Thursday, August 10, 2017

How to Disappear Completely: a (visual) review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for August 2017.

how-to-disappear-coverHow to Disappear Completely

Films are visual storytelling. The film reviewer examines the craft of images. In this review, I want to examine images from the genre that is comic rather than cinematic.

How to Disappear Completely is the latest offering from UK artist, Leeds-based, Si Smith. A commercial cartoonist by day, by night he expresses his faith in ways both visual and playful. 40 is a creative imagining of Jesus in the wilderness, Stations of the Resurrection a set of illustrations reflecting on Jesus’ resurrection today and 25 Advent Flatpack a series of paper-based figures to be assembled in the Christmas build up. Each is telling of story through pictures.

How to Disappear Completely (2017) is a 63 page comic that offers a strikingly sophisticated visual engagement with the Lenten journey and the city of Leeds. The main character quits work, deleting his facebook account to enter a contemporary wilderness, an abandoned municipal tower. Artistic skills are turned loose on interior walls. Visually, what is abandoned is transformed from the inside out. The results are breathtaking, as the palette, initially black and white, morphs into life-giving blues and rich reds.

The theological work is biblical and imaginative. The 40 days of Lent are linked to the seven days of creation. It is a rich reading of Scripture, weaving creation into the life of Christ. The Biblical instruction of Genesis 2:15 – to till and keep –find expression in the wasteland of urban life. God’s glory is revealed in the work of human hands (Psalm 8:6), Incarnate amid modern day Leeds.

Temptations remain, despite the wilderness. The distraction of social media and the random violence magnified by the alienations of urban life, clamour for attention. As the monastic life has testified through time, isolation only amplifies the soundtrack of our inner world.

Intriguingly, a feature of How to Disappear Completely is the soundtrack. The comic genre might be paper-based, yet a playlist on page 2, provokes the question. Is sound a tempting distraction? Or a source of revelation? The main character is rarely without music. This provides a narrative continuity, first in the lyrics and second, symbolically, in the loss of sound as the iPod dies.

Si Smith works in conversation with painter, Stanley Spencer. A Spencer quote on page 2 offers words to introduce reflection on the expression of vocation. Spencer painted works on Christ in the Wilderness (1939-54) and Resurrection (1945-1950). He sought to visualise resurrection as ascent, needing to be depicted in the urban streets on which he worked and walked. How to Disappear Completely is a fitting response, a work of love for Leeds.

In its urban particularity universal questions are raised. What would it look like for Jesus to enter your town? Where are the abandoned places in which your vocation might be called to create?

How to Disappear Completely is available from Leeds Church Institute (from accounts@leedschurchinstitute.org at 5 pounds plus postage). For those seeking a contemporary reflection on vocation today, it is a life-giving purchase.

A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

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