Will Self: Desert Island Flicks

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As time has gone by, Will Self has become more and more of a professional controversialist, a¬†self proclaimed expert in all things, and in particular himself. His recent attack on George Orwell (the “Supreme Mediocrity”) was so wide of the mark it is barely worth acknowledging*, and his appointment as a professor at Brunel University in what can best be described as ‘whatever the bloody hell he wants to talk about’ was stunning, even for a man so blessed with self-aggrandisement. In a recent Guardian video, he managed the ultimate coup of interviewing his hero: that is, himself.

Thus it is with great intrigue and interest that Self graces the Arnolfini stage to choose his Desert Island Flicks for the opening event of this year’s Encounters short film festival, now celebrating it’s 20th birthday. Self is such a great character for an event like this, where the choice of films is actually secondary to the personality of the selector. He has some great lines, and his London cosmopolitan drawl adds humour to them: literature is the Soviet Union to film’s United States, “the hegemon”. Fellow novelist Ian McEwan’s writing is denounced as “fucking convervative”, and Israel is sarcastically deemed the “great haven of the just”.

Self’s film choices are interesting if perhaps knowingly left-field. Patrick Keiller’s ‘London’ (1994) is “the closest thing on celluloid to an epic poem”, and Self can’t help himself in showing off his lexicon: the camera work is “both synoptic and panoptic”. Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris’ (1972) is so moving for Self that he ritually watches it every year, absorbed in the director’s “timeless vision of the future”. ‘Synecdoche, New York’ (2008) is a horrific insight into every artist’s “obsession with creation” whereby you “cannibalise your own life”.

Film buffery aside, Self again shows himself to be unlikeable. He attacks Cliftonites for being hipsters (come on, by Bristol standards?) and all signs of humility are forced. He is much more comfortable being arrogant. When a photographer takes photos from the side, Self lambasts him for being “really fucking irritating, I don’t know why you’re doing it”. Presumably because it is his job.

It is this duality to Self that makes him so absorbing. On the one hand, he is urbane, witty, insightful. On the other hand he is a total prick. Which is probably what makes him so entertaining.

An excellent way to kick off the Encounters Festival – find out about the rest of the programme here.

Conal Dougan

*Self attacked Orwell for his promotion of simple, comprehensible, Anglo Saxon English. It may be noted, however, that some Anglo Saxon diction can be quite poetic. ‘Will Self: Smug Fuck’. There’s a good one.