The Nine Muses: Snow, More Snow, and English Immigration Woes

Richard Burton lives! An arthouse mashup of The Odyssey and England's colonial immigration wave following World War II, The Nine Muses samples many more texts than Homer's. You'll also hear audio-book snippets from Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas, read by Burton, Michael Sheen, and even John Barrymore. The soundtrack ranges from opera to Arvo Pärt; the locales alternate between the grainy UK of old newsreels and home movies and newer scenes of snowy Cordova, Alaska. (Why? No idea.) As a structuring device to the montage, the nine Greek muses—of dance, tragedy, music, history, etc.—chiefly allow director John Akomfrah to punctuate this very personal meditation on England's changing social fabric. We see newcomers from the Caribbean and India settling into row houses and factory work; snow must've been an unfamiliar shock to them, and Akomfrah includes many, many vistas of snow. In the Alaskan scenes, a figure in a yellow parka stares endlessly at the sea. "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home," reads one of the unattributed interstitials (that one from the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho¯, Google informs me). It is the sea, of course, that carried Odysseus away to war and transported immigrants to British foundries and assembly lines. Exile and a near-permanent sense of displacement are the themes Akomfrah conveys most acutely, if indirectly. As part of the mosaic, he also includes bits of a 1964 documentary about a young Jamaican man struggling to adapt to insular England. You're left wanting to know his name and full story, but Akomfrah provides only his own heartfelt fragments.

 
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