(Alan Clarke, UK, 1989) 37 minutes


Director: Alan Clarke
Producer: Danny Doyle
Screenplay: Alan Clarke, Bill Morrison
Photography: Philip Dawson
Editor: Don O'Donovan
Gary Walker
Bill Hamilton
Michael Foyle
Danny Small
Robert Taylor

Reviews and notes

Contact and ELEPHANT function as a cinematic diptych about the 'Irish problem'. One panel captures the deadly routine experienced by the English army; the other features sectarian messengers of death. Both portray landscapes devoid of political or religious context, an abstraction that focuses the films purely on survival and murder...

ELEPHANT (written by Clarke) is even more abstract, which makes it even more harrowing. It depicts 18 murders. There is no other narrative made available to us but this: wave upon wave of anonymous assassins - sometimes working alone, sometimes in pairs - go about their inexorable business of killing other human beings.

Clarke binds us to the killers by steadicam: once again we become unwilling accomplices, forced to participate in a journey we have no desire to undertake. So we are borne along, day and night, on fatal marches to factories, petrol stations, empty offices, rniddle-class homes, council flats, a neighbourhood football pitch, a park picturesquely covered by frost - in this hell there is no secure place.

But forcing us to accompany these nameless butchers is only one part of Clarke's strategy: after each bullet has been delivered, the camera stops moving and studies the victim in shots that are frequently held for more than 20 seconds. Having been made a party to murder, Clarke now fixes our attention on beautifully lit and composed still-lifes. We shift from being participants to voyeurs - and then another killing is set in motion and once again we're on the move. At the 'climax' we are dragged along in the wake of two men, on a walk that feels endless. A third man is waiting for them in what looks like a : deserted warehouse. The first man walks away, leaving the second man behind. Man 2 faces a wall and is shot by man 3. Only when an assassin is himself assassinated does the murderous cycle come to an end.
-Howard Schuman, Sight and Sound, September 1998.

Illustration: Alan Clarke

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