Life-affirming, powerful and utterly moving, this account of Scottish music icon Edwyn Collins is a truly remarkable achievement in filmmaking.
A Girl Like You by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall’s wonderful documentary about musician Edwyn Collins is a remarkable feat in documentary filmmaking. Shot over the course of five years, the film opens with Collins’ staccato-like narration accompanied with imagery that signifies the struggle with his decimated memories. Wandering into his past while simultaneously highlighting his slow road to recovery, it’s a haunting yet life-affirming journey through the mind of the great musician. Learning to cope with the loss of Edwyn Collins as they knew him, Edwyn and wife Grace’s wonderfully grounded relationship is the foundation on which the bricks of recovery are built. The Possibilities Are Endless is a life-affirming, powerful and moving film that highlights the inherent courage required in chasing an apparition of the past, as well as extolling the boundless mysteries of love.
In 2005, Edwyn Collins suffered a near fatal brain haemorrhage that effectively wiped the contents of his brain. Unable to say anything more than ‘Grace Maxwell’ and ‘The Possibilities are Endless’, the documentary highlights the daily struggles of overcoming this life-altering event. Shot over a period of five years, the documentary follows Collins in the early days of his rehabilitation to his return to music.
There’s a half-conscious, dream-like flow to the opening thirty minutes of Lovelace and Hall’s film that recalls the warmth and solace of nostalgia. This sense of nostalgia isn’t purely wistful sentimentality, it has a deeper more unimaginable horror symbolising the distant, confused and ultimately decimated mind of Edwyn Collins searching for something, anything familiar. A fisherman in the eye of the storm, a fearful companion fidgeting nervously at the shore and a little boy lost in the forest – each of the characters in this clever opening signify an aspect of Collins’ past and present following his stroke. It immediately recalls the sense of pure immersion and captivation of the similarly Scottish based Under the Skin earlier in the year. It’s obtuse and challenging and mesmerising all at once. It forces the audience to persevere much in the same way that Collins and Grace Maxwell recount in narration throughout the period in which Collins remained in a coma.
It’s a beautiful and hugely ambitious opening, and as soon as you feel like this ethereal, submerged world of unconsciousness needs to go somewhere, it does just that. At this point we get the first real glimpse of Collins, sitting solitarily in a darkened room. The exquisite structure of the film allows the audience to feel like they too have done some of the hard yards through Collins’ rehabilitation. Due in no small part to the filmmakers patience over five years or so of filming, it’s a humbling privilege to witness the emotion, frustration and heartache of rehabilitation. Starting with his fragmented, sometimes nonsensical speech from the opening scene, the film cycles organically along an upward curve of Collins’ improvement. The natural progression of Collins’ speech is patiently built up to over the course of the film, and with it, his infectious and indomitable humour.
The real power and beauty of The Possibilities Are Endless lies in the stronger than Scottish oak bond between Collins and Maxwell. As his personality and humour return in each successive scene, we see the genuinely hilarious interplay between them develop and flourish. The overwhelming gravitational pull of both of them on screen together is romantic and inspirational. It’s in the quiet moments as they celebrate on the stairs of a venue, or spar on the sofa in his recording studio that we see the loving and unshakeable union really shine.
From the striking soundscape to the dreamlike visuals, The Possibilities Are Endless is a beautiful marriage of arthouse film and traditional talking-head documentary. It’s a towering monument of how patience, determination and ultimately love and companionship can triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Lovelace and Hall’s quiet lensing captures the intimacy and emotion of recovery and reinvention. It’s rare for a documentary to have the structure, emotion and pure enjoyment that The Possibilities Are Endless exhibits in spades. Grace tells us early on that “every place is full of stories for us” – great, I demand a sequel.
The Possibilities Are Endless is released on 7th November 2014 in the UK