Swandown is a brilliantly barmy travelogue movie from visual artist and professor Andrew Kötting (Gallivant, Ivul). The filmmaker borrows a swan pedalo from his hometown of Hastings and sets out on a three week journey up the river Thames, attempting to reach the final destination of Hackney’s Olympics construction site. With his fellow rower at his side – the “psychogeographer”/writer Iain Sinclair – the pair share idle pleasantries whilst cruising through Kent’s pastural estuaries, picking up special guests such as Watchmen‘s Alan Moore and comedian Stewart Lee along the way. They all wax lyrical about the state of England, the problems with the then imminent Olympics, and just how ridiculous this trip is. Did I mention they’re riding a swan pedalo?
Like all of Kötting’s previous work, Swandown is rooted in an idiosyncratic absurdity and sense of humour. The pair describe themselves as ‘flesh radios’ – channeling in to a different kind of England than what we normally see on the big screen. Sinclair articulately eulogises about the current problems facing English identity in the shadows of Olympian corporate consumerism, whilst Kötting – wearing the same homemade suit throughout the entirety of their conquest – converses with the humble folk they sail past along the way.
With lots of Brakhage-like visual and audio play, arcane BBC broadcasting clips, and the ramshackle music score from Pogues’ founder Jem Finer, Swandown runs the risk of moving away from it’s motivated critique and becoming too much of a collage art piece. Fortunately, Kötting manages to keep us entertained and sitting comfortably throughout all the nonsensical display.
In the end, it may all boil down to two men in a boat, but Swandown is a charming and profound little movie. Enjoy the ride into the mind of a true English eccentric.
Have a listen to my audio Q&A with Andrew at CPH:DOX Film festival. A lovely guy, with a wonderful mind.
CPH:DOX is one of the world’s biggest film festivals dedicated to documentary practice, with an interest in particularly experimental audio/visual work. You can follow all of my coverage here. For more info please visit the festival website.