Asked to write about my 1999 collaboration with Leo Asemota on "Spoonman", I wrote the following: “I am a man measured in one sixteenth of an ounce, what’s my name?”
And so it opens.
14 years ago I found myself in creative cahoots with Leo Asemota on ‘Spoonman’, the first of our many collaborations.
The film camera was Leo’s own. A Russian 16mm Krasnogorsk that was quite frankly terrifying. The actors flinched when it turned over, its coffee-grounder machinations so loud. It sounded like it was damaging the film, and it was.
Scratches are scarred all over the footage, ‘hairs’ weave nervously at the gate edges, having been shaved off by the clockwork mechanism’s hungry madness. And as each 20 second take wound down, the mechanism losing its will to live, the exposures would lengthen, flare and burn to white.
These flashes remain throughout Spoonman, drowning its subjects in epiphanic light.
We drew the line at the Krasnogorsk’s zoom lens which proved murky and slow, with no excitement in its minimum focus distances either. I had an old photographic set of Asahi Optics prime lenses, which, remarkably, fitted the camera with its M42 mount. These had a speed, sharpness, and macro rendition that really defined the look of Spoonman… lending a gritty clarity to the turbid world of the film.
The average short film now looks pristine and clean by comparison.
Spoonman was baked-in dirty.
A style eminently suited to the murky world of the heroin addict it portrayed.
The film revels in its many formats.
Granulated DV, course grained 16mm film, noisier still 8mm film and photographs all compete for narrative attention. Screens are layered within screens, frames push inward, noise, distortion and rolling frame bars feature throughout.
It’s a film as interested in its own telling as it is in any traditional narrative, in our addiction to the language of film. It begins with discord, both visual and aural, and then pulls back to a world of mixed colour temperatures, jump cuts, flares and scene shifts...a willingly disruptive cacophony of mediums and imagery.
The film does not ask why or how Spoonman got there, or where he is going.
He feeds his habit to the tune of ‘Over the Rainbow’ while we float off to watch a child take pleasure and sustenance from his mother’s nurturant spoon.
The mirrored ceremony and ritual that follows, of shooting up and Catholic communion, are still hypnotic. The lamb of God as heroin for the soul.
It ends confidently and without judgement. He leaves for work clean, suited and booted, in a moment that might well have been the beginning of another film.
“I know my name, my name is Spoonman.”
A beautiful poem. Addictive stuff.