Saturday 3 August 2019

On demand: "Ibiza: The Silent Movie"

Julien Temple's latest collage-film, Ibiza: The Silent Movie, mixes and matches the methods of his earlier evocations of London (The Modern Babylon) and Glastonbury, plotting a course for a new Bohemia and, once there, attempting to ground its hedonism in some form of history. Here is a roughly chronological account of the so-called White Island's development, spanning the centuries that separate the Phoenicians from Phoenix, and the and the ancient Egyptian god of movement Bes from our very own god of movement Bez, and at every turn striving to sort proven Ibizan fact from those fuzzy-headed fictions brought back to the mainland by sunspotted holidaymakers who had a bit of a mad one at Amnesia. The naked hippies are present, yes, but we also get much more besides. It is, as the subtitle suggests, largely free from spoken words, with intertitles instead deployed to steer our gaze, and a playlist of club classics selected by Fatboy Slim placed over the top of those. Much of the fun stems from this cheeky commingling of sound and image: it's now apparent Temple, whose career was thought dead in the water after the expensive, high-profile flop of 1986's Absolute Beginners, has been comprehensively re-energised by three decades of postmodernism and the emergence of mash-up culture.

Thus, a Phoenician beset by demons and snakes in one Ibizan cave can be seen here waving his hands in the air to the strains of Mory Kante's mid-80s floorfiller "Yeke Yeke"; a Moorish king appears to cast an ambivalent eye over bikini-clad revellers in a megahotel's swimming pool; and the encroaching Spanish Civil War plays out, as did a nocturnal security patrol in Temple's Glastonbury, to a remix of Primal Scream's "Swastika Eyes". I say the film is roughly chronological, because Temple's position has always been that nothing ever quite disappears; in this worldview, the energies loosed by one generation come to be recycled or reappropriated by another, and so echoes of the past live on in the present, like the humming left behind in your ears at the end of a four-hour DJ set. If there's been an evolution in Temple's filmmaking, it's that, rather than working exclusively with found-footage, as he has done in his previous non-fiction, his latest sees him using a modest European arts-channel budget to stage cursory historical recreations of his own around contemporary Ibiza: he clearly amused himself in laying out the particulars of the island's first nightclub, set up in the Thirties by exiled Dadaists in an abandoned windmill, with an unknown DJ spinning banging 78s. These are folded into a relentless flow of imagery, where historical fact holds no greater weight than the emojis with with Temple dots his frames.

As some of the Tweets coming in during last night's terrestrial TV premiere made clear, the Temple touch risks accusations of glibness, especially when the story of Ibiza washes dead bodies onto these shores. Yet it also makes for substantially livelier viewing than the conventional talking-head school of historical documentary, edited to a propulsive, increasingly frenetic beat, and given to making unexpected, impulsive, provocative connections. A survivor of the punk wars, Temple never shies away from the island's underlying tensions, honing in on those points in time and space where these images smash up against one another - past versus present, rural against commercial, residents versus tourists - and he puts his finger on at least one properly chewy irony: that the dreamy paradise we now know as Ibiza was a construction of the generally repressive Franco, who visited the isle in the years immediately before the Civil War, and saw its potential as a pretty picture he could sell to the world. Perhaps only Temple, frantically cutting, sampling and juxtaposing, might have drawn a link between the Generalissimo and the later Ibizan resident Elmyr de Hory, the forger about whom Orson Welles made F for Fake; and the film's irreverently inventive speculation is such we might even wonder whether something of Franco's jackboot mentality has persisted into certain doormen perched outside Pacha today.

Ibiza: The Silent Movie is now streaming via the BBC iPlayer.

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