Director: James Hall, Edward Lovelace
Starring: Edwyn Collins, William Collins, Grace Maxwell
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Synopsis: Imagine your mind has been wiped: memories, knowledge, experiences, language – every word you ever spoke, has vanished. If eventually you found the words, what would you say?
There’s a moment in Lovelace and Hall’s (known collectively as D.A.R.Y.L.) documentary when the narrator recounts a childhood memory of nursing a sick greenfinch to health before releasing it back to the wild. In many ways this motif encapsulates THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS. It’s the story of a man’s apparent annihilation as he loses his words and memories, but it’s also the story of how he rebuilt them to find himself again, and this man is Edwyn Collins.
It might be a cliché, but in 2005 Edwyn Collins’ life changed forever. The Scottish musician suffered a double stroke, with extensive consequences. Only able to say a few phrases (including his wife’s name and ‘the possibilities are endless’—hence the title) the singer had to learn to walk, talk and think again. He had to learn who he actually was. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS follows his long road to recovery, as well asking some big questions. If our sense of self is made up of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, what happens when we can’t remember?
Collins was always an outspoken, quick-witted kinda guy. To remind us, D.A.R.Y.L. opens with archive interview footage, before cutting to a distorted jumble of images and sounds. We see what’s to become a recurring motif of a drowning man flailing underwater, struggling to reach the surface. It’s actually pretty frightening and disorientating, and whilst perhaps not the most original, becomes an apt visual metaphor.
If you’re looking for a chronological history of Collins and his previous band, Orange Juice, you won’t find it here. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS isn’t a discography with a count-down of music videos. Orange Juice hit, ‘Rip It Up’ and solo ‘90s anthem, ‘A Girl Like You’ get minimum air time. Much of the footage shows the small fishing port of Helmsdale in the Scottish Highlands, where Collins and his wife now live. A jumble of long shots, close ups and awkward framings disorientate the audience, the edit often cutting between different subjects. A mixture of diegetic sound—the ocean or the wind through trees—merges with Collins’ halting voice over, or his wife Grace’s chilling explanation that death was there, besides them. It’s a muted, chilly palette of blues, greys and greens.
You have to work to put it all together, in much the same way that Collins tries to piece together his memories in the days, weeks and months after his stroke. Open expanses of water, wind ravaged grasses, a rabbit, an empty beach—there’s a kind of stunning desolation to these fragmented scenes.
What’s particularly poignant is Collins’ narration. He stumbles and jumbles through what he wants to say, self-correcting, re-starting and pausing as he searches for the right words. It’s not re-recorded for a better take, but instead we’re rewarded with a singularly intimate and personal glimpse into his experience. After those opening nature sequences showing us the immediate aftermath, the camera is invited into the family home and things settle into more of a straightforward narrative. A shot of Collins sitting in a chair, staring ahead while a muddle of snippets from his music and interviews plays in the background, speaks volumes.
This is a bleakly beautiful and fragile film, and the triumph at the end is understated; although back performing, Collins still doesn’t have use of one of his hand and his wife strums his guitar, while he does the fret work. But he explains he’s found himself again ‘in a world of memories’.
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS is a very human exploration of identity and remembrance, and how people face the bad things in life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Collins aficionado or newcomer, the desolate imagery, Collins’ touching narration, and this love story between husband and wife is hauntingly bitter-sweet.
[usr=4] THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS is in UK cinemas and available on VOD now. The film will also be touring selected UK cinemas with Edwyn Collins, his wife, Grace, and D.A.R.Y.L. Find out more here.