Nigel Watson reviews Bait, showing in our cinema until Wednesday 2 October. All screenings of Bait are currently sold out but because it is so popular we may programme extra screenings in the first week of November. Our November-December programme will be available online from 17th October, with general ticket sales opening on 23rd October. Check our website, follow us on Facebook or sign up to our mailing list for the latest updates.
Martin Ward is a proud fisherman who is determined to carry on his way-of-life despite the unsettling changes occurring all around him.
In his personal life he is at odds with his brother who is using their late father’s fishing boat as a pleasure craft for tourists. Martin played by Edward Rowe states on at least two occasions that their father would be spinning in his grave if he knew that his boat was being used for this purpose. Martin regards the tourists who come to their Cornish fishing village as ‘pricks’ and to underline the point we are literally shown a member of a boozy stag party setting sail on the boat dressed as a penis.
Martin is equally disdainful of Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd) and his family, who have bought his former family home and decorated it with nautical features. Martin says some of it looks like his old gear, the reply from his wife Sandra played by Mary Woodvine, is no ‘we got it off Ebay.’ Even Martin’s bother, Steven Ward (Giles King) is outraged when he sees that they have used a real porthole as part of the new interior design, causing him to exclaim ‘They’ve destroyed mother’s pantry.’
The local pub has also changed to cater for tourists and Martin is annoyed that the landlady closes it in the winter due to lack of local custom. Although he does sell a few fish to the pub to feed the tourists.
These are the bones of the story but the most important and impressive aspects of Bait is how it is shot and edited. In the discussion and Q & A session after the screening with director Mark Jenkin, he explained that he used a 1970 vintage wind-up Bolex 16mm camera loaded with black and white film. The noise of the camera meant that he did not record the dialogue and sound on location. It was only afterwards in his studio that he recorded the Foley work (everyday sound effects like footsteps, doors closing, wind blowing etc) and the dialogue was dubbed on. Mark even processed the film himself as well as meticulously editing it. Admitting, he is a bit of a ‘control freak’ he provisionally put his own eerie synthesizer music on the soundtrack and it worked so well that it ended up being used in the finished film.
Given the additional factor that the 16mm camera only runs for a few minutes before a new film reel has to be loaded to restart filming, Mark exploits this by using rapid edits and short pieces of dialogue. In the processing and editing Mark has deliberately made the film look grainy with jump edits, scratches and blips. The effect is of seeing a story set in our time but filmed by a director from the past using traditional film skills and language.
The film views the details of everyday life, the inanimate objects we take for granted, the ominous clouds, the relentless action of the tides and the practical skills of the fisherman tying knots, spreading nets on the beach or casting out lobster pots. He also uses associative editing like the famous documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings (1907-1950), where he includes surreal and fantasy elements to usurp solid reality and glimpse inside the mind of the subject. In Bait, for instance during an argument between Martin and the incoming family there is a shot of one of them being handcuffed cut into the ‘real’ footage. Such shots indicate the inner thinking of Martin and unbalances what you are seeing is real and what is internalised fantasy.
Mark also employs several startling montage sequences, where a series of images are cut together to form a greater whole. At times close-up images of faces are intercut with those of inanimate figures and paintings; as an example in a brilliant scene in the pub the argument between Martin and the landlady is intercut with an argument at the nearby pool table.
The black and white, grainy footage of Bait edited using traditional skills is a homage and reflection of the fisherman’s traditional skills. They in tandem look back to a bygone era of technology at one with nature that modernity seeks to sweep away forever.
Bait took 20 years from concept to production, let’s hope his next film which Mark says is in colour and set on an island comes out in a much shorter time span because he is a talent to look out for.