The Freemartin Calf

Freemartin (n): a sexually imperfect, usually sterile female calf born as a twin with a male calf due to the influence of male hormones during the development in utero.

Described as a labour of love, The Freemartin Calf is a short, experimental film, brought into focus by filmmaker Jayne Amara Ross. Shot on Super 8, the film narrates a day in the life of a young girl and her mother. Torn to the brink of rejection, social anguish, psychological pain and torturous struggle, the couple are ‘fuelled by a dogged desire to both reject and conform to the societal roles imposed upon them’. The similarly titled soundtrack certainly delivers the bleak, shrouded fog of indecision and the noticeable tug of social tension is present throughout Frederic D. Oberland’s score.

‘I hold your knuckles between my thumb and palm like a keystone’.

On its arrival, the cold and bitter vocal wind delivers ushered syllables that would otherwise have been left abandoned in the bleak; dark poetry, settling in between the dusty, webbed corners of the fragile mind and haunting the winter stone. The atmosphere is at once frosty, the intentions of the vocalist (or narrator) a dagger of subtle danger, a warning to the jilted. Her words linger with cautious longing, blacking out the blush of innocence with indecision, like a suffocating fog that blurs the conscience. Her hushed sentences speak of suspicion, opening a kind of wound; seeping with past experience. It spills out into the present day: the perception of the people, the looks in the street, the mother versus the harsh world, often as bleak as the winter stone.

Rising above the struggle is the tight, unshakable bond between a mother and her child.

The moving picture and its associated musical score are supposed to be together, as one. The soundtrack provides not only the cue for the on-screen, dramatic activity and the audience’s supposed emotional reaction, but it also provides the film’s sustenance, fluid notes hydrating the images on-screen like droplets of water moisture on dry land. ‘The Crossing’ tells of such drama, a location of bleak design and stifling tension, but it isn’t without its tender moment. When the screen turns black, and the introduction of earphones sever the film’s tie between image and score, the director loses out when it comes to intended emotional control of the viewer. However, new images, unique to the listener begin to replace the ones that were originally put to film. True, when a soundtrack splits up with the film, the music can lose a degree of focus, but composer Frederic D. Oberland’s score works just as well without the film. This, surely, is a testimony to his talent.

The fingerprints of the founding members of FareWell Poetry are pressed firmly against the pane / pain of spoken prose. Raw emotions cut through the thin lace of icy, arctic drone, snipping the reel of film in two until only the black of the music is left.

The narrative is deeply evocative and all the more alluring for it. Spoken passages are dotted with the sound of cawing crows outside high windows, staring through the pane of fragile glass that looks like it could shatter at any moment, attention caught at the gentle sound of a child’s Victorian music box. Black, gazing eyes, like those of shiny pebbles, stare into the winter day, and pointed claws, blade-sharp, dig into the skeletal branches of an ancient oak tree.

Darkly gothic in sound, the drones are draped in the shadowed lace of funeral black. Deep in the heart of a misty village, the faded green of the country is just about visible against the murky white clouds of winter breath. Through the churchyard, beside the clanging bell, you will hear the feminine vocal, which over time becomes dangerously sensual.

Cellist Gaspar Claus silences the drone with his sentimental strings, the only slim, quivering warmth for miles, like the fragrance of autumnal beauty before the deadened leaves litter and then camouflage the pavements. It breaks the previous tension and the restrictions that come with it with a repetitive spider-web of melody, a silky flow of caressed harmony against the struggle.

Crushing stabs of bass rock against the seemingly innocuous talk of daytime radio dramas and weather reports. ‘The Sacrifice’ is a claustrophobic tunnel of dark cinema; the high-pitch bell rings to signal school’s out, but slithering underneath the lockers is a lingering, lurking panic. Cutting through the vocal is a static-lined frequency, pitch-shifting and warping the narrator’s voice into something inhuman. The drone winds its way through disused underground chambers, cocooned inside a tight crawlspace littered with scuttling, primeval insects. The squealing tone of a cello lives here, screeching to an ugly crescendo; all beauty erased. Mirroring this is the coda, ‘The End / Credits’, which again finds the beauty it is capable of, resolving into something like acceptance as the credits roll. Preceding this piece, a sour atmosphere threatened to take hold, but here the mood has settled. The silence is an open country. The ancient, brooding trunk of the tree itself, seeping with heavy, cinematic atmosphere, bleeds into another century. Only the end of the reel, rotating coils of black film, speaks of their fate.

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