As a huge lover of film and motion picture, you can imagine my joy when I found out that Tim Walker, one of the most world-renowned fashion photographers, has directed a short film. Naturally, I had to watch it!
This mesmerizing and haunting 12-minute short was born out of a photoshoot that the very same Tim Walker took for W Magazine, starring model and long-time collaborator Kristen McMenamy as a mermaid (a role that, as they revealed in an interview, she had always wanted to take on and he had always wanted to capture). The basis of the shoot was Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Little Mermaid”, which was elaborated into a darker romantic idea of a mermaid kept in a tank in her lover’s garden.
“A fairy tale without darkness won’t resonate emotionally,” said the British photographer. And his fascination with the fantastic and the borderline-disturbing is plastered all over his work. It comes as no surprise that some of his biggest sources of inspiration are the sinister illustrations of Arthur Rackham and the eerie fairytales of H. C. Andersen.
Ben Whishaw (whom I already loved in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and Cloud Atlas, and who you probably recognise from the latest James Bond movies) is Edward Dunstan, the photographer obsessed with his muse. The concept of the lost muse or inspiration and the effects that this loss has on the artist isn’t new to arts and film, and it perhaps became iconic with Fellini’s Otto e Mezzo (8½), whose veiled autobiographical tones depict an alter-ego of the filmmaker going through a “director’s block”. Just like in Walker’s short, memories and flashbacks merge with reality, and fantasies and dreams become a mean to an escape.
The artist’s consuming obsession and blinding perfectionism take over to become the central element of the short: Edward wanders aimlessly in open fields of grass lost in an empty sky; he watches footage of his muse on a loop and obsessively organises the pictures he took of her. He is trapped in his own mind, just like the mermaid was trapped in his tank. “I was as much your prisoner as you were mine,” he echoes. But there is a warning:
Legend has it that if a human man falls in love with a mermaid she will grow legs; legs that will, if she so desires, carry her far, far away from the very man she cast her watery spell upon… But what becomes of the human man, when her spell remains but she is gone?
The idea of separation is also a constant: first between his mind and the outside world, then between the present and the past, shown through bright and hopeful flashbacks; and finally between him and her, through the physical barriers of the tank at the beginning, and of the footage projected on the wall towards the end.
“His shoots, they don’t start with the clothes,” said Stefano Tonchi, the editor of W, who commissioned the original shoot. “They start with an urgency for him to tell a story”.
The short was shot on film (not digitally), with no use of CGI, and mostly silent. Part of it comes from the feeling of emptiness and alienation that the director wanted to convey; part of it must necessarily come from Walker’s solid background in photography, which, as Ben Whishaw puts it, is a much more sculptural process, it has much more to do with the body and its physicality than it does with dialogue. In fact, the only real dialogue that takes place in the film is that of the artist with the footage of his long-lost muse, caught in a perfect moment of vulnerability and grief, and exquisitely expressed through the actor’s body language.
The film is available on We Are Colony, a website that aims to provide exclusive independent films and behind-the-scenes footage with a pay-per-title policy. The special bundle for The Muse includes lots of extra interviews, hidden scripts and cut scenes and is only £2,49.