In the context of my work on assignment two, which focused on the creation of a strong sense of atmosphere and feelings within a short film, my tutor suggested I look at Joanna Hogg’s film Archipelago (2010).
I was impressed by Archipelago, right from the beginning. Hogg’s shooting style is very economic, both in terms of image and sound. Most of the shots are static, wide and lingering. The sound, both ambient and dialogue, is natural, punctuating the silence in which it occurs. It reminded me of the tone and style of the films of Eric Rohmer.
In the opening sequence we are introduced to the location, four of the characters and the family relationship between three of these characters. Within only a few shots, we are taken from the landscape, to a family reunion and to the rented holiday home in which the family are staying. It’s a sequence in which every shot counts and contributes to moving the narrative forward.
What is particularly striking about the opening sequence is the way in which Hogg uses long, lingering shots. The film opens on the canvas at which an artist is working, then moving out to show both the artist and the landscape in which he is working, which helps set the geographical context for what follows.
There is then a close up of the artist working his brush in the paints. From there we cut to another view of the location, possibly the road below the artist’s elevated position. A solitary bicycle moves slowly along the empty road. We watch as the bicycle gets further away, while at the same time we hear the sound of an approaching helicopter, which eventually comes into frame in the distance.
In the following shot, the helicopter has landed on an airfield and the passengers are disembarking. One of the passengers is greeted at the gate by his sister and mother. Their dialogue is drowned out by the sound of the helicopter. Instead of hearing their conversation, we watch as the characters greet and embrace each other. Their body language telling the story.
The use of body language continues into the next three shots, as the characters make their way along the road, the young man in the back of a small lorry, smiling at his sister and mother who are cycling behind, smiling back. This joy of this moment is very endearing. The wide shots, although moving, adopt the same pattern and pace as the preceding long, lingering shots.
We then cut to an exterior shot of the two bicycles leaning against the walls of the rented holiday home. This is quite a long shot, in which nothing happens. A single static wide shot of the scene. At which point I got the sense that this was going to be the general style and pace of the whole film.
We then cut to an interior scene, in which the three characters are standing on the upstairs landing discussing sleeping arrangements. It’s an awkward conversation, in which the young man is reluctant committing himself to choosing a particular room. Again, the action unfolds within the frame of a single static wide shot.
Hogg adopts this approach throughout the film; allowing the action to happen within single static wide shots unhindered by the constant cutting from shot to shot that we are familiar with in most films.
After watching the film, I carried out some research in order to gain a greater understanding of Joanna Hogg’s approach to filmmaking. An online search of the UCA Library using the keyword ‘joanna hogg’ provided me with a list of eleven articles, mostly from Sight and Sound magazine, that discuss her three films Unrelated (2008), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013).
Hogg’s approach in Archipelago is one in which the artificiality of shooting master and coverage shots for a scene is removed, leaving the viewer to watch the action within the frame unhindered by the usual conventions. In an interview with Graham Fuller for Film Comment, she says: ‘I don’t like to repeat a scene from different angles. I’ll do a primary master shot, so to speak, but then I don’t want to then re-create artificially with a close-up what I’ve just managed to capture very naturally’ (Fuller, 2014).
Hogg goes on to say that ‘it’s also about my interest in body language. The movement of a body in space often tells you more about a person and what they’re feeling than a close-up. I think you feel more by seeing things from a certain distance’ (Fuller, 2014).
This is an interesting idea and one that places the viewing experience of the film in a similar sphere to that of watching a stage play. Watching the whole body moving in the space in this way on screen, in a single wide shot, uncut, was unexpected and a little strange to watch at first. However, it soon became apparent that watching this film was meant to provide the audience with a different viewing experience than they would be familiar with. The long wide-shots and lack of close-ups contribute to that experience.
Of Hogg’s cinematic style, Jonathan Romney says: ‘the still camera and long takes create a sense of analytical detachment, but this is countered by a lovely looseness in the dialogue. We feel we’re spying on real people with their defences down’ (Romney, 2010:27).
Another feature of Hogg’s film is its visual texture. The characters are framed in a ‘downbeat natural palette [and] the house’s aquarium-like grey-green semi-darkness matching the tones of the surrounding country’ (Romney, 2011:49).
I was interested to discover that art is an important influence within Hogg’s work. Archipelago is ‘distinctive in its interiors, echoing the paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi. His muted, claustrophobic rooms provide models for images such as a shot of Edward at Patricia’s bedside, head turned three-quarters from the camera, daylight touching his neck – a concise picture of intimate desolation’ (Romney, 2011:49).
Vilhelm Hammershoi used a limited colour palette of greys, desaturated yellows, greens and other dark hues in his paintings. His pictures record the simplicity of everyday life. The figures are often turned away from the viewer.
Fig. 3. ‘Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor’ (1901)
Fig. 4. ‘Interior with Woman at Piano, Strandgade 30’ (1901)
I’m also interested in Hogg’s very different approach to screenwriting. She says: ‘the writing I do is not conventional screenwriting. I have endless notebooks on the go and rather than translate these into a neat screenplay, which would kill my ideas stone dead, they get poured straight into the film as it is being made. This is via a document that reads more like a piece of prose or fiction, illustrated by my photographs’ (Hogg, 2011).
While I like the idea of preparing a ‘document’ based on endless notebooks and illustrated by photographs, I think I’ll still go that one step further and write a screenplay which then becomes the blueprint for a moving image.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable film and the research I have carried out in response has given me the confidence to look beyond the obvious and conventional. Joanna Hogg’s approach to filmmaking is definitely one I will consider when planning my own moving images – the notebooks and illustrated ‘document’; looking at artists for inspiration; and cinematic style.
Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg [DVD] UK
‘Interview: Joanna Hogg’ (2014) Fuller, G. In Film Comment At: https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-joanna-hogg/ (Accessed on 15 August 2017)
Hogg, J. (2011) ‘A very ordered image’ In: Sight and Sound 21 (3) p.49.
Romney, J. (2010) ‘The Scilly season’ In: Sight and Sound 20 (11) p.27.
Romeny, J. (2011) ‘Island records’ In: Sight and Sound 21 (3) pp.48-49.
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg
Figure 2. Archipelago (2010) Directed by Joanna Hogg
Figure 3. ‘Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor’ (1901) Vilhelm Hammershoi
Figure 4. ‘Interior with Woman at Piano, Strandgade 30’ (1901) Vilhelm Hammershoi