The Science of Ghosts, Glasgow Film Festival 2019 review by Pat Byrne
The Science of Ghosts is a film directed by Niall McCann, who also directed Lost in France ( 2017). This new movie has links to Lost in France, which focused on the Glasgow based record label Chemikal Underground; The Science of Ghosts is about Adrian Crowley, the much lauded Dublin based singer / composer, the only non-Scottish artist signed to Chemikal Underground.
Niall and Adrian co-wrote the film and it’s fair to say that the two have a special bond. Whilst the focus of the film is Adrian, it’s not a typical documentary. Presented through a series of episodes and events, the film is experimental. Often questioning and quirky, and at times hilarious as it combines snapshots of Adrian’s life with fantasy, it has a meandering dreamlike quality. As I watched I wasn’t questioning what was real and what was not or what was staged or what came about by chance. The shifts were an intrinsic part of the film’s unique quality and charm.
This is no blow by blow narrative of Adrian’s life, although, from the outset we glean some insight into his thoughts and concerns as he wonders: ‘what people talked about and how conversations began. Maybe I should get a story ready just in case?’
Just as filming is about to begin the sound of a siren interrupts the process. This sets the scene for the unexpected. The film moves from scene to scene almost like a conversation about happy memories, strange experiences, obsessions and epiphanies. Scenes pop up using old home movies, including a very funny shot of Adrian’s little girl and her friends. In another black and white shot Adrain is filmed in France, where we hear his son’s voice in the background complaining about being stung by a mosquito. Niall McCann merges the everyday with the extraordinary as we see Adrian in his home, out walking the streets of Dublin – usually carrying his guitar, pulling his case on wheels as he heads for various destinations. Particularly fascinating is a wee hut at the edge of a loch, where Adrian goes to compose his songs.
He is a fine musician and an amazing lyricist with a beautiful voice, all shown in the film – some might argue that there is room for more. However, this is no blow by blow account of how an artist goes about his trade or how his songs are created – “I feel the words before they are there…Sometimes it starts with a whisper at my shoulder.’
For Adrian making music is a bit of a mystery which he doesn’t really want to solve, although certain places appear to inspire him, including the woodland near his childhood home. These woodland shots are beautiful and the film has considerable visual impact as it moves between various locations from the green Galway countryside to the brashness of Coney Island.
The movie contains staged and quirky elements with odd unexpected scenes about topics that appear to fascinate both Adrian and Niall such as tales of a tragic elephant and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. These arise almost like a conversation between Adrian and Niall: ‘Did I ever tell you about….’
Given the episodic style adopted the film could well have been jolting but each snapshot is engrossing. I couldn’t say that I understood every single aspect of the film including the guy who kept appearing asking for the time. The ending also threw me a bit but overall it was a strangely satisfying film and achieved much more than the usual music documentary.
The Science of Ghosts is unique and imaginative as it combines snapshots of real life together with fantasy. Do we know Adrian Crowley? Not completely as he is a complex individual. We get the sense of him as a creative, deep thinking and sensitive man but perhaps the film raises the question, can we really know anyone? Adrian is certainly not intent on selling himself but his life and his thoughtful, anti-hero persona created fascinating cinema. If you get the chance don’t miss this film.
After the film there was a Q & A, where Niall McCann explained that the title, The Science of Ghosts’ came from the idea that when you film people they then become ghosts. It was very clear that Adrian and Niall had been excited in the making of this film and it sounds very much as though this partnership will continue.
Adrian treated the audience at the CCA to some live music. He sang three songs, ‘Catherine of the Dunes’, a new song about s stowaway and ‘Halfway to Andalucia’ – I really loved this last song, which features in the film.
Review by Pat Byrne, February 2019
(Watch out for forthcoming podcast with Adrian Crowley and Niall McCann at Jim and Pat’s West End Chat)
This section: Cinema, Film reviews, Glasgow Film Festival 2019
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