Swandown

Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Andrew Kötting. Starring Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Dudley Sutton, Dr Mark Lythgoe, Marcia Farquhar Club, QFT, Belfast, 94 min

JUST WHAT is the relevant collective noun for a swan pedalo of English eccentrics? We’re uncertain of the terminology but we do love Andrew Kötting’s barmy mock epic documentary, in which the director and the agreeably singular historian Iain Sinclair power a cygnine carnival float from Hastings to the site of the London 2012 Olympics.

Their demented odyssey takes them across sea, river and canal for four weeks and 250km of furious foot-operated action. Kötting sports a three-piece suit throughout, an ensemble that defines “overdressed” when he’s wading and splashing about.

Supposedly, our heroes are on a mission to lampoon the pomposity of the upcoming Olympics. To this end they mutter and pontificate among themselves, exchanging quotes from TS Eliot, Joseph Conrad and Edward Lear.

They’re joined, periodically, by like-minded guest pedalers, including conceptual artist Marcia Farquhar, comedian Stewart Lee and – won’t somebody make this into a chat show? – reclusive comic book auteur Alan Moore.

Early on there’s a suggestion that together they might pedal the swan pedalo until it becomes a real swan. They’re not far wrong. The plastic bird does seem to assert itself as a strange mute companion. Its form cries out for a pagan ritual or Wicker Man misadventure. There are echoes, too, of Three Men in a Boat, Heart of Darkness and Don Quixote.

Sure enough, the pedallers acknowledge that they’re merely tilting at sporting venues in lieu of windmills: “He doesn’t think anything should happen in Hackney without his permission,” snorts Moore of Sinclair. An audio clip of Werner Herzog on the making of Fitzcarraldo trumpets the frivolity of the voyage. But the absurdity doesn’t make this funny, quirky travelogue any less worthwhile; the absurdity keeps us guessing.

Where do they go at night? How does Kötting’s suit stay clean?

What do you mean Sinclair is leaving to catch a plane? These and other questions go unanswered in this defiantly ramshackle, proudly inconsequential oddity.