Directed by: #WillFranken
Starring: Will Franken
Will Franken presents Red, White & Blake, a #documentary that explores the life and work of William Blake, an English artist who became revered by critics after his passing and is now regarded as one of Britain's greatest creative minds. The film strives to introduce and explore William Blake to audiences that are both acquainted with his philosophies and those, like myself, who are yet to discover them.
Red, White & Blake works to develop our knowledge of William Blake’s moral view on life, building the portrait of a man and his art. Franken travels all over England, visiting historic sites to help further immerse audiences into Blake’s story. It is a well-researched piece, informing the audience on all manners of the story, spanning all political, economic and religious contexts of the time too. The decision to accompany William Blake’s work with a voice was a brave one, and it works well, helping bring his words to life amongst a new generation of people. The art, poems and portraits throughout are occasionally mixed together into a wonderful ballet of madness, and the segments when this occurs over Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture are especially magical. It is obvious that Red, White & Blake is a labour of love for the famed artist, created out of nothing else but pure passion, admiration and respect.
It screams both grand ideas and ambition, however, it is consistently hindered by questionable creative decisions and failure to properly execute them. Transitions implemented to help guide the audience throughout show encouraging signs, preconceived ideas in hopes to tell the story in a more creative and visual manner, however, Scott Ambrose’s #cinematography is poor throughout. From shots being out of focus, shaky or overexposed, the film is not visually pleasing to watch unless second hand B-roll footage, Blake, his contemporaries or their work are on screen. The rushed, clunky style of filming does not suit the subject matter, it feels out of place amongst the edit and suspiciously as if most of it was filmed secretly.
Unfortunately, as the viewer progresses into the latter half of Red, White & Blake the overall tone shifts… for the worse. Seemingly forced comedy skits, expletives and nudity all make an appearance, with each one of these feeling dreadfully out-of-place.
Although Red, White & Blake does originally draw interesting comparisons between the work of Blake and our society, such as capitalist exploitation and how we are deprived of the world by being invested in our phones too much. However, in the film’s self-imploding final half an hour, Franken stumbles into a very problematic territory. In an attempt to exemplify one of Blake’s ideas, he uses an example of Russell Brand discussing his substance addiction and then proceeding to label his mental illness as “manufactured victimhood” in order for the celebrity to appear relevant. This kind of problematic attitude shuns celebrities from speaking out about their mental health, adding to the stigmas that we have done well as a generation to start reversing. He then continues to play devil’s advocate, mocking feminists for their claim to equal pay. These examples are infuriating due to obvious, much less provoking ways to show this to the audience.
Red, White & Blake makes a loud and ambitious roar but, unlike the work and memory of William Blake, will soon to fade into a distant noise. It is a project that evidently comes from the heart but ultimately collapses in on itself due to technical shortcomings and questionable storytelling devices, losing its seemingly unique voice, vision and message along the way.