‘You have kicked from a dark den, leaped up the whinnying light,
And dug your grave in my breast.’
Dylan Thomas ( from How Shall My Animal )
Spells and Bone is a Dylan Thomas centenary film commission for Laugharne Castle Poetry Film Festival, curated by Paul Evans and Longbarrow Press. The starting point for the film was to be a Thomas poem. I wanted to avoid the more familiar prophetic elegies, and could not settle on an alternative. The poem ‘How Shall My Animal’ was suggested to me by Professor John Goodby at Swansea University, a poet and Dylan scholar and editor. It immediately read as something witchy, shape-shifting and primeval: pagan in the sense of being disruptive of ritual norms. The title is a phrase taken from the poem that seemed to suggest a raw and unstable power. I felt that my film should be something quite abstract, and that it should struggle between chaotic and ordered forms: a struggle towards something that is never quite attained, and whose near-attainment is inevitably wounding or wounded – a problematically sacrificial and melancholy resolution. The moving footage was filmed through the windows of the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, down onto the weir that marks a corner point of the river Calder. I was thinking of cauldrons, boiling, alchemy. It was after I had begun working with this that John told me that he thought that the poem is partly based on, or at least one of its possible starting points was the Welsh legend of Gwion, Ceridwen and Taliesin. Ceridwen is an enchantress who possesses the cauldron of Poetic Inspiration. The sound is taken from two sources. The first is the ambient sounds of the gallery, recorded as I was filming at the Hepworth – voices, footsteps and echoes reversed, slowed down, stretched and played around with, layered until they suggested a sort of sentient ocean intoning a dangerous magic. The second is a piece of ‘Shape Note’ or Sacred Harp singing from the Southern Baptist tradition – treated and overlaid. The time between the invitation and the screening was very short, and the film was from the outset an intuitive undertaking, with no time for me to withdraw or refine my actions. I was inhabited by, rather than directing of the process of its making. The last two lines of the poem bring the piece to a close: a striving, a release and an ambivalent end. The full film is embedded below. I have also embedded two of the other commissions. Brian Lewis’ East Wind – wonderfully spare; and Jean & Brian McEwan’s Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines – a flickering, uneasy nostalgia.