Offshore

I watched a film from the old times, before the lockdown. It was Bait, released in 2019.

The time of the film is contemporary, as early on we hear a radio broadcast talking about the implications of the EU Referendum. The story is set in a Cornish fishing village where fishing has declined in importance. We start with our main character Martin, striding down the road to get to the dock, where he joins his brother and the young woman Wenna on a boat that sets out to sea. All the elements of the narrative that have brought us to this point are shown in this opening, but we don’t understand them until we get the background, which then commences after a brief note that we are now going “BEFORE”.

There isn’t much money in fishing in the village anymore. The local pub advertises that it has locally-sourced fish on the menu, and there are still a few houses that buy direct and cut out the middlemen, but it’s not much of a living. The money is now brought in by the posh outsiders who have moved from (presumably) London and elsewhere in the South-East, and Martin’s brother now uses his boat to take tourists and drunken revellers out for 30 minute trips offshore. The brothers have had to sell their old family home to newcomers, who’ve redeveloped it and made rooms available to the holiday rental market.

This is not an obscure, underground movie as it features experienced actors from TV, however it is filmed in an unusual way, using old film stock so that the images frequently show cracks, flickers, flares and distortions. The narrative time also has momentary time-jumps, showing premonitory close-ups of objects that will feature in near-future events, or flashbacks to old places or scenes, which may be fleeting memories. This can’t be the whole consciousness of any of these characters, since it never goes outside the universe of the film itself: we never get a childhood memory of what it was like for the boys when they were growing up in the old house, though their younger versions appear in one old photo. The camera usually closes in on the face of whoever is speaking and we rarely have a scene with 2 faces of a dialogue both in shot. In the one scene where 2 things are happening at once (the episode in the pub, where Martin talks to Liz whilst Wenna argues with the posh boys) the action cuts between them rather than occurring together in a long view.

Two moments are quite ridiculous: when Martin steps back in to the pub, everything including the jukebox instantly stops into total silence, a dramatic cliche that belongs in a 70s western. The ensuing scene in which he compels the young posho to fix his vandalised lobster pot is simply unreal. Also, the scene in which the posh mum goes looking for Martin at home and lets herself in to his empty house is not very likely, even if it has occurred to her that Martin is an old-fashioned good-natured type who doesn’t bother locking his front door and keeps his life savings in a biscuit tin. Those 2 details are not very believable either, unless we are to take it that the village is a crime-free idyll and the only problems are due to the presence of outsiders.

There are brief discussions of what value the newcomers bring to “the community” (invoked by posh dad Tim when remonstrating with Martin about his parking habits) and the long-running debate about whether “service industries” such as tourism can replace older ones that involved physical labour. Martin asserts that the visitors bring everything they consume with them and don’t buy local – that’s not quite true, since the pub is selling his catch and not fish fingers. The fisherman who sold up and became a taxi-driver is doing ok for himself, at least as long as there are kids around like Wenna, who take £100 drives back from town and expect a mate to pay for them.

Note the assurance at the very end of the credits:

Which presumably means this little fellow was thrown back in the sea once his scenes had been wrapped:

The disc version includes some other shorts made by Mark Jenkin, featuring him reading his beat poems over travel footage from land and sea; everything is fine apart from his delivery, which is far too pounding and stormy when a slow pulse of waves would be better. Also included are 2 old treats: The Saving Of Blue Blewitt from 1936, is a work of the GPO Film Unit, which also features a fisherman trying to save up for a new boat, and having to work in a quarry to get the funds together. This also has a strand about rich outsiders threatening to buy up the nice things, but it also has a happy ending when the local heroes put out to sea. Scenes In The Cornish Riviera is a GWR recording from 1912 showing the delights of travel in the west country by rail, with lots of bystanders and fun-seekers roaming about in jolly Edwardian dress.

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