Bait film screening – Rough Trade, Bristol

Wednesday 22nd January, 2020

I wouldn’t normally write about going to see a film, but then I don’t normally see films in the live rooms of record shops.

I have never seen a film at Rough Trade before and I knew I would need reason to get out of the house, so I figured I had little to lose by going. Entry was by way of either DVD or soundtrack vinyl purchase and the cost of the DVD wasn’t a lot more than the cost of a cinema ticket, so why not I thought to myself? The soundtrack, sorry original score, written by the director/writer/camera operator (probably tea boy as well) Mark Jenkin was described as minimalist and that is a style of music I am very happy in. I also trust in Rough Trade, they associate themselves with a level of quality and so I felt this was a risk worth taking. A copy of the DVD was ordered.

On the night I did not want to go. I wanted to stay home and nurse my aching heart. Turns out that the best cure for heartbreak is a black and white art film about fishing. That came as quite the surprise.

The crowd was young, full of hipster creative types and I felt really out of place. Hand processed films, supported by the BFI are not my bag anymore. There was a time when I would have felt very much at home in an art house cinema talking about the mis-en-scene or diegetic sound but my love of film disappeared when I was trained in how to take it apart; it lost most of its magic. Then like a lot of parents I spent many years only watching kids movies. I had forgotten how much I love quirky and unusual films, made by people in love with the medium. Mark Jenkin reminded me of all that with the remarkable Bait.

Unlike the questioners at the end, the technicalities of the making of Bait meant and mean fairly little to me. I don’t care what it was made on, I care about how it makes me feel. Bait made me laugh, think and feel and that is a winning combination. There is a great deal of wit in Bait and the whole thing is so beautifully understated; the sparseness of the dialogue serving to highlight the emotional emptiness and bleakness of landscape. Being in black and white meant it could have been partly anytime, place or season, which gave it more power. The story may be set in Cornwall amongst the tensions of fishing vs tourism, but the themes run deeper. I’m a City dweller and I get seasick simply looking at the pitch and swell of a boat, yet Bait still spoke to me. Of loss and regret and shame (or lack of), of privilege and class and entitlement and the way working class culture has been disappeared from its own landscape and history by gentrification, of emotional repression and of loneliness and isolation. Those are all things I have felt and continue to feel. They are all things not unique to Cornish fishermen. That is why Bait worked so well. That is why the best films, stories, books, sculptures, paintings and music work. They tell their stories, from their point of view, yet they speak of broader themes. That is what great art is. That is what being human is.

I started the night feeling maudlin and sad and I ended it smiling and renewed. Thank you Mark Jenkin for making Bait, the 20 years you spent developing it into this little gem of a film were ones well spent.

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