Written and Directed by Matt Senior
Cinematography and Editing by Matt Senior
Starring Bill Senior
Short Film Review by Euan Franklin
Pinching us with the beep-beep-beep of a heart-rate monitor and the drum of a heavy heartbeat, we watch an elderly man play with a train set. He writes poetry and his slurry dictation competes with the film’s soundtrack. He walks along a dirty beach, dressed in a clean navy uniform. Abstract images stream through, complimenting the poetry’s voiceover – all featuring our elderly man, William (Bill Senior). The film ends, inevitably, with the sun going down and the heart-rate monitor flat-lining like a broken piano key.
I have to play Devil’s Advocate and treat this memorial video as a short film, which is how poet/filmmaker Matt Senior tries to present it. And despite being perfect as a eulogy, William can’t function as a narrative.
William is based on a poem written by Matt Senior, and is heard as a backing track throughout the film. Although overloaded, this consistent poetic voice works well within a visual medium. It creates scattered puzzle pieces of our hero’s fading consciousness as he moves towards death, like these were his thoughts and musings before passing away. But, though sometimes moving, there is not enough motivation behind it. And there’s not much chance to know the character beyond his being in the navy and fixing train sets. Even films with similar poetic presences, like Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, don’t linger too long in prosody and offer subtle conflicts in between. William’s character doesn’t appear to struggle, or have many troubles. This removes engagement from the majority of us who never knew him. But Bill Senior creates an engaging presence within the film, even though his performance isn’t up-to-scratch. If he said nothing at all, we would still follow him.
Senior’s cinematography tries to be profound, tries to reach high for a Malick-like quality, but clearly isn’t capable. Some visuals are nicely composed and there are many picturesque locations that look good on camera, but we’re still left with beautiful intentions rather than beautiful imagery. This is transparent when a shot near the beginning is used again in a scene towards the end – a recognisable trait of lazy filmmaking. But, the visuals connect perfectly with Senior’s poetry – achieving a heavenly atmosphere, full of idyllic and leisurely touches.
Overall, William works better as a poetic tribute than a short narrative – not applicable to anybody outside the Senior family. It may well have been an emotional send-off, but the sense of story slips through Senior’s fingers. It’s clearly not meant for the rest of us. The film is an admirable poetic experiment, but isn’t much more.