Movie Recommendation: Sleep Has Her House
Dir. Scott Barley, 2017
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I met Scott Barley on a cinephile forum more than a decade ago and have kept in contact with him online ever since. About five years ago he released his first feature film, Sleep Has Her House, which I’ve been eager to see ever since. Frames alone from the film were enough to catch my interest…
… but what was really amazing over the last few years is watching people’s enthusiasm for this film grow over time. In addition to finding its way on a few critical best-of lists and the approval of many experimental and documentary film communities, it seems to have drawn a respectable audience of, maybe not mainstream film viewers, but certainly people outside the experimental community interested in alternative work.
When I arrived at the venuethis one person exiting from a previous screening told me unasked, “It’s excellent, you’ll enjoy it.” And this is me telling you too that Sleep Has Her House is excellent, and you’ll enjoy it.
I was under the impression going in that it was something like a meditative, drone music piece, and that’s a decent start to describe what you’re getting into. However, it doesn’t take long until the movie starts operating some pretty wonky effects on you.
The photography is largely landscape, devoid of people, and underexposed to the point of watching very subtle gradiations of black on black — and let me tell you as a filmmaker and photographer myself, the very precise degree of black on black Scott is edging here without banding, color noise, or not seeing anything is actually a remarkable technical achievement.
The result is a little like that psychological experiment where researchers put people in a black box with only a single pin-hole of light. Participants reported that after a while they swore the researchers started moving the light, though no such movement occurred. Sitting in the space of Sleep Has Her House, you’re held in some landscapes within which the sort of pareidolia that has people seeing shapes in clouds and stars starts operating, and in some way you become co-creator of the movie you’re seeing, which is probably a different movie each time you watch it.
At first I thought it was just me, until after the screening my wife said, unprompted, that during one river scene she saw at first horse herds running and then women dancing.
That’s not to say this movie is aimless or without story. It has a direction it’s building that you can feel rising, and a good thing too because after a while that progression replaces your sense of time. This is a feature length film but I can’t tell you how long it felt watching it. Clock time melted away and was replaced with some natural sort of time; I wouldn’t go so far as to call it geological time, but definitely the sort of time measures that take a cloud all the way across the moon or transforms an evening river into a nighttime river.
It’s interesting because by happenstance I’ve recently watched two movies, Eo and Skinamarink, which seem to be grasping in the general direction that Scott confidently reached five years earlier: that you won’t be able to peer into the void until your vision is more than just your eyeballs and human cognition perceive.
I specifically waited to see this movie for when I had a chance to see it projected, with an audience. Being that screenings are rare, if you want your chance and aren’t willing to wait, you can acquire a digital copy of Sleep Has Her House from Scott’s website. As it happens, this screening coincided with a limited edition run of 500 Blu-Rays that you can pre-order on his site, so I would recommend that — my pre-order is already in. The Blu-Rays are A/B/C region and ship internationally.
Should you see this movie at home rather than screened in a theatre, please follow the rules: watch it in the dead of night, turn off all the lights, and turn up the sound.
That said, if you’re one of the lucky people in this world that has repertoire or arthouse theatres around, I’d recommend asking them for a screening.
See more of my movie recommendations here:
Spectacle Theatre in Williamsburg, Brooklyn showcased Sleep Has Her House as one of their “Best of Spectacle” selections.
I aim to test this theory out.
Oh wow! I would love to see this. I asked Jim if we have a dvd player, which we do, but we don't have a blue ray. I should check in with our local arts theater tho they seem more mainstream these days. It's the cinema where i saw one of your beloved films back in the day, Upstream Color. Really enjoy and trust your recommendations.