In some ways, there’s not much to say beyond what it’s been sold to be: Swandown is what it says on the tin. Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair’s collaboration is, from start to finish, a clash of interests: Kötting’s eccentric take on cinema and film making, the intended ‘ridiculousness’ of the voyage; Sinclair’s, in the light of Ghost Milk and the energy to make an angry comment on the Grand Project’s apocalypse.
What’s found, synthesised, is a wonderful metaphor ultimately transcended through the third adventurer, Edith the swan- both pedalo and creature. The narrative is a voyage, a journey, from A to B; Hastings to Hackney; coastal life to metropolis. At the very beginning Sinclair profoundly states “we are all flesh radios” and immediately acknowledges that the voyage is a dive into the shared consciousness of invisible life along the river Medway. The “morphic resonance” of the communities and culture beyond the depth-perceiving reality of our naked eyes.
Swandown’s overtone is metamorphosis. This is proven on many layers particularly, for example, the transfiguration the vehicle itself took. It began as an “awkward plastic” construct to a figment of the traveler’s imaginations; a living entity, an organism they would soon name Edith. Insisted is a process of “reverse evolution” initiated which- as some say- peaks at Kötting’s incessant flurry to take of his clothes at every opportunity. Yet I disagree; the most poignant metamorphosis was Kristen O’Donnell’s cameo beautifully shot on super 8. Kristin appeared twice: taking a dip in the water fully clothed in a long white dress and secondly nude on Edith; Ophelia and Leda respectively.
The flesh contact was affectionate and idealistic. Kristen carried Edith to her barest exposure. The apex of the voyage and the crux of the metaphor. Beyond here is the come down. The homeward stretch. Swandown showcases Kötting’s extraordinary filmmaking capability: in it he mentions to an “invisible” local that the project is the “black swan of narrativistic film making”, and he couldn’t be more right. He, like Herzog, marries the methodologies between ‘narrative’ and ‘documentary’ cinema to construct a unique synthesis of the two forms reminiscent of the Soviet constructivists.
Kötting is a hidden sound designer; for this he collaborated with Philippe Ciompi and Jem Finer on sound I knew that the sonic organs of Swandown were that of the heart and lungs. That together they construct a rolling de/reterritorialisation of sonic understanding and it’s relationship to the moving image. A soundtrack itself in constant metamorphosis between cohesive, spasmodic, and convulsive. A wide range of mics and methodologies made the phrase “fishing for sounds” a literal, fitting and witty accomplishment.
Finally, it was an investigation into travel companionship represented sentimentally with Andrew’s monologues in the last act of the film following Iain’s regretful departure to Boston for a talk. Andrew returns to the existential solipsist figure explored in his previous work and shares, in truth, the importance of companionship and collaboration on projects and journeys of any size.