Immigrant Song, A Journey in Fragments in The Nine Muses


Anglo-Ghanian filmmaker John Akomfrah’s feature montage The Nine Muses is a running dialogue between its different layers. There is a photographic “present”: original footage of lone figures in howling ice-planet landscapes, most often back-to-camera, facing broad expanses of water. These images intersperse and sometimes overlap with the found footage, a visual archive of British immigration from former colonies, postwar to pre-Thatcher. The soundtrack, meanwhile, comments on image both abstractly and directly—a performance of “Motherless Child” accompanies black-and-white footage of a black girl with a white baby doll. Finally, there is the narration, a Western canon quilt work—before 10 minutes have passed, one has heard from Paradise Lost, Eliot, and The Odyssey, a particular touchstone for a film which returns again and again to the theme of the “journey,” and images of men and women disembarking from ships, trains, airplanes. Per the title, the film is partitioned into nine chapters named for the nine muses of Greek lore; the result is not without beauty, though at a certain point, one begins to notice that each new muse rather resembles the previous, a uniformity that restrains the film from true symphonic swell.

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