Directed by: Oscar Harding
Distributed by: TBD
Written by Anna Harrison
You need only one piece of equipment to make a film—they’re really quite easy to make, as long as you don’t get too hung up wanting to make your movie look like Roger Deakins shot it. Charlie Carson, a farmer in a village called Huish Champflower in Somerset, England, had such a piece of equipment, and shot hours of footage of his farm, Coombe End Farm, on his camcorder; he would painstakingly edit the footage and make personalized movies for his neighbors, and a young Oscar Harding would one day watch one meant for his father. Still fascinated over a decade later, Harding would attempt to track down the now-deceased Carson’s tapes, unearthing a treasure trove of found footage he would eventually piece together and call “A Life on the Farm,” mirroring Carson’s own designs.
Carson himself is a lonely man—a widower left to care for his ailing parents with no help from his brother—but not an unhappy one. He shows us newborn calves standing for the first time, horses playfully pilfering his hat, his wife (when she was still alive, that is) making a Christmas cake and explaining how to put alcohol in it. Carson even adds speech bubbles to the pictures he takes, creating his own comics, many of which are quite funny.
But underneath the jolly exterior lurks a darkness, or so the film would have us believe. When his parents pass, Carson stages their bodies for photoshoots, even adding his signature text bubbles to their corpses; he films the funerals and narrates the events as if they’re simply another day. Harding and his team attempt to, if only briefly, paint Carson as a bit of a sociopath before quickly backtracking, revealing to us what we already sussed out long ago—he’s just a lonely man dealing with grief in his own way.
It’s lucky that Harding—a first-time feature director—found an interesting subject, because the clutter that he adds around Carson can’t hold a candle to the man himself. Talking heads abound: everyone from the neighbors to a psychologist to found footage geeks get involved, none of whose insights give enough justification for their being there. They aren’t the worst talking heads in the world, and every so often one of them will validate their own existence in the film, but their inclusion seems rote, as if Harding was too afraid to venture outside of the box of documentary form (a forgivable crime for his debut, but still a crime).
I would have much rather watched Carson’s short film wherein he taped a fake skeleton to a cow and watched the cow tried to buck it off, or the one where he concocts an entire story about a man dead of a lawnmower accident coming back from the grave. We were only treated to bits and pieces of these feats, but they showed a wildly creative and inventive man who had a lot of heart under his eccentricities—give me more of him and less psychology, please. But still, I’m glad Carson’s work will live to see another day.
“A Life on the Farm” Trailer