Today: March 3, 2024

The Nine Muses

The Nine Muses is British-Ghanian director John Akomfrah’s experimental take on how the first set of Black and Asian immigrants came to be in the United Kingdom.

Nine Muses is British-Ghanian director John
Akomfrah’s experimental take on how the first set of Black and Asian
immigrants came to be in the United Kingdom.

Rather than tell a straightforward, factual documentary, Akomfrah takes the
unusual approach of assimilating a connection between the immigrant stories and
Greek mythology. Borrowing heavily from The Odyssey and other famous
Greek fables, Akomfrah forges a bizarre connection that somehow works on many
levels. The title, The Nine Muses, is a direct reference to the Greek goddesses
of art, literature and science. Along with The Odyssey we are also treated to
several quotes from some of histories greatest authors. Milton, Beckett,
Shakespeare, Dickinson
and Nietzsche are all referenced during the
film. As narrators pronounce extracts from the legendary texts, the viewer is
treated to a visual spectacle.

A vast collection of archive and stock
footage of Britain during to 1940’s to 60’s gives a fascinating insight and a
reminder of a country that seems so distant but actually wasn’t that long ago.
This footage mainly focuses on early views on immigrants and how they adapted
to life in the UK and how they dealt with the prejudices thrown in their
direction. This stock footage is quite endearing and one of the more remarkable
parts of the film. Combine this with the lyrical passages of the worlds
greatest authors and you have something close to pure poetry. Whilst all these
things are what is good about The Nine Muses, too frequently it can fall head
over heels in love with itself and can end up looking like a confused mess.

Throughout the film, we are treated to
some stunning shots of the Alaskan landscape. Beautifully filmed, the
cinematography alone could have been taken straight from the BBC’s Frozen
series. Whilst visually appealing, this strange juxtaposition and
unexplained relevance can leave you feeling a little flat and annoyed. Perhaps
intended to be viewed as a symbolic gesture of travel and of venturing to
foreign lands, but its ambiguity does nothing to help the film. It just comes
off as cluttered and pretentious. Surely Akomfrah would have been better suited
to filming locations of where the original immigrants had come from. Maybe
there is a very profound connection between the two that only a handful of
people will understand, but it went straight over this particular writers head.

What The Nine Muses owes the greatest
deals of debt to are the great essay films from Chris Marker (La Jettee, Sans
and also Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City. What Davies
achieved with Of Time and the City was a perfectly composed collage of imagery,
music and narration all of which resulted in a beautiful ode to the city of
Liverpool. Akomfrah has tried desperately to emulate this but somewhere along
the line has lost sight of what he was trying to say and borrowed from too many
different areas.

The Nine Muses will unfortunately not
go down as the cinematic masterpiece that it wants to be. It might be worth a
look for anybody curious but its not essential viewing. What starts out with
good intentions quickly descends into waffle and over done imagery. The silver
lining of all this is that John Akomfrah is an accomplished documentary maker
in his own right that has just begun to adventure outside of the world of
television. The Nine Muses shows he has great potential and with a little
redefining he can create a great film in the near future.

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