A private dilapidated outdoor swimming pool is appropriated and transformed into a temporary public open-air cinema. From the mid 20th century the 1,200-acre Dartington Estate has been the home to four outdoor swimming pools, now only one pool is still in functioning order, the rest have been buried, put to new use or left vacant. The context of the Aller Park swimming pool shares similarities with the final scene of The Swimmer, a film directed by Frank Perry in 1968 which tells the story of Ned Merril, played by Bert Lancaster: an abandoned grandiose building on a hill, a vista through trees and a dilapidated tennis court, in the centre of these surroundings is an empty swimming pool. Empty, secluded and overgrown. The pool, in the film, acts as the recurring stage for the protagonist; in history it is a setting where bodies become exposed. Now in transformation, it becomes an arena for a different kind of social gathering; cinema-going. In the pool-become-cinema, ‘The Swimmer’ was screened to an audience backwards and chronologically using a split screen. This provided an examination point from start to finish, exposing the arc of narrative. On the left side of the screen we view in reverse: Ned Merril in a storm, locked out of his home in complete desperation, and on the right in real time: Merril swimming through sun drenched suburbia. This montage approach brought serendipitous moments to Merril’s downward narrative spiral. We watch his brittle ego, bewildered and drunk on leisure. In Merril’s case the loss of material wealth takes an accelerated journey. ‘Pool by pool’ each event constructs the narrative of a naïve character ignoring the complexities of life. The neighbourhood pools form a virtual chlorinated river leading all the way to his house.
Review by Pete Harrison 2009
‘He walks through the landscape in light blue swim shorts, looking like a god. Ned Merril. He is there in every scene, made double by Will Foster’s mirror-reverse of the film, projecting one version, running forwards, next to another, running backwards. Will’s piece never becomes about the how of his technical skill; it is always about the why of that mirroring, of that setting. The story was conceived as a mirror; it was promoted as a work that says something about us, or if not us, then certainly 1960s America fighting to understand its bi-polar pulls. The tagline of the movie is “When you talk about The Swimmer, will you talk about yourself?” and the explicit short story shows the often-melodramatic film to be subtle and nuanced in comparison.’
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4 pools popcorn box.