short film competition, festival de cannesorpheus and eurydice
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This work is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the style of a Greek vase. When his wife Eurydice dies, Orpheus descends into Hell and by charming the gods of the Underworld with his singing wins Eurydice back, only to lose her again at the threshold of the Overworld'. Superficially, this would appear to be the ultimate love story, but its archetypal appeal lies in the depiction of Art as a means to overcome the forces of death. No doubt this is why this myth has proved such a potent and continuing source of inspiration to artists down the centuries..



fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song....

I thought everyone would be familiar with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and so would know the plot and be able to enjoy the nuances of my interpretation. I was really quite taken aback to be asked 'who is that woman in the short dress then?'

Orpheus married the beautiful nymph Eurydice. But on their wedding day she was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Destraught and desperate to be reunited with his beloved Eurydice, Orpheus journeyed to the Underworld to beg the Hades and Persephone, the King and Queen to return her to him. As he sang his plea and played his lyre, even the cold spirits of the Underworld wept. The King and Queen agreed to let Eurydice return to the world of the living on one condition; Orpheus must not look back at Eurydice until they were both completely out of the Underworld or she would be lost to him once more. Silently they made the arduous, dark climb. But at the opening to the overworld, Orpheus, in his love for Eurydice, turned and looked at her. She slipped back into the darkness.


return to the overworld

A key inspiration for Orpheus and Eurydice was the poem Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats. As in the poem these 6 characters are also trapped within the art remaining forever young and beautiful. Since no Greek vase has ever been found that matches Keats's description I chose a myth with a circular motif to allow the action to travel round the vase and back to its starting point. Using this structure meant the film could not be edited in the conventional sense. The action is continuous with the hero always centre stage and the scenery travelling past him. Although there was no attempt to actually make the surface curved to imiate a vase, the presence of the border top and bottom screen in itself presented a serious challenge when we were shooting. The rostrum camera was fairly basic. It didn't have travelling peg bars which would have allowed us to move the artwork along a mechanically-calibrated path. Instead we used pieces of white camera tape, bits of cardboard and rulers rigged up against a strip of paper with increments drawn on it at 1/8th inch intervals. It was a triumph of will over physical constraints for Donald the cameraman to keep everything steady while trying not to make any mistakes...

Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, 
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."


Orpheus was a legendary poet and singer. It was said that when he played his lyre, wild animals were calmed. Such was the strength of his musical gift that by his singing he charmed open the Gates of the Underworld and persuaded Hades and Persephone, the King and Queen of the netherworld, to release Eurydice back to the land of the living..

Cerberus guarding the entry to the Underworld
Cerberus guarding the entry to the Underworld

Hades and Persephone
Hades and Persephone

In the animation Orpheus's music even makes the trees sway and dance. It also appears to have a curious effect on his own dog who turns into a nymph and dances for pleasure. I was never quite sure at the time why she did this. Trying to analyse this phenomenon after the fact I think the dog may be either a 'familiar' spirit or perhaps some manifestation of Orpheus's own psyche. Either way, it added an element of mystery that I quite like..



tree spirit
dog dancing
dog dancing

delicate folds and translucent drapes are a frequent feature of figure representation on Greek pottery, which looks beautiful but is really tricky to preserve when translating the style into vinyl paint on clear plastic...