Whalebone Box (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Anti-Worlds Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (19th June 2021).
The Film

Unique film-maker Andrew Kötting's latest psycho-geographic journey across the British Isles is both quest and mission - with a merrie band of travellers including Eden Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Philip Hoare, Dr Helen Paris, Macgillivray, Kyunwai So, Ceylan Unal and Steve Dilworth. Part history, part myth, part fiction part documentary - but always a fascinating and original cinematic experience.

A whalebone box found washed up on the shore. Is it an enigmatic object containing a secret? A survivor from a shipwreck? It was given to Iain Sinclair, Kötting’s walking
companion on his latest jaunt themed film. They set out on an expedition to take this box to its place of origin, a beach on the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. Artist Eden Kötting helps shape the film, and in many ways it’s an ode to her indomitable spirit. Shot using mainly super 8 and super 8 apps and incorporating elements of archive and pinhole photography, The Whalebone Box celebrates the notion of the home-made but is also an idiosyncratic road map.

Video

The Whalebone Box is the kind film that's a very acquired taste; it reminded me somewhat of the films of Stephen Dwoskin that I saw back in the '80s on Channel 4 with plenty of abstraction, voiceover and surrealism. That is to say, that the film's auteur Andrew Kötting is very much more of an artist than a traditional narrative filmmaker. If you love very heavy art cinema then this is for you; if not, avoid. For most people this will be an insufferable and impenetrable experience. Very much a slice of performance art.

This text opens this presentation of the film:

The Whalebone Box was created using many different source materials and formats including Super 8, Standard 8, 16mm, VHS, iPhone and HD.

Anti-Worlds' presentation mirrors the UK theatrical release for the film and is approved by the film's director Andrew Kötting.


As a result visually this a very variable film and the encode, typically as good it gets, has it's work cutout handling the varying different looks and colour values of the formats mentioned above. On video sequences there are some artefacts inherent in the formats, on film formats grain is ever present and organically handled; always filmic.

The colour values are a mixture of monochrome and colour but the latter isn't vivid and favours a muted look. Black levels are strong with crush evident in some of the lower resolution formats. Detail is rarely strong and when it is good it's in closeups and in the HD material; contrast does it's job well considering the differing formats of image capture.

There are some burnt in black text captions that can at times be tricky to read. There are also some white captions which are always clear and easy to read.

1080/24p / AVC MPEG-4 / BD50 / 1.66:1 / 83:12

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo
Subtitles: English (only for some scenes in the film in which the speaker is indistinct)

The basic stereo is not encoded for surround so when played via a 5.1 amp set to straight / direct / A.F.D. Auto (Auto Format Direct) it plays only via the front sound field with no surround activity. When played through an amp set to HD-D.C.S (Studio) / PLII Movie / Neo:6 Cinema it decodes as surround and has rear channel separation and activity. Dialogue and vocalisations stay resolutely in the front soundstage; surrounds are utilised for score and occasional ambiance. This is not an ambitious soundtrack in the Hollywood fictional action film sense, but it does create a sound field that is enveloping and atmospheric.

Sadly, there are no full-bore subtitles for the hearing impaired; only a few moments of English subs when the dialogue is indistinct and hard to make out and these are burnt in to the image. Consequently my rating is lower than if they'd been included.

Extras

Elements of the Box (Play All - 48:54):
- "Because the Rest is Silence" 2019 short film (13:29)
- "In Far Away Land" 2019 short film (6:11)
- "What Can You See?" 2019 short film (3:06)
- "The Roof is My Eyes" 2019 short film (2:27)
- "Hand Me Down" 2017 short film (5:21)
- "A Walk Back to the Last London By Way of Watling Street" 2017 short film (18:22)


A series of companion pieces or rather shorts that fed into the main film presented in 1080/24p with variable aspect ratios (1.5:1 to 1.78:1) with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Picture quality obviously mirrors my comments for the main feature.

Short Films and Miscellanea:
- "Acrophobia" 2014 short film (2:24)
- "Rock 'n' Roll Station" 2020 short film (5:37)


More short films although these seem to be unrelated to the main film; again in 1080/24p and utilising varying ratios (1.19:1 for the first, 1.78:1 for the second). Sound is once again lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Image quality on these two is very strong with deep blacks, layered contrast and more vivid colour values (especially the second which is quite striking).

Theatrical Trailer (1:38)

Promo piece presented in 1080/24p 1.66:1 with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

40-page liner notes booklet "The Whalebone Box: Andrew Kötting in Conversation with Jason Wood" by and "Kötting" by Dr. David Spittle, and film credits and technical details

Typically solid hardcopy companion kicks off with the Spittle piece which is fairly abstract but that's in keeping with the main film.

Packaging

Standard clear, BD Keepcase.

Overall

A topnotch visual-aural presentation of this very, very abstract film loosely centred around the discovery of a whalebone box. It's an inherently uneven visual presentation by design using all sorts of disparate formats (see above) and as a result a difficult source from which to produce an image harvest. Nonetheless, it's a very strong presentation by Anti-Worlds Releasing and a superb job of encoding by David MacKenzie and his company Fidelity in Motion. Extras are also somewhat abstract involving various linked, and some not linked, short films. The booklet is well up to the usual standard set by previous Anti-Worlds efforts and those of it's sister company Powerhouse Films. Highly recommended for those who appreciate very abstract, surrealism arthouse cinema.

The Film: C Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: A-

 


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