The storyteller

What makes a storyteller? At what point do we say, this person or that, is a storyteller?
Success, renown, earning a living through story telling? I don’t think so, I know many talented storytellers to whom this doesn’t (yet) apply, they are, nevertheless, storytellers whether they work in prose or poetry.
Recently I realised to what extent I had been raised by a storyteller. I didn’t come to this through an appreciation of his unpublished novels; nor through reading his screenplays or viewing the fiction films he made as an amateur cinematographer; I’ve realised this through viewing the family films, the weddings, the beaches, the romantic trip to Paris with my Mother a year after they were married.
I had a choice to make on the family films, leave them as they were on eight and 16mm, and confine myself to viewing them using the projector we managed to find a couple of years ago, or invest in getting them digitised. I knew I’d made the right choice when the chap who was doing the transfer rang me to say how amazed he was at the quality of the films, how much effort my Dad had made editing the films and adding very rare sound tracks.
But that was not what made me understand that my Father was a storyteller.
It is in the preservation of every single film he ever made, an arc of amateur cinematography that spanned 55 years, from his first roll of film in the 8mm camera I still own today. That first film, practicing with his new camera in the garden of his aunt’s house in Hornsey, filming Anne and her black and white cat in the daylight, then the interior shots, dim and indistinct, an amateur’s first steps, recording the mundane routine of washing up.
It is in the film of my Godmother’s wedding, early seventies, a nervous giggling bride leaving the house with her proud Dad, after the ceremony outside the church whilst the photos are done, the couple leaving in the car, the guests walking away to the reception. The final shot, his wife and child, last in line, walking away from camera, smartly turned out in wedding best.
It is in the shape of every single holiday film, not for Dad a simple record, but always a story, always a beginning, a middle, and an end. Though not necessarily in that order. It is in the use of the theme song from Laurence of Arabia played as a small child runs across a wide sweep of sandy beach.
It is in my Mother’s walk for camera when she was first his wife, obviously told to saunter, stroll, be casual; she slinks, slides, sways across the shot, left to right, right to left, towards the camera with a nervous smile, away from the camera, stopping to look back, over her shoulder, a more secret smile this time. Acting the siren for her director she moves sinuously across the screen illustrating scenes of Paris, of Sorrento, of gardens and palaces.
It is in the massive game of hide and seek played to camera in a mostly empty and echoing Montenegro hotel back when Tito and his Yugoslavia were both still alive. It is in the filmmaker’s determination to get the right shot for his holiday movie, come what may. Alpine meadows faked in the Sussex countryside, scrambling in the Austrian alps represented by southern sandstone, interior shots of palaces, churches and museums completed using postcards when cameras weren’t allowed.
His fiction films are in the Screen Archive South East but it is those family films, those precious, and in many instances previously unknown to me gems that show me his storytelling. He couldn’t let it go, simply record, there had to be structure, there had to be narrative, beyond what was real. It is in the twist, the edit, the intentionally staged, the direction of movement, a soundtrack moment. Reality was never quite enough, he had to impose a different narrative.
He was a storyteller, I know that now.

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