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Night Bus (2002)
Directors: desperate optimists (alias: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor)

review by Paul Higson

This would not have been seen if I had not visited the Cornerhouse galleries for the short visual experience that I had doubly misapprehended, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's Horror Chase (2002), a detailed reconstruction of an interior chase from Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2, passed through a randomly configured to and fro of the sequence; it was neither an experience, nor short, merely repetitive and un-involving. Desperate Optimists' Night Bus (40 minutes, unrated video, 2002) however, delivered into galleries, is involving, enervating, unusual, indeed original, yet at the same time incredibly accessible, entertaining... amusing even.
   Night Bus was filmed at three separate bus and coach stations in Hull, London and Nottingham, set in a shared duration; mid-morning, twinning the actions, emotions, imaginings and consequential meetings of like combinations of clubbers. Each location has a lone girl, a couple, that are perhaps lovers, possibly platonic or simply brotherly (boy-girl, girl-girl and boy-boy), and a larger group; costumed, suggesting club themes, funk scousers, neo-nazis and school disco respectively. Telephone calls are accepted, individuals look lost, the couples sulking as if from a row. None speak. They don't have to, as there is a narrator, the voice belonging to Sharon Smith who is one of the principle performers (in the London split). As to whether her part is scripted or not there are no clues, it sounds natural, one suspects too precise, some of the overlaps in description too periodically timed, suggesting attention to well-scripted detail; besides, it would take supreme ability to ignore her own motivation and appearance before the camera in the way she so apparently does - or am I underrating her talent despite the level I place it on?
horse
Smith describes everything that she sees. The fact that she is in one of the splits (for they cannot adequately be called segments) further hints at the clever fakery and illusion in her casual delivery. She is the vocal star of the film, her voice soft, tender and dozy, gently soothing, the antidote to the ominous hum on the soundtrack and the dread that is collectively contrived by the 'egged up' expressions on the gangs, the gun, the nosebleeds and fallen comrades. When exciting images arrive the voice is only raised a notch above the draughty breath. Magically (or magic realistically) the imaginations of several of the bus station loiterers and the observer-narrator seep into the film, each split even featuring a guest out-of-place animal. Smith and the scriptwriters do so exacting a job of describing actions, interpreting emotions and in the 'guessing' of circumstances that pretty much all is said, that were it not for the faces of the participants and the value in the individual physiognomies then this could just as well have been performed on the radio.
   Britain is played out as a single time zone amok with its youth population's limited imagination on a weekend clubbing night, in the early hours with the clubs shut, the kidults left in a post-party-time oblivion, where menace and dissatisfaction reign. Hope is the night bus home to bed, not here yet, more certainty than doubt in its eventual arrival, but a similar nagging concern that it might not appear, or not appear in time to evade an unwanted aggression. For those who arrive alone, the last bus home returns them only to lonelier truths, so why take it? They don't. Puzzled? You need not be. It is probably more difficult to describe and explain the film and the experience of seeing it than it is for you to see it and understand it.
cast
This is a remarkable piece of work. Several of the performances are amateurish, even without a delivery of dialogue, perhaps more obviously for the lack of dialogue, (the weaker players would primarily appear to come from Nottingham's Fallen Angel project, with excuses) while other key faces are rich in expression and emotion, the principal players from Hull and London, in particular, sterling presences. The funnier commentary is well balanced against the sinister disturbances. To the best of effectiveness it is suspected that Night Bus be seen, thus truly experienced, alone and in the small of a gallery, the threat that a shared chuckle or an asked question or made comment sideways might distract from the concentration and steady incidental flow. Not to put any weight on the necessity of concentration if alone, the voice of Sharon Smith easing one through the running time comfortably, removing eventually even the need to look so intently. Delightful, different, the bus station as a 'portal' both laterally in communicated sensations and literally in its part in the interconnecting route. Don't let such descriptions keep you away. Go see it! It will be free and will not disappoint.
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