Film and Television Features

Letters to the Dead (Nick Hudson and Chris Purdie, 2012)

Letters to the Dead is a record that evaded most critical ears in the last year due to its rather limited distribution.  Its lyrical and musical aspirations are positively prophetic, drawing upon reliable English touchstones like Radiohead and Morrissey, as well as traces of David Tibet's wildly adaptable Current 93 project.  Thematically rich with beautiful melodies and dense textural experimentation, Letters is multi-instrumentalist Nick Hudson's most ambitious album to date; simultaneously conceived with its fluid twelve-song cycle is a fifty-seven-minute, two-act film co-directed by Brighton-based Hudson and London filmmaker Chris Purdie.

Matching the music's intrigue is a sense of mysticism established through a unique cinematic chronology.  Confession is ubiquitous in Hudson's peerless historically-minded lyricism, but the visual component here provides a distinct clarity of artistic vision that may be ignored simply by listening.  If the album is a sort of evocative tone poem of a mother (Cara Courage)'s abandonment of her son (Barney Shepherd), the film augments the course of the act rippling through past and present.

Filmed in Sussex, the co-directors achieve a mesmeric effect by repeatedly employing slow-motion and superimposing close-ups of human figures over primarily naturalistic backgrounds to haunt the audience with an irreconcilable yearning.  (And of course, the Mother can be linked to the gender identity of Nature itself).  The title refers to a father (Gary Goodman)'s nostalgic offering in the first act's musical centerpieces, Letters Number 1-3, which allow him to establish a unique telekinetic bond with the narrative events and prior tragedies.  These solitary evocations summon a phantom universe he's permitted to enter.

As the music turns away from a structured verse-chorus approach, the second act of the film parallels that equally abstract direction in psychedelically philosophical renderings, including the trance medium Leonora Piper (Ingrid Plum) as a prominent spirit guide, and camera effects signify the descent into the distorted landscape of the human mind.  By plunging into these depths, one may come to understand the origins and the reasoning behind a 1970s male cult placing newborns into the sea (represented as plastic dolls for logical reasons) as well as their relationship to a lone mother's actions in present-day.

The final confessional arc instigates a return to whence it came, which inherently carries with it the possibility of redemption.  In these scenes, Hudson and Purdie construct a tapestry of images that sensually utilize three sprites' choreographed performance art that may be considered posturing at superficial glance; however, their movements carry firm emotional direction with allusions of rebirth.  Its story may come to possess surrealistic characteristics, but the vision is so well-rendered and inclusive, anything feels palpable in this harmonious collaboration's human quest for understanding in the overwhelming presence of this Mother (Nature).

Letters to the Dead marks the fourth release in Hudson's "Phoenix Archaeologies Quintet" with the finale, Ganymeade in a State of War, due out in 2014.  Instead of undertaking a feature-length production, Hudson has commissioned various short films to accompany the record's songs for another creatively invigorating endeavor.  As a footnote, the Letters film is several minutes longer than its companion album, as it incorporates an outtake, Leonora's Song, which introduces Ms. Piper's appearance in the second act.  Found on Hudson's Basement Tapes Vol 1 collection, it and the bulk of his catalogue can be purchased through his Bandcamp or Kiddiepunk label.  DVD copies of this film are included with the vinyl available through Antithetic Records.  Alternately, Purdie has uploaded the entire film to Vimeo for accessible viewing.