The Outer Edges
Directed by Kieran Evans
“I’ve been known to be down here in a vest that looks like a woman’s dress,” says the first sign of human life in Kieran Evans’ documentary The Outer Edges, a hazy meditation on life beyond the busied density of Central London, focused on a parade of lifestyles prided on the adage of ‘less is more’. The gardener in his ‘woman’s dress’ is one of many on the ‘outer edges’ with ample stories to share. His is a simple existence – as are the rest of the interviewees’, repeatedly bemoaning the displacement of their lush green fields with concrete tower blocks by way of variations on “it was better then, than it is now”.
The entire experiment has an air of nostalgia, searching uninhabited streets once marched along by some 40,000 factory workers in days long past. These teary-eyed reminiscences are supplemented by an elegiac piano melody scored by Underworld’s Karl Hyde, set to perform the soundtrack live at the film’s festival premiere on 10 July. Hyde also narrates the piece, contrasting the subjects’ colloquial joviality with his own mournful, sombre poetry. Much of his speech centres on propulsion and compulsion; sharing the body of the camera, he is prompted to travel to and from places by the signifiers of bright lights, rivers and roads, indicating the directional map work inherent to the linear urban landscape.
Evans keeps his locations and subjects plentiful and varied, from the leisurely elderly folk playing bingo and enjoying ‘beer, laughter, scampi in a basket’ at the local pub, to younger individuals nurturing their musical talent at the town hall, or pushing their bodies to the limit with intense bodybuilding regimes. One gets the sense that these people are far less forcibly alienated from the perceived inner-city zombies (an unfair assertion, to be perfectly honest), and instead are outcasts by consent, opting to enjoy the simpler pleasures and modest geography of life on the outskirts than the anxious to-ing and fro-ing of the inner city.
Even so, when confronted with the hot dog seller who can’t read or write but is nevertheless very satisfied with his lot, it’s difficult to assess what exactly Evans is searching for as the perfect prototype for this ‘outer edges’ ethos. Is it someone who exceeds their bodily talent, yet remains on an intellectually vacant level? The definition is lacking, though there’s elements of the director searching too earnestly, yanking an answer from his subjects. “I suppose we are the outsiders, yes,” answers one woman, letting slip a degree of compartmentalisation from the filmmaker.
Evans’ best, consistent move is to gaze from afar at the machines that speed overhead across dual carriageways, shot from below as if they exist in some dark utopian future. Their elevation from the people on the ground is palpably felt; never captured in the same shot as a subject, they occupy a faraway space as removed from the intimate, congenial setting of which Evans’ feature is decidedly ensconced.