BIFF 14 - Looking For Light: Jane Bown - Cinema Review

'One of the directors and Bown spend a vast portion of the film sifting through a suitcase full of memories and photographs; a nice idea but not one that is particularly visual.'

Looking For Light: Jane Bown goes halfway with what could have been a nice, if slightly obvious, idea. Taking the mantra of Bown herself, whose pictures rely more than anything else on the perfect positioning of natural light to enable her to see her subjects, directors Luke Dodd and Michael Whyte attempt to 'shine some light' (DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE?) on some of the darker recesses of Bown's childhood, which seems at times to have been very dark indeed.

What they end up with in doing that is a film which treads an uncomfortable line between uncovering truths and following them to conclusions. There are hints and aspersions that Bown felt closer to her colleagues at The Observer than any of her family members, but the directors never follow this through apart from the few mentions of the topic by Bown. There is a hint that her hidden transience - revealed every so often, such as a time she went off partying with PJ Harvey - might come out just occasionally because of this lack of roots, but again, we never seem to get to a conclusion.

What emerges instead, quite prosaically, is a film which treats us to a fairly standard tour through some of Bown's best work, which admittedly looks fantastic on the big screen. Famous shots of Samuel Beckett and others do have a candour to them that few other portraits manage but they are still just that: lovely still life depictions, presented to us as the main component of a film; something which is normally a more active medium than this.

The narrative then is left to elements of Bown biography, which follow the investigative work in not stacking up to enough to base a film upon. One of the directors and Bown spend a vast portion of the film sifting through a suitcase full of memories and photographs; again, a nice idea but not one that is particularly visual. Time and again we get to details of her life (her relationship with The Observer editor) only for them to be skimmed over. Her husband, alluded to often, is hardly mentioned in any detail.

I can't believe that Bown is not a subject worth pursuing, which means that there is something wrong here with how the directors went about telling her story. There's just very little compelling about Looking For Light and a huge amount that feels as though it is not suited to film at all.




The 20th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 27th March to 6th April 2014, with Widescreen Weekend taking place between 10th and 13th April. It is based at The National Media Museum, in the centre of Bradford.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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