The Nine Muses (PG)

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The Independent Culture

John Akomfrah's film-poem is a beguiling and often moving study in landscape and memory, comparable in spirit to Terence Davies's Of Time and the City. Loosely constructed around the nine muses of Greek legend (dance, music, tragedy, etc) it intermingles Alaskan landscapes hushed and blanketed in snow with extraordinary archive images of immigrant Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. No conventional narrative intrudes: impressionistic fragments of verse and quotation light the way, principally Anton Lesser reciting from Homer's Odyssey, with selections of Shakespeare and Milton, Beckett and Joyce picked out like distant constellations. The musical accompaniment is similarly eclectic, a mélange of old-school folk, gospel, classical and modern (Arvo Pärt figures prominently). The Nine Muses is less personal, more polemical than Davies's film, though their portrayals of Britain in mid-century have much in common. It is worth watching alone for the faces of children and adults just arrived in the country, bemused yet hopeful – these are Akomfrah's fantastic discovery, and the centrepiece of his haunting meditation.

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