In the Bible’s Old Testament Leviathan is mentioned twice in Job, firstly in 3:8 where it is generally held to be a dragon, which according to popular ancient mythology was supposed to cause eclipses by wrapping its coils around the sun. A second and longer description can be found in Job 41; 1-34 with most biblical scholars agreeing that it’s a crocodile. The only alternative Biblical interpretation of any significance describes a Leviathan as a mythical monster. What has this all to do with the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening of the experimental documentary Leviathan (2012) well simple Job 41 verses 31-33 were part of the opening credits, I quote: He maketh the deep to boil like a pot. He maketh the sea like a pot of ointment. He maketh a path to shine after him. One would think the deep to be hoary. Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear. This could have easily been a description of the Trawler men in this abstract movie rather than some imaginary creature of the deep?
Bravely introduced by Audrey Young who started by quoting Margo Channing from the 1950 movie All About Eve starring Bette Davis ‘fasten your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy night’ little did we know how bumpy, although two members of the audience did not have their seatbelts fastened and walked out during the screening! She went on to tell us that the film was jointly directed by the UK born Lucien Castaing-Taylor and French/Swiss Verena Paravel who both work out of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts. They originally wanted to make a documentary about whaling before deciding to concentrate on the industrial side of the North American fishing industry. Both directors to their credit spent time along side the fishermen as they worked their 20 out of 24 hour working shifts. Audrey warned us that we, the audience, would be right in the action amongst the fish heads, sea gales, rough sea’s, blood, salt and sweat, and she wasn’t far wrong.
Filmed off the notorious New Bedford Coast it’s a fish eye view of this tough industry that has one of the highest mortality rates of any industry. It should have been an interesting study of the life on the fishing boats but unfortunately was nothing of the kind, more like a cross between a video for a German heavy metal band and an overlong art project appreciated by those that made it but certainly not by the RBCFT audience who for once where unanimous in their condemnation of the film. It was generally agreed that there was enough good material to make a great 15-minute short but at 87 minutes it was soporific. With the experimental type camera work, a lot of the time you had no idea what you were looking at other than a nightmare vision of hell at sea. With a complete lack of narrative or dialog it’s certainly not a film that draws you in and with its untried formula it would have been better screened at somewhere like the Tate Modern. The only thing that the film managed to put across was how harsh and brutal the life of the Trawler men was.
Strangely this experimental documentary won the Michael Powell award for best British feature at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, with the judges opining as "an original and imaginative documentary that observes the brutal routine of deep-sea fishing in a way which completely immerses the watcher in its story". Immerses the viewer, not at the RBCFT screening I’m afraid.