The Kingdom of Shadows
At the 2005 Festival of Fantastic Films I was once again roped in by my old mate Steve Green to help judge the competition for short amateur films. Steve had single-handedly whittled the wide selection submitted to a dozen movies which were then marked for various elements by a panel consisting of myself, Headpress editor David Kerekes and director Norman J Warren (Satan’s Slave, Inseminoid).
The overall winner, by a considerable margin, was this original and charming fantasy; we all three scored it highest and as such its combined score was considerably in advance of the (very good) films which received commendations.
The title refers to a famous quote by Maxim Gorky on seeing his first film, a Lumiere production: "Last night I was in the kingdom of shadows. If you only knew how strange it is to be there. It is a world without sound, without colour. ... It is not life but its shadow, it is not motion but its soundless spectre.” Various books and documentaries on early cinema have also used the phrase.
In Ross Shepherd’s student graduation film, an eight-year-old boy named Alex becomes bored at home, ignored by his parents. Exploring the loft he finds a large cardboard box, full of tangled bird’s nests of 35mm film. Then crawling inside, as a young boy is wont to do, he finds himself entering another world; it’s a sort of The Lion, the Witch and the Carton.
This is the world of the silent film - and it is really silent. Alex finds himself unable to make any sound whatsoever and coloured grey, and everything around him is equally monochrome and silent. He finds people in Victorian clothes at a railway station but they don’t respond to him. Crawling back through the tangle of film, he re-emerges at home and tries to tell his parents what happened. His mother dismisses her son’s tales as nonsense but his father (Keith Eyles: Bloodmyth, Ten Dead Men) is intrigued enough to look in the box himself.
The Kingdom of Shadows is a lovely-looking film with an interesting and worthwhile point to make, made for the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. The acting is good, including a nice appearance by Dennis Chinnery, the veteran actor who was in Plague of the Zombies and numerous Doctor Who episodes (as various characters) as well as False Profit. He plays one of the Lumiere Brothers, who appear in a prologue set in 1948, the year that the first brother died, and again later in a less substantial form. Shot on 16mm, which is increasingly rare nowadays, the silent sequences have been digitised into monochrome and provided with a few suitable fake scratches. Cinematographer James Watt does sterling work in both colour and faux black and white.
A deserving winner in Manchester, I hope it goes on to greater things at other festivals. And let’s keep an eye on Ross Shepherd and see what he can do in the future.
A smashing little film which is thoroughly professional and delightfully entertaining.
MJS rating: A