9 January 2021

Andrew Kötting's The Whalebone Box (2020)


 And I thought Edith Walks was crazy. The Whalebone box itself goes back a long way in human time, in fact thirty years. It was then that sculptor Steve Dilworth in Tarbert, Harris – interested in once living objects, shamanism and other things – gave the box to Iain Sinclair, who promised to return it. Sinclair now thinks it's time. It is made from the bone of a washed-up whale and is said to contain a metal box filled with sea water. That's why – although we're not told this in the film – we sometimes see a different box here, in cardboard: Sinclair says he's an old man and the box is heavy; Kötting agrees and says it's like a car battery and you can only carry one of those so far.

So there we are, and the journey back to Harris begins, Kötting and Sinclair going with their 'muse' Eden Kötting, the director's daughter who has a genetic disorder and whose words are given subtitles: this film is in part from her dreams. Obviously there are many literary quotations, such as by Basil Bunting, whose grave in the Quaker cemetery in Briggflatts, Cumbria is visited on the way, and there's mention of T. S. Eliot's walking tour with Ezra Pound.

And of course there are songs, such as the disturbingly shrill 'Murdered Mermaid's Song' by MacGillivray, or the French rap band Quai des Brumes singing 'Julien et Mathias'. This latter may seem surprising, but then Kötting and Eden live part of the time in the French Pyrenees, and a digression in the film is a visit to the ruins of a castle in the times of the Cathars on Mont Ségur, which Sinclair considers crucial. This still doesn't give anything like an idea of the strangeness of the film, but how's this for a quotation from Sinclair, who of course is preoccupied by the relativity of time:

'You just find a right place to go and that's always a site within this forest. There might be a rock over there that would allow you access to the time of your great-grandfather, to the moment in the garden. There might be a waterfall over there which allows you through to the time of your mother's childhood. There are places you go to access time, the ghosts come into the forest and at that point linear time begins.'

No matter how much I stare at the words above I still think: 'This is hippie crap!' Very weird film, quite fascinating, but Sinclair's words, often admittedly fascinating too, sometimes just seem to clog it up.

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