The Wick: Dispatches from the Isle of Wonder can be seen in its entirety (for free) at the movie’s home page.

DIRECTED BY: Tom Metcalfe, John Rowley

FEATURING: Tom Metcalfe, John Rowley

PLOT: A documentary on the London neighborhood of Hackey Wick, which claims to have a higher per capita concentration of artists than anyplace in the world (1 in 7 residents), and simultaneously a comic mockumentary about two bohemian filmmakers making a documentary about Hackney Wick.

Still from The Wick (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: An odd and noble no-budget effort, but one of the weirdest movies ever? No, but nice try.

COMMENTS: John and Tom, the filmmakers behind The Wick, have a framed photograph of hanging on the wall of their dingy Wick flat. You might view that fact as either a hopeful sign of experimentation to come, or a warning of impeding narrative incoherence. Both guesses would be somewhat correct. This strangely conceived project, which somehow manages to come across as improvised and carefully planned-out at the same time, will appeal to a very narrow audience. It’s obviously aimed at the art crowd and most emphatically not at the mainstream. Viewers will lean something about the run-down neighborhood of Hackney Wick, its struggling artists, and the effect that the Olympics had on the area, although all of those subjects ultimately get slighted. John and Tom demonstrate the spirit of the Wick by doing rather than by telling, and the biggest audience for this film is anyone interested in DIY art, the creative process, or the pains and passions of microbudget filmmaking. There are two, or maybe even three or more, movies embedded in The Wick, and they don’t always play together nicely. It begins with a series of nearly silent sketches featuring John (the one with the handlebar mustache and occasional pipe) and Tom (full beard, long hair, umbrella) going about their daily routine in the Wick, which consists of sneaking onto a rooftop to listen to weather reports on a beat up radio. At night they sleep foot to head in a single bed; Tom reads a copy of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” each night before turning in. They have a series of note cards pinned to the bedroom wall, the first of which reads “scene one” and the last “epilogue,” with a dozen or so blank cards in between. The two are waiting for inspiration to strike, which occurs after twenty minutes have passed when Tom has a dream of becoming a naked giant and striding across the urban sprawl. Mild pantomime comedy bits (e.g. the guys forget their keys and have to go back to the flat) relieve these early bits, but this overextended opening, unfortunately, is easily the weakest part of the movie. John and Tom finally decide to create a documentary on the Wick “in the framework of an avant-garde adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest.'” “John describes it as an attempt to undocument the documentary,” Tom explains in voiceover. “I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I believe it sounds suitably provocative.” Studies of a half-dozen residents of the Wick follow, including a photorealistic portraitist, several conceptual/performance art weirdo types, an author who gives historical background on the area, and a young Australian man who’s shipped over to work on Olympic security detail while seeing the world. There’s about thirty to forty minutes of documentary footage altogether. The final segment of the film consists mostly of short comic scenes of John and Tom camping out in a pup tent (they’ve rented out their flat to Olympic tourists), eating beans over a portable stove, editing the movie on a laptop, and even doing the Foley work for the feature. There are a few more ambitious and planned-out bits strewn about here and there, including a farcical audio tour of the Wick that provides the movie’s biggest chuckles (“once home to Percy Dalton’s peanut factory, Hackney Wick is an area steeped in history…”) and a running subplot about Tom’s desire to impress his mother with the movie (“pray be lenient mum, for we tried, and surely that counts for something.”) As for the “Tempest” references, they are indeed spread throughout the movie, although to what purpose is never exactly clear. The Wick itself is Shakespeare’s island, we can guess, and as the orchestrators of this mirage, John and Tom share duties as Prospero (although most of the time they act more like the comic relief characters Stephano and Trinculo). But where are Miranda, Ariel and Caliban, and who is it that’s shipwrecked upon the Wick? The “Tempest” conceit never really gets going, while the realistic documentary portions feel out of place, and the mockumentary sections are only sporadically funny. Still, even when it’s not quite working as entertainment, there’s an inherent likableness to the movie, mostly because John and Tom (their personalities aren’t that distinct, and they almost function as a single character) come across as the kind of mates you’d like to buy a pint for, just so you can listen to them talk about their love of movies. Barely speaking or even moving for much of the run time, they nonetheless radiate a passionate confidence and belief in their strange little work that is endearing and humorously self-deprecating. If you can get past the dry opening, you may find lots to like in The Wick, and even a little to wonder at.

“Isles of Wonder” was the name of the production of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.


“…without a doubt one of the oddest independent films I’ve watched, period. It’s also, in an acquired taste kind of way, quietly brilliant. And mad. And very, very odd.”–David Ollerton, The London Film Review

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