Monday, 24 November 2014

Little Girls and Their Daddies: A Review of Lynne Ramsay's Gasman


At first glance, the film appears to be social realist and, while it is social realist, I would argue that it is less social realist than a film like Andrea Arnold’s 2003 Wasp, for example, which leans closer to being a Dogma 95 style of film. If anything, Gasman is representative of reality, but only through a combination of film form that gives that representation a dream like quality.

Little Girls and Their Daddies is a film review I wrote back in 2010 for the short film Gasman, this was done for a (second) first year Film and Screen Studies assignment, as part of my BA (Hons). Together with its companion piece The Complete Metropolis: An Analysis of Two Publish Reviews, this comprised one assignment in which I had to demonstrate my understanding of film reviewership and analysis.

As I mentioned in The Complete Metropolis, the writing style is very clunky, as I was still mastering my understanding of English grammar at the time. Here I have only minutely polished the original review that was intended for a Sight and Sight/cinephile readership.

Being a first year assignment, most of the technical problems were forgiven in favour of how I actually applied my learning in this and it's companion analysis assignment, both were ultimately awarded firsts.  


A Review of Lynn Ramsay's Gasman

In Lynne Ramsay’s 1997 short film Gasman one thing is clear: there is an elephant in the room or, as Ramsay would have us believe, just off frame. Ramsay’s arrangement of mise-en-scene throughout the film always seems to be slightly and deliberately off the mark, as if there is something more lurking just outside the frame and outside the immediate narrative that is being presented. In fact, Gasman is a fine example of how sometimes it is what you do not see that can be more truthful than what you do see.

The protagonist of Gasman is Lynne (Lynne Ramsay Jr) who along with her Brother Steven (Martin Anderson) is being taken by their father (James Ramsay) to a work Christmas party. However, Lynne is somewhat surprised to see the addition of two other children, a girl Lisa (Lisa Taylor) and her brother Robert (Robert McEwan), who their father also takes.

Lynne (Lynne Ramsay Jr).



The film begins with each member of the family seemingly fragmented into their own little world. The husband is quiet and troubled; evidenced when you see how many cigarette butts there are in his ashtray, the wife (Denise Flannagan) is ratty and disdainful; especially towards a kiss from her husband, the son appears troubled with something of a destructive quality; as evidenced when he crashes the toy car into the sugar. 

In fact, Lynne is the only one of them, while still in her own separate world, who appears to be happy. This fragmented quality again creates the sense that there is something more just outside the frame. The fact also that it is not until two and half minutes into the film that we see the first face adds further to this. As a spectator we have to piece the visual clues together in order to understand and see what the problem is. This is always a sign of good filmmaking and even more so in Gasman.

At first glance, the film appears to be social realist and, while it is social realist, I would argue that it is less social realist than a film like Andrea Arnold’s 2003 Wasp, for example, which leans closer to being a Dogma 95 style of film. If anything, Gasman is representative of reality, but only through a combination of film form that gives that representation a dream like quality. In fact, I would go one step further and argue that the film has a fairy-tale like quality. As, indeed, this is established early on as in when Lynne quotes The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.” 

What Ramsay has done is construct a film which is representative of a little girl’s na├»ve outlook upon the world. The film, however, shows Lynne’s transformation from this naivety towards the bleakness of reality. It is a troubled bleakness which already grips her mother, father and brother and which is superbly visually emphasized through the cold impoverished imagery of the film's setting, as when Lynne and her father are walking along the abandoned railroad, this is very suggestive of an impending collision and, indeed, that is exactly what Lynne gets.

A film about that life changing event that kills the innocence of childhood and gives birth to the cynicism of adulthood.



In regards to performances particular praise must be aimed towards those of the children. All the children, especially Lynne Ramsay Jr, do a remarkably better job than certain older child actors did in the first couple of Harry Potter films. However, I am not sure if this is due to Ramsay Jr’s skill as an actor or to Ramsay Sr’s manipulative skill as a director. 

In fact, Ramsay comments on the audio commentary track that the party in the film was an actual party which she organised and then filmed. But, at the end of the day I’m sure it is both a combination of Ramsay Sr’s skill as a director and Ramsay Jr’s skill to immerse herself in a world of make believe; it seems real talent runs in the family.

With Gasman, there is a sense that perhaps the film is somewhat autobiographical of Ramsay’s own life. The fact that she has used her own family members as the cast, and a protagonist who shares the name Lynne, are all suggestions to be in favour of this theory. But, while the film might not be based entirely on an episode in Ramsay’s life there is still a sense that the theme of the film, the loss of innocence, does come from Ramsay herself. The fact also that she both wrote and directed the film adds further leverage to this line of thought.

While the film might not be based entirely on an episode in Ramsay’s life there is still a sense that the theme of the film, the loss of innocence, does come from Ramsay herself.



But, whatever the story behind the film, one thing is clear: this is a film about little girls and their daddies. The motivation of Lynne throughout the movie is her father, as in the beginning when she snaps at her mum: “No, I don’t want you to help me” but is only too eager to run to her father: “coming daddy!” She is a daddy’s girl who has that status threatened and by the end disappointed. There is a sense that Lynne’s world of a young girl has gone past the point of no return and one step closer to adulthood.

Overall, Gasman is a film which is a remarkably polished piece of filmmaking, made on a shoestring budget. The fairy tale quality which Ramsay has created is something I think she should have pushed further but, none the less, still works in establishing visually the young Lynne’s outlook on the world. This is a film which every adult can identify with because, on one hand, it’s a film about that special childhood status of being able to sit on your daddy’s knee. However, the elephant in the film is, ultimately, what the film is about on the other hand. It’s a film about that life changing event that kills the innocence of childhood and gives birth to the cynicism of adulthood.




Postscript

This review was produced as one half of a film reviewership assignment; as such, you can also read the review analysis that I authored: The Complete Metropolis: An Analysis of Two Published Reviews.

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