness of the Odeon. Her new collage film Love is All (2014) is a super-cut of romance: sexy, sedate or seditious. It’s a full-tilt rush for the hormones, soundtracked by the grizzled, tender love songs of Sheffield music legend Richard Hawley. Not strictly a silent film, this, but one in which the few fragments of dialogue are incidental, another instrument in the orchestra. Hawley sings what is on our lovers’ minds – what they actually have to to say is rather beside the point.
And Longinotto has plundered the archives of silent romance to create this kaleidoscopic kiss with history. You’ll see snippets of Hindle Wakes, Piccadilly, The Lure of Crooning Water and The Kiss in the Tunnel here, in the mix. Piccadilly’s urban mix of exoticism and prejudice is perhaps the key text here: Love is All peppers its pleasure with the pain imposed by shifting sexual moralities. The film reaches right up to the present moment with snatches of My Beautiful Laundrette and its similarly transgressive relationships. There’s Brick Lane too, which nicely updates Hindle Wakes‘s liberated Fanny and her “little fancy”. Trains are a recurring theme – an opportunity for escape, illicit romantic moments and passing desires as well as a raw sexual metaphor.
But the archive footage is not confined to fiction: wedding videos and documentaries fill in the spaces between the stories. At times watching Love is All is like flicking through a vast family photo album: here are your great grandparents flirting on the pier, a procession of church door kisses, a young couple canoodling in a squat. It’s a wisp of a film, maybe, but a wonderful experiment – a curiously intimate use of public footage, which is bound to trigger your own imagination, and your most cherished memories too.
- Love is All premieres on 12 February 2015 at the Curzon Soho, followed by a Q&A with director Kim Longinotto. It then goes on a limited national release. Details here