Written by: Christopher O’Neill on October 25th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: UK, July, 1982
Director: Christopher Monger
Writer: Christopher Monger
Cast: Ian McNiece, Bish Nethercote, John Cassady, Sarah Martin, David Pearce
BluRay released: October 24th, 2011
Approximate running time: 108 minutes (BluRay)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080 Progressive (BluRay), 1.33.1 Full Frame (DVD)
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English [Heard-Of-Hearing]
BluRay Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region ABC (BluRay), Region 0 PAL (DVD)
Retail Price: £19.99
‘Fats’ Bannerman presents a popular romantic radio serial called Thus Engaged, a programme which depicts the lives and loves of its 19th century heroine in a uncomplicated and naively old-fashioned manner. Behind the serial’s gentle facade, however, Bannerman is a troubled man who lives alone in a crumbling derelict building, his work being the only significant thing in his life. The programme is becoming increasingly successful and Bannerman believes his audience appreciates his work for its intellectual and poetic merits, but he is distressed when confronted by a female reporter to the fact that Thus Engaged is enjoyed primarily by those who indulge in it as laughably outdated kitsch. Two such young female ‘fans’ teasingly invite a drunken Bannerman home after a night of drinking, only to violently ridicule and humiliate him and his radio programme. Both experiences compound to fracture Bannerman’s already fragile state of mind. Later, he discovers one of his female attackers down an alley, brutalised and catatonic from what appears to be a sexual assault. Instead of reporting the incident to the authorities, Bannerman takes the girl into his home where he attempts to nurse her back to his warped sense of normality. The presence of the young woman – who remains mute with the exception of uttering the word ‘bitch’ – begins to influence Bannerman’s radio serial. Thus Engaged becomes dark, so cynical and morbid that it starts to upset the station’s sponsors and management, yet becomes even more popular with the listeners. In the face of fame, fortune and critical acceptance, little by little ‘Fats’ Bannerman’s mind unravels until he finally reaches breaking point.
When Voice Over was originally screened at the Edinburgh and London Film Festivals, the film was attacked by feminist groups who claimed it was misogynistic. This labelling seems illogically reactionary, since the film is far more sympathetic to its female characters than it is to the male figures in the story. ‘Fats’ Bannerman (a bravely vulnerable performance by Ian McNiece) is a weak and delusional character who has withdrawn from everyday society and created his own idealised vision of female sexuality. Thus Engaged may be considered a sentimental period drama out of step with modern times, but to Bannerman it is intensely personal, which makes the attacks on it all the more hurtful and cruel to him. The women he comes across – the radio station manager, the confrontational reporter, the surly punkettes – are outspoken individuals who are assertive in their actions. Only when the girl is broken by an aggressively masculine act of violence does she become a victim.
In the accompanying booklet notes, director Christopher Monger sites “the anarchic freedom” of Paul Morrissey’s Flesh, Trash and Heat trilogy as making a significant impression on the filmmaker when he was at art school. While Voice Over is more focussed in its narrative and characterisations than the Morrissey films, visually the influence is evident in the tight framing and the grainy 16mm film stock which gives the movie an anxious and claustrophobic atmosphere. This nihilistic aesthetic, as well as the appearance of the two young women who are antagonistic in personality and dressed in new wave fashions, makes the film a spiritual Welsh cousin to the ‘No Wave’ films emerging from New York around the same period of time with directors such as Amos Poe (Subway Riders) and Beth & Scott B (Vortex). According to Monger, Voice Over was shot on a ratio of one-to-one, meaning that there was so little film stock that second takes were often impossible and many cuts had to be planned as the scenes were being lensed. With little room for manoeuvre, the results are commendably precise with the imagery paired down to the bare essentials while the screenplay is clear in its intentions. It is a challenging and confrontational picture which leaves a lasting impression long after the credits roll.
Sourced from elements stored at the National Screen and Sound Archives of Wales, Voice Over is presented in high definition in the original aspect ratio of 1.33.1. The 16mm film elements used are far from pristine, with many instances of sparkles, dirt and scratches throughout, but considering the low budget nature of the production, it is thankful that the film exists in any form after 30 years. Truth be told, the print damage adds to, rather than takes away from, the grubby 16mm aesthetic and is never distracting. The imagery is sharp but riddled with huge amounts of grain which accurately reflects how Voice Over has always looked in its low-fi glory.
As with the visual elements, the soundtrack is not perfect with pops and hiss running throughout, but it never a problem. Dialogue is always clear, and when it appears muffled (which is rare) this is probably due to how the sound was originally recorded rather than because of any fault with the transfer.
The Blu-Ray disc itself contains only one bonus feature, but it is a significant bonus one. Repeater is Christopher Monger’s 1979 feature film, it begins as a suspense thriller but is heavily influenced by the French New Wave and the results are far from unconventional. Running 75 minutes, the transfer has also been sourced from original 16mm elements but is in better condition than Voice Over, with less damage to the picture or the soundtrack. Another welcome extra is the 34-page booklet, containing the essay “The Early Works of Christopher Monger” by Amy Simmons, a reprint of the original Monthly Film Bulletin review, plus recollections from Monger, actor Ian McNiece and director of photography Roland Denning, plus a brief biographies of Mongers and McNiece. The booklet is particularly illuminating in putting both Repeater is Christopher Monger’s 1979 feature film, it begins as a suspense thriller but is heavily influenced by the French New Wave and the results are far from conventional.