A couple months ago, while on one of my increasingly frequent bpNichol kicks, I took to the internet in search of Michael Ondaatje’s 1970 film Sons of Captain Poetry. I eventually found and watched the film, but an exciting thing happened along the way— I came across the trailer for The Complete Works. The trailer drew me in immediately. It was frenetic yet completely in control; a dance of word, language and image perfectly suited to explore bp’s work. I reached out to filmmaker Justin Stephenson to see if I might have a gander at the complete film and he was kind enough to oblige.
bpNichol often explored the amorphousness of language, and letters themselves, in his writing and cartooning. The Complete Works is itself an amorphous film – neither entirely animated, nor strictly documentary; not technically a short, nor properly a feature. Through interplay and overlay its journey becomes metatextual. Code written to poetry to animate illumination. Fourth dimensional soundvision.
Stephenson worked on this film for fifteen years. The project was largely a solitary pursuit, but he had the support of bp’s family and friends-a calling together of past and present- exploring the words of a man, and that man through his words. On a cross-country road trip Stephenson met with a handful of bp’s peers each of whom selected a reading of bp’s work for this project. The director then spent countless hours animating and editing these readings into the final mix of the film.
There is a great joy and playfulness to The Complete Works, and its reverence for bpNichol’s words and sounds is obvious. As a fan, it makes perfect sense. I can’t think of a more fitting depiction of bp’s life and work onscreen (except in the cases of his scripts for Fraggle Rock, The Care Bears Family, The Racoons and Blizzard Island – but those are a completely different realm of awesome that we can discuss further at another time.) For those less familiar with Nichol’s work this film is an excellent point of entry – there may be challenges contained within, but it remains extremely watchable and perfectly paced. The film is engrossing the whole way through.
The Complete Works will be featuring this year during the Victoria Film Festival as part of the Shorts Program: Visions & Voices at the Vic Theatre on Thursday, February 11th at 8:45pm. I, for one, cannot wait to see it on the big screen, and truly hope to see you there!
words: Shayne avec i grec