Experiment: DH Lawrence get his lines crossed with HS2

The literary connections with the river appealed to me and there seemed to be an obvious opportunity to link the writing of DH Lawrence from over 100 years ago with government HS2 documentation. Lawrence’s book The Rainbow, written in 1915, is particularly pertinent as it is based on the lives of the Brangwens who lived in the marshlands of the Erewash Valley and their lives were slowly disrupted by the coming of transport infrastructure. There is also the drowning of Tom Brangwen in the floods which Lawrence describes in vivid detail:

She saw a glimpse of her husband’s buff coat in the floods, as the water rolled the body against the garden hedge. She called to the men in the boat. She was glad he was found. They dragged him out of the hedge. They could not lift him into the boat. Fred Brangwen jumped into the water, up to his waist, and half carried the body of his father through the flood to the road. Hay and twigs and dirt were in the beard and hair. The youth pushed through the water crying loudly without tears, like a stricken animal. The mother at the window cried, making no trouble. The doctor came. But the body was dead.

The Rainbow, DH Lawrence, 1915

So I created a quick mashup video of text from The Rainbow and selected HS2 consultation documents. It was quite simple to find connections as the influence and challenges the river has imposed on us are the same now as they were in Lawrence’s time. Searching for keywords in both the book and the online documents revealed perfect combinations that were ripe for putting on film.

DH Lawrence / HS2 mashup

The connections are awkwardly satirical and it was a very entertaining exercise. Clearly, some connections work better than others and I think the absurdly dense consultancy-speak offers the most comical juxtaposition against the poetic genius of Lawrence. Listen for the person emptying their recycling bin at 1:29 just after I say “Since he had kissed her”. Some things just happen for a reason. Pictures are painted of people and the landscape from over a century ago only to be shattered by the reality of yet another transport network. For over a century, the Erewash valley has been used as a gateway to somewhere else, not a place to stop, just a convenient valley through which to carve a path between the north and south.

As well as the spoken clips I recorded footage of the river to overlay with no audio – this was more an exercise in learning how to splice and fade clips together and it worked well. I have always liked the shaky handheld style of many contemporary TV series as it gives a sensation of nervous roving eyes and I think this contrasts well with the static talking shots. The mood changes when we leave the comfort of the riverbank, we stare at the river in a more contemplative mood, zooming and focussing create disorientation just before we transition between the juxtaposed spoken words.

Video is not something I have a huge amount of experience with, either technically or performance-wise. This was my first outing with a new DSLR video camera and the results were impressive, particularly eye-tracking focusing and the use of an external microphone to minimise background noise. Editing the video was challenging as I recorded (unnecessarily) 4K high quality, hence the file sizes were huge, averaging 500MB for each clip. When editing with Hitfilm Express (excellent free software) the result was very sluggish previewing and several crashes, but I managed the edit eventually. For web-based delivery, this quality could have been reduced to make editing far easier.

Summary & next steps

It’s interesting how I had an initial plan of creating something entirely aesthetic as an outcome for this project, but I seem subconsciously drawn to satirise a situation. Once again I find irony an immediate vehicle for my thoughts about a subject. Maybe it’s just something I need to get out of my system and is not a serious outcome, just a chain of thoughts. But satire is a safe bet as I am not giving a solution to the slow destruction of the river Erewash, just exposing a stark contrast in how it has been written about by both literary and engineering giants. It’s fascinating how their language twists and turns around the subject to suit their very different aims.

This experiment is a success but there is much more to go at. We have Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe who may have reference the area in their own way. Would a mashup of all three have more potency or would we lose the personal perspective of a focus on one tortured writer? Video has been excellent as gathering primary source material but I don’t yet see it as being part of a final outcome, at least not alone. I would like to explore more of the path of the river to get a grasp of its scale, flow and changing nature as it passes between the two counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

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