Wordland, 2008
Phil Coy
35 minutes, HD

Wordland is ostensibly a film about the eroding east coast of England and the effects of floods on this area, particularly the well-known and devastating flood of 1953. Filmed in and around the small villages of Walcott and Cley next the Sea, Coy’s film combines interviews, field recordings, archive footage and a specially commissioned sound score from musician, Alexander Tucker.

Wordland takes the apparently antipathetic forms and techniques of documentary filmmaking, montage film and structural film, and collapses them into one another. Drawing on the history of, in particular, British experimental film, Coy’s digitally produced film presents something like an elegy for the ambition of different experimental film practices. As documentary elements give way to structural elements his playful juxtapositions of processes and imagery produce a romantic portrait of loss. But this romanticism is consistently tempered and undermined by the fact that an analogue medium is being mourned digitally.

The work has two very particular reference points: a painting, The Last of England (1855) by Ford Maddox Brown, and the 1988 film of the same name by Derek Jarman. Each of which conjured up romantic, apocalyptic visions of England. Coy’s film also depicts an island under siege, but the island of Wordland, and the film’s polemic, is less culturally and politically specific. Wordland is threatened, not by the arcane social policy of governments, but by the deterioration of celluloid, the erosion of land with its arbitrary boundaries and the fragmented memories and language of its inhabitants.

With distinct melancholic notes the film opens with long establishing shots of the sea gently lapping the shores of North Norfolk. Gradually shots of the land are introduced, and before long voices emerge out of the slowly building sound score. Through the use of intertitles and isolated words and phrases that simultaneously refer to the erosion of the coast and to the language of filmmaking, Wordland builds a distinct narrative by combining non-linear editing with a form of cut-up poetics. Tucker’s sound score similarly uses drones, cut-up and layered vocals, and fractured song structures. His simultaneously bucolic and unsettling composition blends the musical genres of doom metal and folk. The pastoral themes and atmosphere evoked by Tucker’s score and his structural approach to musical composition relate closely to Coy’s own themes and working methods.

The film premiered at a special event co-organised with LUX at the Arcola theatre featuring a live soundtrack by Tucker, before being screened at an exhibition at City Projects’ space. There were Further presentations in Norwich and North Norfolk.

Funded by Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust
Supported by East Anglian Film Archive, LUX, Mites