I Had Nowhere to Go, a radical journey beyond the borders of film
by Muriel Del Don
- LOCARNO 2016: Famous and controversial Scottish artist Douglas Gordon presents the world premiere of his latest feature in the Filmmakers of the Present section
I Had Nowhere to Go, the latest endeavour by multi-award-winning artist Douglas Gordon (winner of the famous Turner Prize in 1996) asserts itself in the Filmmakers of the Present section of the Locarno Film Festival with its subversive and compassionate content.
Also very subversive and compassionate is the great Jonas Mekas, the protagonist of I Had Nowhere to Go, a sort of dreamlike but extremely current journey into the mind of a man who has lived a thousand different lives and has, by some miracle, survived each and every one. Jonas Mekas is not only the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema”, he is first and foremost a man who had to flee his homeland, Lithuania, because of the war. He’s a man who has spent his whole life in a state of permanent exile, a permanent ‘foreigner’, trying to belong whilst being proud to be different. Film is the only area he’s ever really felt at home in, and this is what makes him special, radical and one-of-a-kind.
“The film doesn’t contain any images, it’s no mistake that all you can see is a black screen”. This is how Douglas Gordon defiantly introduces his film, as if trying to put us to the test. I Had Nowhere to Go is a film about Jonas Mekas, but it’s also about all the refugees, exiles and forced travellers that populate our earth. Some manage to turn their lives around, adopting their place of exile as their new homeland, whilst others experience the loneliness and melancholy of a life made of memories everyday. Like Mekas, these people have managed to flee from war: their bodies are safe but their minds struggle to heal.
Douglas Gordon portrays Mekas’ life on screen, he inhabits his words through images, or rather, a lack of images. As the director himself says, “one of the most important things about Mekas is that he doesn’t influence, he inhabits”. He inhabits film, he inhabits sculpture, and he inhabits life”. I Had Nowhere to Go sets itself the objective of telling the story of a man who made art his reason to live. The film opens with a brief but incredibly strong sequence in which Mekas tells a story, as if he were speaking directly to us, as viewers and his confidants. The rest of I Had Nowhere to Go is instead dominated by the darkness of a black screen (with the exception of some brief bursts of colour and a few short sequences of everyday gestures and a lone chimpanzee) which becomes, as the film goes on, our discerning companion in a radical and decidedly extraordinary cinematographic experience. The powerful and reassuring voice of Mekas (despite the severity of the story), guides us and allows us to imagine his life. The viewer is not influenced by the images (which are nearly absent), but is free to ‘see’ the words of Mekas using their own imagination. Film is laid bare, stripped right down to the bones and deprived of its very essence: images, but it is no less powerful or meaningful as a result, quite the contrary. I Had Nowhere to Go is a private, intimate and radical experience that we do however share with the other viewers. The theatre is filled with a thousand different images (images that stick in the mind of the viewer), which are given form by Mekas’ words. Douglas Gordon takes us by the hand and leads us through a multidisciplinary experience that goes beyond the limits of what we commonly refer to as ‘film’. The journey is one we will remember for a long time to come.
(Translated from Italian)