Directed by: #AlexMcDonald
It’s difficult to know what to say about Alex McDonald’s film Hankering, Gross, Mystical, Nude. At the movie’s core lies the text Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, a sprawling poetic vision penned by a man searching for the divine in the very mundane. As a cinematic continuation of this theme, McDonald’s attempt to reconcile Whitman’s verse in images is partially successful, although one would probably need to familiarize themselves with the text itself to derive any specific meaning from this film.
A piece of experimental, pseudo-documentary #filmmaking, Hankering, Gross, Mystical, Nude has no plot or even actors in the conventional sense. We are introduced to four cows (two calves and two adults) as they go about their daily existence on the scenic hills of Old Chapel Farm in Llanidloes, Wales. The cows lounge around their pen, are fed in a barn, milked, and are then returned to their pen. Thus the entirety of the film’s content is covered, which may concern viewers looking for a more escapist experience. However, it would be a mistake to disregard the movie for this reason, as, when measured by what McDonald’s trying to say, it actually provides you with everything you need to enjoy it.
McDonald’s #cinematography is the lifeblood of this film, and it’s a shame that he employs it with such mixed results. Although he has picked his location well – the rustic beauty of the Welsh countryside really does speak for itself – the amateurish composition of his outside shots is unfortunately very disengaging. This is puzzling when compared to the dark shots he finds inside the barn, so captivating and laden with unpronounceable meaning; the effect very much like a Rembrandt painting come to life! It’s mysterious that McDonald cannot frame similarly striking images when filming outside, as he obviously has an eye for captivating tableaux. All sound is diegetic and there is not much to comment on except for one section where a cow is being fed and milked: the crashing sound of feed landing into a metal container as the cow’s udders are periodically squeezed does produce a strangely hypnotic effect. It’s reminiscent of the sound effects on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, although the intended effect in this film, if any, is not immediately obvious.
This is a #shortfilm that mainlines the spirit of Andy Warhol’s cinematic output in the 1960s. Chelsea Girls with cows is almost a pithy enough summary, although McDonald’s effort is mercifully 200 minutes shorter. A title like Hankering, Gross, Mystical, Nude certainly implies the subtle outrage that films of this kind can arouse in the viewer, but there’s definitely a message being conveyed here: Whitman’s quest for empathy with the natural world resonates in the captured existence of these cows. Whether this theme is best communicated through clumsy text positioned at the beginning and end is debatable. However, on its own terms, Hankering, Gross, Mystical, Nude is just about interesting enough to work.