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Hilda was a Goodlooker

Anna Thew
1986
60 mins colour 16mm

Hilda was a Goodlooker

Fragments from my mother's tales of a turbulent childhood in Sheffield are heard on the sound track, whilst images triggered by the stories and the timbre and rhythm of her voice, become changed and displaced through memory and the process of making the film.

"They didn't pull any punches. They used to raise their voices and shout and yell at one another. We didn't have Italian ancestors for nothing."

Hilda was just one of the mythical characters who populated my mother's colourful recollections of childhood. Resenting grandfather's re-marriage to a woman not much older than herself, Hilda ran up debt, caused trouble and left home. My mother's upbringing as one of a family of nine in the rough steep end of Sheffield, was turbulent.

So I made a film to prevent them from disappearing altogether, not so much to do with my mother's half sister, Hilda, whom I never knew, but to do with the situation of story telling, to do with what happens when a story is told, how the perception of words and phrases conjures a different series of images and connections in the mind of the listener, from those in the mind of the person speaking, so that the substance of what is told becomes a quite separate event, a construct distinct from narrative, where images freewheel like snatches phrases dislocated in the listener's mind. "It's again... memory plays you tricks, doesn't it?"

There is no dialogue. There is no synch. There is no script. The film deals with the actual narration on the sound track, of my mother telling a number of these stories and fragments, and quite specifically, with the frequent absurdity of images 'pictured' at the moment of listening. Since words provide the thread of logic, the images are freed to make innumerable possible connections. Listening forces a flow of imagery no longer dependent on the semantic meaning of words, but regulated by the rhythm of speech. The images are separated off from their source. The film fools with the capacity of the mind to engage in two distinct perceptual processes. The sound of one tale is heard alongside the mental picture relating to another, bringing the fantasy in the realisation of film images into direct confrontation with that area (of the mind) where image takes over from sound, and moves half-consciously back to the point where speech regains its presence.

Barely three months after filming the cartoon-like scenes of Billy in his sailor's uniform and Hilda's love struck Tom banging his head against the wall in the alley, my mother was taken seriously ill and unexpectedly died. The sound of her voice and brief appearances on film, became the substance of a more personal experience, conveyed perhaps only in the images connecting to the death of her own father and mother, towards the end of the film. The mother has died. The film-maker's eyes peer through the projected image of an apple tree at the bottom of the garden. Here the magnetic sound of the voice is literally cut into segments, distanced by lengths of physical silence.

"The de-constructed narrative of the eighties", Huub Bals, Rotterdam Film Festival, 1986.

Voice, Mary Thew (née Saul), with Hermine Demoriane and Jacky Davy as Hilda, Kevin Allen and George Saxon as Tom Weatherspoon, Juan Lastera as Billy, Charlie Pig as Grandad, Martin as Harry, Anna Thew as a cabaret singer, Jo Comino as Gladys, Anne Rees-Mogg as Granny, Hugo Williams as a MARRIED MAN, Rachel Thew and Charlotte O'Sullivan as giggling girls, Astral Iverson as little Mary, and Mary Thew as herself.

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