Unless The Eye Catch Fire... (2000, Canada)

1 January 2000


53 minute film
original story by PK Page
film story by Anna Tchernakova
music by Gavin Bryars
produced by Hilary Jones-Farrow
directed by Anna Tchernakova

PK Page as Babe
Henry as Dexter

and musicians:
Gavin Bryars (bass, conductor), Yariv Aloni (viola), Nic Eugelmi (viola), Paula Kiffner (cello), Eve Egoyan (piano), Keith MacLeod (bass-clarinet), Salvador Ferreras (percussion)


(The title of the film was changed for the CBC broadcast to 'Last Summer.')

The title of PK Page's story 'Unless the Eye Catch Fire...' is a quotation from a poem by Theodore Roszak's Where the Wasteland Ends ('Unless the eye catch fire The God will not be seen...).

PK's text describes the actions and thoughts of an elderly woman living in a quiet garden suburb during the final few months when the Earth warms up.

The story suggests that during this time certain individuals have visions accompanied by vivid colours and a sense of well-being. The protagonist of the story is one of these visionaries, and as the temperature rises, her visions become more complex and more real. Eventually, sealed in her home with its many recent layers of thick insulation against the heat, the old lady and her dog unite, in her mind, joyously, with a universal cosmos.

While on one level an example of poetic science-fiction on ecological issues, the story unfolds the metaphysics of the transient human existence and deals with death as a transition dissolving borders between the human soul and universe.

The film 'Unless The Eye Catch Fire...' featuring PK Page as the author as well as the protagonist of the story, is a blend of documentary, live-action drama and computer transformations of the image. The border between 'real' and 'invented' is blurred from the very start when the first vision of colours occurs before the story is written/read on the screen. At this point PK is not identified as Babe, the protagonist, and the visionary experience becomes her own. . . reality? a dream?

Another level of interpretation is suggested almost immeadiately: the spectators are invited to a concert, the first world performance of music 'Unless The Eye Catch Fire...' written by Gavin Bryars. The music, wrritten and performed for the film, becomes a part of it. The performance, started with on-stage reading of an extract from the story by PK Page, happened in Victoria, B.C. in June 1999. It is documented in the film where after first several minutes of the recital the music yields to the image becoming an audio backbone upon which the visuals form. PK Page (whose narration continues as a voice-over) becomes Babe. When the narrative is interrupted by our return to the concert hal

l to see the performing musicians, the music is brought on the foreground to comment on the story, to transpose it into a different dimension, but also to serve as a frame within which the story happens. There are no final answers, no final truths; while the world is burn out and the earth ceases to exist, Babe/PK transcends into a different level of existence (dissolved into colours), the musicians leave the stage, the public disappears and there at the end is only a little girl who picks up the manuscript (the text? the music?) left on the empty stage and exists the hall...

What can reassure us that the world is still continuing and our vision is not suffering ( why is it always suffering, never enjoying? asks Babe in the story ) from any abnormal colour perception?

Anna Tchernakova

Programme note by Gavin Bryars

Unless The Eye Catch Fire (1999)

I was very struck by the material sent to me by film director Anna Tchernakova relating to her film based on the short story by PK Page. I read the story, I saw some early footage, I became acquainted with other work by PK and by Anna and I was very happy to make what is my first serious foray into writing music for a film.

Music is central to the film, indeed the film itself opens and closes with images from the concert performance. We agreed that the music should have an autonomous existence as chamber music and should not be merely a sequence of musical cues. It does, of course, endeavour to be at one with the poignancy of the text and the eloquence of its filmed realisation and ultimately forms part of an overall sound design.

The music is in 6 parts each having a relationship - sometimes clear, sometimes oblique - to a simple chorale which appears in different guises. The first part is a short and simple statement of this chorale. Some sections begin with a statement of this material but then lead to different developments from it. In two sections (sections 2 and 4) the theme is not stated but rather covered by its development. The last variation, which features the unison double bass and bass clarinet, ends with a brief coda, reminiscent of a pipe lament.

The instrumentation is close to that of my own ensemble which tends to feature the darker, richer sonorities of the lower strings, supported by the bass clarinet, allied to the brighter sounds of keyboard and tuned percussion.

This instrumental balance and contrast - between darkness and light, richness and austerity - is intended to be at one with both text and film.

The six parts of Unless The Eye Catch Fire are as follows:

I Chorale

II Variation 1 - covered

III Variation 2 - major/minor

IV intermezzo

V Variation 3 - waltz

VI Variation 4 - minor/major

Gavin Bryars.

For all inquires about the film

Unless The Eye Catch Fire (1999)

Please write to the producer:

Hilary Jones-Farrow,
The May Street Group
1274 May Street
Victoria, B.C. V8V 2T2

e-mail: maystreet@pinc.com