The corner of a brown brick old cinema and a painted white brick wall with an interesting mix of guttering and vines.
  • 07.01: PRISCILLA (2023), dir. Sofia Coppola (C)
  • 10.01: OLD HENRY (2021), dir. Potsy Ponciroli

I’m in Wales at short notice because Dad’s been admitted into hospital. The co-morbidities have gathered and decided to strike. He’s in bad shape. I can see him at 2pm and 6pm, and around these visiting times I’m looking for peaceful, distracting activities. This morning I went to Swansea for a coffee and took photographs of the buildings around the castle. Then I drove to Mumbles and walked up to the house I used to rent an attic room in before dropping to the seafront. As ever, ghosts and shadows walk with me in the absence of real people. Swansea is a lonely comfort.

Nostalgia turns quickly to poison once the immediate comfort has passed. Sofia Coppola creates an exquisite rendition of fifties life in Priscilla that is without dirt or dust—no unwashed cars or clothes here—designed to pull you in and keep you there. The performances are similarly immaculate, but the problem with the perfection of nostalgia is that it lacks soul. We want to be back somewhere that never existed. This isn’t Elvis or Priscilla as they were, it’s a story told through sensual details, costumes, sounds, imagined dialogue. It’s fine. The best use of nostalgia is to let it show what is missing now. From that you can create something new.

Artists, especially filmmakers and writers, can recreate the past in their work, and nostalgia can be part of that creative energy but doesn’t have to be. There’s little nostalgia in Old Henry. It’s set in the rural midwest, in 1906, where the Wild West overlaps in history with the start of modern times. This 1906 is dirty and brutal. A grizzled farmer takes in an injured man carrying a satchel full of money, but the chasing gang catch up with him, and a standoff ensues. The farmer’s son wants to fight, but we learn the farmer has a violent past of his own. Old Henry is as exquisitely crafted as Priscilla, but more realistic, with a father-son relationship that sucked me in, and a glorious twist going into the final act that made me laugh out loud. Tim Blake Nelson is astonishing.

Note to self: acknowledge what you need and make something new to satisfy that need.