Fifty years ago Noam Chomsky dreamed the statement ‘Colourless ideas sleep furiously’, illustrating the way in which a sentence or phrase can simultaneously be grammatically “correct” and semantically devoid of “meaning” or sense. Gideon Koppel‘s 2009 documentary film takes its name from the aforementioned statement. Sleep Furiously captures the community of Trefeurig, Wales (just four miles north-east of Aberystwyth) where Koppel’s Jewish parents settled as refugees from Nazi Germany. On Monday 10th February 2015 I attended a screening of the film and Q&A with the director/film-maker at Cinema City, Norwich – I was even lucky enough to catch Gideon at the end of the Q&A to ask him some more questions.
I always find it interesting to ponder about how people end up in the professions that they do. In the Q&A Koppel spoke about how he ended up becoming a director and film-maker. Gideon actually achieved a degree in mathematics, and so never originally intended to work in the film industry. After working with high-fashion Tokyo-based brand Comme des Garçons, Koppel found himself propelled into the world of film, commercial and then later cinematic.
The beautiful and idyllic rural landscape is elevated by the musical score from Aphex Twin, accompanying the height of the Welsh hills with the lifting electronic notes. Colour features alongside the footage of landscape within the film. Koppel told the Q&A audience about how he used to film a couple of minutes footage of a single colour theme every few days. When he began to work with the film’s editor, Mario Battistel, Koppel returned to these colours. This idea is entwined within the footage, subtly in the clothes of some of the Welsh residents, and more explicitly in the singular flashes of colour through the film.
Whilst colour prevails through the film, words do not. The film does not have a voice over or any kind of omniscient narrative voice, but a sort of epigraph appears near the end of the film. I asked Koppel where these words came from, and he told me that they were what remained from a voice over that he originally wrote for the film. The following words draw attention back to nature of the film, a documentary which tells a story through a kind of silence:
It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak, the courage but not the words.
“Time just spins around,” says Koppel’s mother, and throughout the film we bear witness to an almost silent dialogue within a community where we (the audience) don’t belong, a community that faces its own threat of disappearance or silence.