Art is struggle, at least in some sense. Creation will always take something of the creator, and those who dedicate their lives to making art are sacrificing things in the process, be their offering in the form of money, sanity, or their very soul. The London neighborhood of Hackney Wick boasts the largest number of artists per capita in the world, and it is an industrial wasteland that can be a dream or a nightmare depending on your outlook. For some, The Wick (as it is often called) offers an artist’s utopia, a salvation from the outside world and a place to just create. For others, The Wick is a dystopian nightmare, a place society has left where creators cling to life and hope their next vision might be a way out.
The Wick: Dispatches from the Isle of Wonder is a low-budget semi-documentary following two filmmakers as they attempt to surpass their limitations and create a story that is part Shakespeare adaptation, part making-of film, and part picture of a moment in time in Hackney Wick…
The Wick: Dispatches from the Isle of Wonder is a low-budget semi-documentary following two filmmakers as they attempt to surpass their limitations and create a story that is part Shakespeare adaptation, part making-of film, and part picture of a moment in time in Hackney Wick, an area likely to change forever when the Olympics come to town (the Stadium borders the neighborhood). Perhaps the smartest film to make with a low-budget is a movie about low-budget filmmaking, and The Wick is an intriguing blend of absurdist comedy and quiet tragedy as it follows directors John Rowley and Tom Metcalfe on their quixotic quest to capture a moment in time within the neighborhood.
Much of the film’s early going documents its makers in a holding pattern, waiting to be able to begin their film, and in a seemingly endless cycle of sleeping, eating, and listening to the radio. It should get boring fast, and it’s to Rowley and Metcalfe’s credit that this extended sequence is consistently entertaining and occasionally inspired. There are moments of slapstick comedy to punctuate the quiet, and even the long stretches of silence develop a placid mood that can be enjoyable to watch. The film doesn’t shy away from the loneliness inherent in filmmaking, but instead revels in the way these two lose touch with the outside world, with each other, and even with themselves as they try to get their movie underway. The Wick is influenced by silent films, slapstick comedy, and the theater of the absurd, and each of these is woven into its larger purpose with surprising facility.
Once the documentary actually gets underway, we are treated to a variety of talking heads segments, shot in black and white and featuring neighborhood artists. The documentary portion of the film feels largely dropped in, as if the project went in various more interesting directions but its makers never entirely left the idea of making a film about the area in the run up to the Olympics on the table. Many of the artists have interesting things to say, but each segment feels too rushed to get a strong sense of character, and eccentricities are ironed out until flat by the speed with which we cut from segment to segment.
Similarly, the film’s flirtation with itself as an adaptation of The Tempest has incredibly variable success. The more seriously the film takes this idea, the less it actually works, but fortunately most of the adaptation material is contained…
Similarly, the film’s flirtation with itself as an adaptation of The Tempest has incredibly variable success. The more seriously the film takes this idea, the less it actually works, but fortunately most of the adaptation material is contained to a sequence in which one of the directors screens a very different film (this one simply called Isle of Wonder) for the only critic that matters—his mother. While The Wick sets out to be a picture of this particular neighborhood at a particular moment in time, it has a much stronger sense of mood than sense of place. There’s a delicate mixture of whimsy and tragedy that carries throughout the film, but Hackney Wick as an actual neighborhood remains somewhat elusive. The film captures how it feels to be an artist on the fringes, but it never particularly captures the fringe itself.
Though far from perfect, The Wick is often fascinating as a portrait of two men struggling to make something with little more than a dream and a dollar. Rowley and Metcalfe have strong personalities and the film displays their voice and tone in ways much more expensive cinema often fails to manage. The Wick is often muddled and occasionally disjointed, but it is also thrillingly unique. This is the sort of movie that demands someone throw a pile of money at its directors to see what they can do on an actual budget. As a fully-formed vision, the film leaves much to be desired, but as the filmmakers openly admit, this is less a finished product than an attempt, a personal essay on film that takes on the creative process, the way society can squelch it, and the legacy of a massive event on a small, insular section of one of the world’s great cities. It is funny, thoughtful, original, and perhaps most importantly, completely personal.
[notification type=”star”]64/100 ~ OKAY. Though far from perfect, The Wick is often fascinating as a portrait of two men struggling to make something with little more than a dream and a dollar.[/notification]