Edwyn Collins' Life of Mystery, Lost Memory After Stroke Tackled in New Film
Filmmakers behind "Katy Perry: Part of Me" shine a light on the "A Girl Like You" singer's recovery. "We often felt like Edwyn was remembering things for the first time"
"The Possibilities Are Endless" is a unique combination of an art film and documentary. At its heart is a story of recovery -- specifically from a hemorrhagic stroke -- and a love story, a tale of dedication, mystery and memory, rather heady stuff for a tale of a Glaswegian rock star.
Edwyn Collins, the former leader of Orange Juice responsible for rock's ear worm of 1995, the inescapable rock record "A Girl Like You" that seemingly had endless synch placements and radio airplay, is the subject of "The Possibilities are Endless." He suffered a stroke in 2005, went into a coma and spent six months in a hospital where the only words he could say were his and his wife's names and "the possibilities are endless."
It is the first feature from directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall since they spent a year and half filming "Katy Perry: Part of Me," where they are credited as executive producers.
The film had its world premiere March 9 at SXSW, complete with Collins and his son Will performing an acoustic version of "A Girl Like You" prior to doing a secret four-song set at an Austin home, and is being sold for U.S. distribution by Pulse Films out of the U.K. A theatrical release in the U.K. is being eyed in the fall and a soundtrack will be released overseas through AED Records.
Today, Collins, 54, has progressed well beyond the man seen in the film. He laughs often with a deep guttural guffaw, and while he struggles to find exact words to express himself, he succeeds in getting his points across. There's a hiccup in his walk, but as his wife Grace Maxwell says, "we've developed systems to get around" and as they maneuver their way along 6th Street and through restaurants, they work nimbly as a pair albeit obvious he has little movement on his left side.
"After my stroke, things were a little bit hazy. I couldn't rationalize anymore," Collins told Billboard after the premiere. "For example, before my stroke I rationalized things -- I was clear and positive. It was hard for me to concentrate all the time, a little bit mad in a way.
"The music, no problem," he says. "The talking, serious problem. Before my stroke, I was a bit of an intellect. After my stroke, I'm not."
Lovelace and Hall entered Collins' life after their heard his first of two post-stroke albums, "Losing Sleep," in 2010. They were looking to do a more personal film than the Perry picture and in Collins' story that saw something deeper than the usual rock star hagiography.
They shot him in England's eastern seaside town of Helmsdale, a one-time home of Collins' grandfather where he had considerable childhood memories. The setting helped re-awaken Collins in a way that might not have occurred had he remained at home in London.
At their first meeting, Maxwell and Collins shared stories and as Lovelace says, "there was good stuff and some OK stuff." Collins made a remark that could have been a song lyric about the nature of love and truth that made Lovelace take notice. "If one time out of 10 we get something beautiful, we'll be fine just letting Edwyn speak," he says.
Lovelace and Hall shot the British countryside and coastal regions, did some underwater scenes that serve as visual metaphors for Collins' mental state and would return for more interviews with their subjects. Each return trip was better than the last, both in terms of Maxwell and Collins understanding the filmmakers' aims and Collins' ability to speak.
"If we had been crazy fans, we would have made a different film that would probably only appeal to the fans of Edwyn and Orange Juice," Lovelace says. "During the process, Edwyn would tell us about songs and we'd learn that way about the details. We often felt like Edwyn was remembering things for the first time, and with the mic on."
Collins' music is spread out through the film, running from his influential 1980s band Orange Juice into the eight albums he has made as a solo artist. We see him create new music in the studio, his instincts sharp and comments precise as he works to get his musicians in sync with his musical concepts. "Searching for the Truth," which he wrote after two weeks in the hospital and appears on his 2010 release "Losing Sleep," comes together in the film along with "31 Years" and others.
Much as the filmmakers relished the scenes of Collins creating music, they also saw a need for a score and asked Collins to compose something that would be thoroughly different than his songs yet somehow provide a musical glue for the film. He hummed a 10-minute theme into a handheld recorder that his musicians turned into an instrumental score.
"We asked to do something different, perhaps something he hadn't done before," Hall says. "We were in the studio and Edwyn says he has written this 10-minute epic. We so wanted to love it - we had to love it - Edwyn hadn't seen the film at that point and was able to give us this piece that couldn't be more perfect. Everything we had done with the film was designed to represent Edwyn and Grace in a true way so obviously it was crazy sitting there hearing (this theme) and thinking now it's a film. Now it's a movie."
"The Possibilities are Endless" screens again on March 11 and 13 in Austin.