Sleep Has Her House
- Director: Scott Barley
- Origin: United Kingdom
- Year: 2016
- Runtime: 90 min
- Colour: black-and-white
- Language: no dialogue
About this film
There is an owl staring at us with its kind but always alerted eyes. Horses stand in the background. Night has fallen and there is a never-ending darkness that engulfs, that embalms us. In his first feature film, Scott Barley continues his exploration of the night, of the darkness. Sleep Has Her House is an experiential film. It needs to be experienced, not explained. Words will always fail describing what the film transmits through its carefully composed images. Barley takes you on a journey, a spiritual journey perhaps, and lets you feel the force of darkness. Whose darkness is it? Is it nature’s? Is it our’s? The answer depends on how deep you allow the film to penetrate you.
Sleep is not just a film. It is an artwork in more general terms, even including drawings Barley did five years ago. The seamless, almost invisible shift between different media shows Barley’s talent and also adds to the immersive experience of the film. We strongly recommend that you watch the film in complete darkness and with headphones. Only in this way will you feel the journey Barley takes you on for the next ninety minutes.
Nadin Mai (tao films)
Interview with the Director
- Scott, this is your feature film. Your filmography has so far consisted of short films only. Where did the drive come from to make your first feature film?
It was born from a strong desire to take my work into yonders deeper, darker, and narrower.
- I know that the majority of your films, if not all of them, should be seen in the dark. This is the case with Sleep, too. What does the darkness mean to you? What is your fascination with it?
I have the heart of a child. I am a nyctophile. I love the darkness, and am simultaneously terrified by what could exist within it, for the simple reason one's own imagination can conjure extreme horror, as well as beauty. We are afraid of the darkness, because we are afraid of not just the unknown, but of ourselves. We feel our heart thump in our chest. We question our senses. We are aware of our body. We feel alive! And as a consequence, we are so desperately aware of our mortality. But darkness is where I feel most comfortable - in part due to its antonymic, perturbing nature that renders me feeling vulnerable, and perhaps at times, even dangerous. I burn the midnight oil, working until dawn. It is infused into my making.
Like those apparitions that lurk, then dance with us, that disarm us, seduce us even, as we turn our necks, and stare back down the path of frosted leaves we tread, and into the dark, beyond the trees, I too, want to disarm, and seduce through rendering the invisible visible. I want to seduce through obfuscation, true obfuscation, to suggest a beyond, a liminality suspiciously cloaked within the 'fuscus'.
Darkness is where all the things are working. Where all the mouths and hands are dancing. The dark is always prepossessing. And the dark is always hungry. It wants its meal. And sometimes, it devours.
- “Sleep” is not just a film. You used different media and combined them to a cinematic experience.
Yes, the film was roughly 90% shot on my iPhone, the rest being made up of some drawings I did about 5 years ago whilst studying fine art, and some more recent DSLR footage. All of that was then superimposed together. It is the editing process which took the longest. Most of Sleep Has Her House was shot over the course of 4 separate days throughout 2015 and 2016; one day in the Brecon Beacons of Wales, and 3 days of travelling around West Scotland, with around 16 months of post-production in between. It seems ridiculous, seeing that in print, but that's how it goes.
- You really take your time with observing. I cannot remember how long the first take is, but it is long. It’s beautiful. Why this focus on observing?
I find it strange how the most profound things for us to witness in life are taken most for granted, and mostly ignored. The clouds passing the moon at night, the perennial chorus of insects upon a lake in the summer sun, the weather changing, the wind that crept, the night cry of an animal, or a quiet stream in the distance.
I want to give us the opportunity to really see, to really hear, to really feel, and to fall in love again, and to be terrified, to be in awe of the natural world, and how it is uncannily not real. Not the Cheetah, nor the fucking Narwhal, but instead, the more common, what could perhaps be considered the everyday – the horse, the owl, the deer – and what mysteries, what qualities of humanness do they transcend to me, to us, to the image, to beyond the screen. How can I make these creatures unknown to us again, how can they haunt us silently? What does a mountainside, deep in its slumber say about being a human being? What does a picked flower floating in a starlit pond say? How does time pass us, as we stand rooted, in the quiet wind, mesmerised by the moon above us? How can we go beyond ontology and communicate in discussion through cosmological questions? To me, the body, and the stars are both one and the same. And the film and the spectator are too. They feed off each other.
- Sleep isn’t so much a film with a narrative. There is a story, of course, but you tell this story not with standard means but through experience. It is the experience of the film, which takes us through your story.
1960: Antonioni showed us all how it could be done. But I love stories. Hitchcock is a favourite. But I am interested in how I can retain the essence of what a narrative provides to a spectator as an experience – the spectacle, the intimacy, the suspense, the thrill – but remove, what Godard would call, the text, and instead tell a story through images alone. Antonioni did this better than anyone. I think from a certain vantage point, Vertigo (1958) could be viewed as an Antonioni film, without the text utterly severed.
Above all, I want to give people an experience. That's another reason why darkness is so important – to be fully immersed in this world. Let it wash over you like an ocean. Submit to it. Drown in it. But also remember when you were a young child and you felt the soil under your feet, in between your toes, and all the colours were so saturated. When everything was so strong. Don't think too much. Just feel.
- Your film is dedicated to Philippe Coté. What is the connection between him and your film?
I feel guilty in a way. I feel like Sleep Has Her House was a premonition to Philippe Cote's death, for personal, albeit, I suppose amorphous reasons. But furthermore, I had long been thinking of dedicating the film to him, as he was so supportive and encouraging of the project, and an inspiration in his studies of time and light. And now this has happened. His heart failed him. The night crept slowly into him. He had been in hospital for the last month. Such a private, humble person. Only ever had something kind to say, something good to say. Never anything of himself. And now, I'm at a loss for words.
- My final questions concerns the title of the film. I find it intriguing. Can you tell us something more about it?
Well, it is of note to say that I discovered Kavan's novel Sleep Has His House only after working on the film for some time. I have only started to read it – now that the film is finished. I didn't want it to influence anything, to lead not only me astray, but the film's own autonomy — in those precious moments of it assuming its own life, its own control, and the film slithers out of your grasp, down hidden rabbit holes... into worlds of voices, of stream-of-consciousness that shouldn't work. But somehow these mystical digressions just feel right. You trust them for some reason. From what I had read, I feel that Kavan's book's atmosphere seems uncannily similar to Sleep Has Her House, from what I have read so far.
But the title? — That is something that I cannot tell you. I feel why but don't know why. Maybe in time I will. Maybe you have a better idea than I do.