Review of Lasting Marks

By Young Film Critic Luís Azevedo

Charlie Lyne's Lasting Marks is part of the Voices section of IFFR 2019 where one can find "powerful stories, captivating subjects, and important themes." Check, check, and check. The short-work takes a very conventional approach to the retelling of social injustices.

In the late eighties in the UK 16 men were tried and sentenced - as well as publicly vilified - for making homemade porn: there was S&M sex, bad cops, gay panic, and one camera too many. One of the men, Roland Jaggard, provides the narration of the tragic events between 1987 and 1989, from the moment the police knocked on his door until he was behind bars. While powerful, captivating, and - yes of course - important, the story feels didactic with Jaggard's last words connecting too neatly the dots between past crimes and current prejudices: "things have moved on a little bit, but it's a very thin veneer society's approval or disapproval of anything."

Yet, that's hardly the whole story. The most interesting aspect of the film is aesthetic and might explain why the didactical nature of the piece. Charlie Lyne’s previous work has become cannon in the niche video essay world. He’s made Beyond Clueless (2014) and Fear Itself (2015), two of the few feature-length video essays on film. However, the work that comes to mind when watching Lasting Marks reads as an immediate response to the frustrations with formats Charlie Lyne had expressed in Frames and Containers (2017). He starts that video essay by summing up and idea brought forth by Sergei Eisenstein that “film is being held back by relying solely on landscape images.” With Lasting Marks, the director takes these doubts as a motto to flip cinema on its side.

The film is a slide-show of vertical pages, some blank but most filled with newspaper clippings, trial reports, and other pieces of information relevant to the case. Apart from some moments of total darkness, the film stays true to its 16:9 vertical canvas format. In a way, the film’s unique container highlights the didactical nature of the narrative, after all, slide projectors were used as a teaching tool not so long ago. One could imagine such a presentation in a schoolroom in Thatcher's Britain if only this piece of history hadn’t been pushed aside for years.

This daring approach takes the 80's schoolroom slideshow look and transports it to the big screen. The film's selection to the program is only one of many that open up a dialogue about the spaces where we see no-budget movies whose natural habitat might have been previously thought to be the internet. This year the festival is also showing the ultimate mashup in Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy and Romantic Comedy by Elizabeth Sankey (the composer of Beyond Clueless), a movie that takes a similar approach in format to Lyne’s previous feature-length work - a voiceover ponders on the meaning of the movies shown on screen. They might not have been made for the internet, but these films share an aesthetic you’ll often find on YouTube and Vimeo; it wouldn't be surprising if Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, the brains behind Every Frame a Painting, came out with a similar project.

If history repeats itself, Lasting Marks will eventually make its way to Vimeo, where this story of persecution will reach far more people than its festival run. In Rotterdam, films like Lyne’s are getting a chance to play in big screens - sometimes IMAX - to audiences that either doesn’t quite know how to react and others who just won’t have it. Why should we get out of the house to watch a video? Only the future will tell if movies made without a camera will carve out space outside of the internet.