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Actor Jamie Robson on The British Weird Wave

Award winning actor Jamie Robson (photo by Ivon Bartholomew)

You're accredited with helping spearhead a film movement that’s been labelled 'The British Weird Wave.' Could you tell me more about it and how it started?

I first heard the term a couple of years ago. It was mentioned to me during an interview where some of the references were projects I’d been involved with. I guess I was then subsequently associated with the genre. So, I was inspired to reflect on past productions, in order to further explain what a weird wave picture may actually be. It felt that the films explored society’s worsening existential crisis - identity, culture, creativity, expression and various political influences at the time, such as Brexit and Trump. These movies were both a window and mirror into/onto the “reality” that we as citizens experience day to day. They were questions rather than answers. They exemplify Camus' assessment of art that represents "the human revolt against the irremediable”. So, to summarise; in my opinion, the British Weird Wave helps us recognise how absurd life, in the UK, often is.

Are there any particular filmmakers or movements that have influenced the aesthetics of The British Weird Wave?

Margaret Tait on location for Where I Am Is Here (1964)

There are other weird waves, Greek being the primary example. I don’t however, personally see much correlation or indeed any emphasis on aesthetics. I would like to (subjectively) stipulate that cinematography is absolutely not what constitutes weird wave. The film(s) could be shot in a visually straight-laced way but still reflect the qualities of weird wave. There are few technical obstacles these days when it comes to cinematography. The challenge, remains that of writers, story telling and actors, telling stories - great sound and vision, is a bonus. With regards to influences, I’ve always had a collaborative relationship with these films, so we’d inevitably discuss our respective influences throughout. There’s the usual lineup of past masters, Bergman, Deren, Kiarostami, Varda, Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky. However, I’ve a great respect for the Scottish pioneers such as Margaret Tait, Gillies MacKinnon and Lynne Ramsay.

Mark Rylance and Lynsey Baxter in The Grass Arena (1991) by Gillies MacKinnon.

I’m not necessarily labelling these people as weird wavers but their work is comparable. Gillies MacKinnon has been generous to me over the years, both with his time and his advice. MacKinnon’s greatest films offer the audience a subjective view of societal niches, exclusive to a particular group, be it war veterans, drug dealers or chess players - the viewer is dropped into the world of the protagonist in a way that few filmmakers achieve as effectively. On top of MacKinnon’s anthropological tourism, his filmmaking often presents these landscapes with their opacity, ambiguity, uncertainty and nuance - he’s not afraid to show the world in all it’s complications and multiplicities. His filmmaking signature, in my view, is reflective of the weird wave.

Joaquin Phoenix and Judith Anna Roberts in You Were Never Really Here (2017) by Lynne Ramsay.

What impact has Covid had on The British Weird Wave?

I presume it’s elicited further navel gazing, group neurosis and existential uncertainty - ripe ingredients for the arts and culture at large but particularly film and television and perhaps more specifically genres such as the weird wave, where there’s not an attempt to sanitise or simplify the absurdity of being. The pandemic was an extreme situation. It’s upon these stratas that artists use creativity to express the “inexpressible” - all poetry, be it literature, cinema, music etc, points to a thing that we ultimately can never point to.

What are your hopes for the future of The British Weird Wave?

Truthfully, I don’t care too much. It’s literally just a name, invented, then associated with some films. The fun is in making movies. The motivation in development, the excitement of pre-production, the optimism throughout production and the anticipation with post-production. If you’re happy enough before, during and after a film is brought into the world, that’s a win. The reviews, any success or distribution are only relevant in so far as they generally facilitate the next adventure. Beyond that, if you are genuinely pleased with the outcome, who gives a fuck what someone else thinks?

Jamie Robson in Strata (2022) by Ross A. Wilson.

There’s an interview Jamie did in 2019 with journalist, Luka Vukos, for Cinetopia, that further expands on the origins of the British Weird Wave.

Check out CloselyObservedFrames interview with Jamie back in 2021, where he discussed his acting process and filmmaking influences:

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Mar 31, 2022

Great article thanks!

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