Henry Coombs’s Seat in Shadow cannot really confined to be a particular genre. No, to confine it would be to quash its artistry, its daring, enthralling, passionate response to the human condition. This stand out edition to the 2016 Edinburgh International Film Festival (and released this week on DVD), stuns in its honest, yet brutal approach to obsession, guilt, love and fear. Indeed, fear is a prevalent theme throughout the film – there is fear of being alone, unloved; then there is the fear of getting old, of missing on life’s sensual pleasures.
Coombs’s film opens to ailing artist Albert (David Sillars) who has lost his creative spark in his old age. Albert is bitter, he is lost, desperately doing anything to cling onto any remnant of youth. His fear all but consumes his once fiery past as a staple fixture on Glasgow’s party and queer scene. However, his spark is ignited once again when he is introduced to the fragile and depressed Ben (Jonathan Leslie) who turns to him for advice after a breakup with his vitriolic boyfriend.
These two lost souls find each other in Coombs’s psychedelic world of neon lights and explicit sensuality. Leslie and Sillars have an indecent chemistry; it is intoxicating, yet disturbing. The eccentric Albert is drawn to Ben’s youth, his fire, his ambition. Fearful that he is becoming an old hack, Albert lives somewhat vicariously through Ben until he realises that the mistakes of being young should not be repeated. To the old artist, Ben has become a muse, a figure of enchantment and inspiration. For Ben, Albert is a safe haven from his depression, a solitary figure of hope in Glasgow’s piddling queer community.
Coombs’s narrative is a psychedelic trip through the fragility of the human condition. Off kilter camera angles and haunting synths make this film an uneasy, exotic explosion of sex, drugs and art. The cinematography, set pieces and neon backdrop of Glasgow’s night life are art in themselves; oozing colour and wretched sophistication. The film’s dialogue written by Coombes and Sillars runs liked honey tongued poetry; it is bold, it is brave. The audience is treated to a sensual, demented, yet utterly enthralling adventure through what it is like to feel afraid; it is real, it is honest… it is an instant modern classic.
Image: Pecaddillo Pictures