Review: Double Portrait (2018), Ian Bruce

A review of short film Double Portrait, screened as part of Aesthetica Short Film Festival's award winning film tour, screening in Scarborough with sea / film in October 2019.

Still Double Portrait, 2018

Double Portrait is an animated short which won Best Animation at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Best Film in Category at The London International Animation Festival. The film uses animated paintings of a couple, Geraldine Peacock and Bob Gannicott, whose lives entangle across a life time. Geraldine became a CBE and was the first chair of the charity commission, having previously worked at the National Autistic Society and the Guide Dogs for the Blind. Bob her partner, played a pivotal role in establishing the diamond industry in Canada. The film highlights how despite achieving such high-profile careers, the poignancy of relationships and loves lost and found, has a lasting and constant impact on people’s lives.

 

The film starts with Geraldine first meeting ‘Bob in Bristol on the bus going to school’. Before long they both realize they are ‘two sides of the same coin,’ but their parents declared them ‘too young,’ to get married before university and the pair separate with Bob leaving too ‘seek his fortunes in Canada.’ Communication from this point is slow through ‘flimsy blue air letters’ or phone calls that had to be booked three days in advance. To her disappointment Geraldine finds out Bob has married someone else, so does not join him as planned, and instead gets married and has three boys. Bob and Geraldine are however reunited thirty years later, after the breakdown of both of their marriages , and things take off once again. ‘This was really it’ Geraldine comments and they plan a life in Canada together, put a deposit on a house and she is offered a high paid job in the country. Last minute Bob changes his mind, leaving Geraldine back in the UK ‘high and dry’ and she realizes that he couldn’t cope with the pressure. Unperturbed she decides to focus on her career, and is  also diagnosed with  Parkinson’s disease, something she learns to ‘accept and not fight.’ At 52, Bob comes back into Geraldine’s life again. This time they do move to Canada together. He becomes a  ‘big business international’, moving from mining to retailing diamonds, and Geraldine becomes the first chair of the charities commission and receives a CBE for her charity work. The couple age visibly on screen, as Bob becomes ill with leukemia, eventually passing away. His portrait turning into a thick impasto black square. The film ends with Geraldine describing how ‘there are other ways you can exist, not only as a person, but as an influence doing what he did and what we have done together.’ 

 

 

 

The film’s director is artist and animator Ian Bruce, whose wider practice is largely focused around portraiture. Bruce comments how he is ‘drawn towards portraiture, [as it] consistently plays with the absence and presence of people in their surroundings.’[1] This notion is clearly reflected in the narrative of Double Portrait, where there is a constant interlacing but also fading of people, place and circumstances.

The technique used for animating the film, is a combination of time lapse and frame by frame animation, overplayed with an original piano score, by Victoria Falconer and the voice of Geraldine. The use of paint in this fluid animated form translates a sense of transience to the film, as it perfectly reflects the subject matter of a temporal and shifting couple’s relationship. This is made more potent by the fact that Bruce paints each image on top of the previous one. This creates not only a physical layering of paint, but a texture that subtly hints to the multi-layered nature of an individual’s timeline, where experiences build on top of each other, never disappearing like the layers of paint that make up the couple’s stories. The end of Bob’s life is, as previously noted, marked with a completely black square and deserves a further mention, as it mimics the black paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, including Untitled [glossy black painting], (ca.1951). Created while the artist was at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, they are made up of layers of newspaper and thick black paint. The painting, as the gallery description states, ‘reveals its complex construction and texture as light reflects off of the collaged, dipped, and painted newspaper fragments teeming on its highly articulated surface.’[2] It goes on to state how the ‘individual curls and ripples of paper echo the contours of traditional brushstrokes.’[2] Such a description of Rauschenberg’s painting, translates to the black square in Double Portrait, which at first is seemingly only suggestive as an image of absence, but on closer inspection like Rauschenberg’s work, it reveals the texture of the paint and the individual brushstrokes, which can be seen to subtly reflect the contours and lines that made up Bob’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving to the title of the film double portrait. It is a term defined as a ‘painting that depicts unity or extension: the singular portrait becomes plural with the introduction of a second body into the singular frame of the canvas.’ This notion of the ‘plural’ is emphasized by the framing of the couple within the same wide frame. Yet they are then framed again within ‘singular’ boxes, which suggests their role and influence as individuals as well as an extension of ‘two sides of the same coin’ as Geraldine notes in the film.

 

 ‘Double portrait’is also a title shared by Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work, "Untitled” (Double Portrait),(1991). This is a sculptural piece that is made up of printed sheets of paper, that are stacked directly on the gallery floor, it is intended that audience members can take sheets away, it is both a ‘physical stack of printed sheets and its animation through interaction with visitors.’[3] The sheets feature a double ring design, where the rings in the centre of each page are identical and just touch. The rings mirror the symbol of eternity and love and are structured in similar design to a pendant portrait necklace, where one opens the necklace to reveal two photos, typically portraits inside. This structure links to the represented framing of the couple in Double Portrait, as it acts like a double frame used to hold two photographs that sit next to each other and when closed they are pressed together through a physical contact that is replicated in the film when the characters break through the central frame. This interactive element of Gonzalez-Torres sculpture is typical of his wider art practice, but is here interesting as it emphasizes how through interaction something changes, with the pile of stacked paper decreasing in size when people take sheets away, but despite this the core imagery of the rings remains. This notion is reflective of the central theme of Double Portrait, how a relationship has the same elemental core, but is adaptable and changeable across a period of time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The specific circumstances of the lives portrayed in Double Portrait are individual to them, but the themes of love, loss and family are common and may very well be reflected in our own portraits, whether single, double or multiple.

Writing: Martha Cattell

References

[1] 'About and Contact'. Ian Brucehttp://www.ianbruce.net/about-and-contact

[2] San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art.'artwork'. San Fransisco Museum of Modern Arthttps://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.306/ 

[3] Landis Grenville. 'Double Portrait.' Meridian. http://www.readmeridian.org/review-double-portrait-by-brittany-perham/ 

Still Double Portrait, 2018

Still Double Portrait, 2018

Still Double Portrait, 2018

Felix Gonzalez Torres,“Untitled” (Double Portrait),1991,Tate 

Robert RauschenbergUntitled [glossy black painting], ca.1951, SFMOMA.

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