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Background Figure was one of two films by Paul Bagshaw which got
4-Star awards at BIAFF 2009. Two more entries got 3-Stars and
Anna Lockwood was an art student at the local college, where she met Martin, a fellow-student. They became partners, but years later, Martin lost his life in an accident.
Anna is now a successful professional artist preparing works for a one-woman exhibition.
Harry Lockwood is Anna¹s father. His periodic dementia, his obsession with the poetry of William Blake, and his passionate insistence upon perfect English, both spoken and written, put pressure upon her, although he is not always aware of the demands he makes. Sometimes, Anna loses patience with her father, but later feels guilty at her behaviour towards him.
Harry, himself, has been an artist of some ability, and a leader of painting visits to Assisi with groups of amateurs.
The film opens with Anna painting, but interrupted by her father¹s demands. Determined to acquire some peace whilst she prepares works for her exhibition, driving with her father to their Lodge in the pine woods. Harry sits in a chair at the edge of the Lodge balcony, watching Anna organising her art equipment.
Anna sets up a blank canvas on the balcony. She then leaves the studio and goes into the lounge but, to her surprise, her father is not there. As she becomes more and more anxious, she goes outside. There, sitting in the driving seat of the car and staring straight ahead, is Harry. Anna taps on the window. Harry believes he has to bring home his wife , who died several years ago, from a shopping trip.
Anna and Harry walk from the lodge and through the woods, where they are watched from a distance by a solitary figure. Harry spends much of the time quoting from William Blake¹s poetry, but later reminisces about the trips he led in Assisi. Anna and Harry return from the walk. Harry goes inside, whilst Anna stops on the balcony. She is shocked to see that some of her works have been moved.
When Anna goes out to the art gallery to discuss her forthcoming exhibition, a young man is seen walking towards the Lodge. Harry hears a sound, looks up from his book, and walks through to the balcony. The young man is adding images to Anna¹s paintings but, oblivious to what is happening, Harry welcomes warmly the person he believes to be Martin, Anna¹s former partner, now dead. Embarrassed, the man leaves. Anna, returning from her meeting, walks onto the balcony. In her anger she blames Harry for the damaged paintings, and is amazed when he tells her that Martin was responsible. She simply does not believe him.
Anna returns to the Lodge to sort out her possessions and those of her father. She goes onto the balcony and sees a new painting on the easel. As she looks up from it she sees again the mysterious figure looking across from the woods. Taking the painting, Anna walks from the balcony onto the grass, facing the man whom her father thought was Martin. They talk, and the man reveals that it was he, not Harry, who painted onto one of Anna¹s pictures, a disclosure that fills her with guilt and remorse. She looks closely at the painting he placed on the easel, but when she looks up again, the man has disappeared.
Over the final credits Harry¹s voice is heard reading another extract from William Blake¹s poetry.
The theme of Background Figure emerged from our decision to make a film that was radically different from our previous productions. In pursuit of this we restricted the actors to three and set the action almost entirely in one location, a wooden lodge in the Woodvale Pine Woods. The pace of the drama was much more gentle than our other films, and deliberately employed pauses and non-verbal communication to avoid driving the the story by dialogue alone.
Although there are three characters, almost all of the interaction takes place between two, father and daughter. Anna Lockwood is an aspiring artist whose progress is frustrated by the need to care for her father, Harry, who had been an artist himself until dementia limited his capabilities. Despite loving each other dearly, frequent examples of distress between them was often caused unwittingly.
The two principal actors, Laura McGuire and Eryl Lloyd Parry, had enjoyed working with each other in a five minute horror film, Incident in a Red House, which we had made a few months earlier, and we were more than pleased to cast them in a longer drama.
Harry¹s personality is based very much on two people. One is my brother who, towards the end of his life, suffered from dementia; the other is myself, accounting for Harry¹s love of Blake¹s poetry and his impatience with clichés, amongst other characteristics.
About thirty years ago I recall seeing a television play in which one woman
was telling another that her mother had just died. Although I now remember
nothing about the story, one brief exchange has, unaccountably, stayed with
me. It was when one woman asked the other how she felt after her mother¹s
death. The answer was:
"I feel sad.......I feel guilty.......and I feel free." It was because I experienced the same three emotions when my own mother died that I wanted to include this line in the dialogue of the film, not least because the guilt is compounded by admitting to a feeling of freedom, as well as to lamenting things unsaid.
In the final scene, shot mainly from the 10 metre camera crane, when the background figure asks Anna how she feels at the death of her father, she answers in the way described above. Her guilt is made even deeper when she is told that it was not her father who painted a figure onto her work, an incident that prompted her to lose her temper with him and to reject his explanations.
The film was sensitively directed by David Town, who also made a significant contribution to story development and screenplay writing.
Our main worry with Background Figure was that, in concentrating on a relationship between two members of a family, we might produce a film that was too slow and uneventful to keep people¹s interest, but so far no-one has raised that as an issue.
We are now in the process of shooting part two of The Secret, in which Matthew Gardner starts his degree at Oxford, but discovers further information about his life that have been withheld from him.
I am now 71. My working life has been in two sections - 29 years as a teacher and 20 years in production.
I was Head of the Art Department at the John Rigby Grammar School, Orrell, Wigan from 1960, and later took up two Deputy Headships, first at St Richard's, Skelmersdale, and then at Ruffwood School in Kirkby, where I worked for 18 years. For nine years I was a selector for Merseyside Schoolboys Rugby Union, and later a governor of two primary schools and a sixth form college.
In 1989 I set up Channel 10, a video production company, and in 1997, with four colleagues, founded Artworks for book publication, paintings and prints of local views, and the making of amateur films such as 4 Days, The Mirror, The Secret, Behind The Wire and Background Figure.
Now that the three volumes of my autobiogrpahy have been completed, I am trying my hand at the writing of a novel based on The Secret, but this is new territory, and so I don't know how it will turn out.
I was a member of Southport Moviemakers for about five years, but left when I realised that it was taking up too much time. However, I keep in touch with members there, including Nigel Barton, and occasionally do presentations for them, as well as for Rotary, Probus and other organisations.
- Paul Bagshaw