British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s Love is All is a film that is likely to have limited appeal but will probably succeed in winning the hearts of its small audience. Constructed from footage taken from numerous twentieth century films and set to a soundtrack by indie icon Richard Hawley, Love is All’s concept may lead many to expect a collage of famous romantic images; Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. But Longinotto’s approach here is far more unusual and interesting than that. Rather than wheel out the same old collection of familiar screen lovers, Love is All takes its images from more obscure sources and their strangeness makes the whole thing far more fascinating and hauntingly beautiful.
Initially reluctant to work with Richard Hawley, Longinotto came to realise that the singer’s echoingly beautiful music was perfect for the images she was stringing together and undoubtedly influenced the direction the project ultimately took. Working closely with editor Ollie Huddleston, who deserves at least as much credit for how well Love is All hangs together, Longinotto wrong-foots the viewer by opening with images from pre-twentieth century short film A Kiss in the Tunnel and its remake from the same year. Focusing on a couple on a train sharing a kiss, this is probably the sort of image that most people will expect to litter the film throughout its 70 minutes. But instead, Longinotto aims for a broader view of love, incorporating sections on persecution , changing attitudes to women, free love and gay liberation, many of which seem only tangentially related to the main theme but which betray a broader view of love which is far more imaginative and involving than tiresomely persistent celluloid passion by way of feebly recreated clinches.
The barrage of unfamiliar imagery in Love is All is so intriguing that when a comparatively famous film appear in the shape of Stephen Frears My Beautiful Launderette it seems jarring at first. Frears’ film was included due to Longinotto’s personal love of it and while it initially seems out of place its imagery ultimately blends nicely with the otherworldliness of those clips that surround it. But undoubtedly the major attraction for the majority of those who come to this film (myself included) will be Richard Hawley’s soundtrack. A former member of 90s indie band The Longpigs, Hawley found his niche with a string of wonderful solo albums in which he carved out a reputation as a kind of rockabilly crooner. For fully-fledged fans of Hawley, Love is All will be a pleasure for the soundtrack alone, which features a treasure trove of songs from Hawley’s albums and also more obscure corners of his archive (the superb 'Rockabilly Radio' or demo 'Heart of Oak'). Hawley himself has said that he cares too much about love as a concept to ever trivialise it and this aligns him with Longinotto, highlighting both as unique talents in their respective fields.
Several critics of Love is All complained that it was annoying to not know where the clips came from but this is to misunderstand Love is All on a fundamental level. This is not a mere clip-show to be picked through, a filmic shopping list. To caption each clip with titles, names and dates would be to degrade this flowing work to the level of a compilation of teaser trailers. Longinotto is certainly opening up a world for us to examine but she wants us to muse on the themes that this particular construction of snippets suggests to us. It is true that you’ll probably find yourself wondering, as I did, where certain pieces of film come from but for the most part I drank in the combination of the visuals and Hawley’s wonderful music and emerged afterwards feeling refreshed, enlightened and uplifted. Not that Love is All is a fluffy confection. I would not call this a feelgood film. It is upbeat in parts (and setting its closing sequence to Hawley’s lively 'Serious' leaves the viewer on a high) but Love is All sets out to examine love in all its facets, which inevitably involves some darker and sadder moments. While its poster artwork misleadingly suggests an idyllic view of romance as all pink hearts and songbirds, the effect of the film ultimately feels like the contents of an experienced heart ripped open, its contents laid end to end to provide the full image of love’s aching joys and dizzying lows in all their sickeningly soul-shattering nakedness.
Love is All is released on DVD on 19th October 2015. Its generous extras include several of the short films used in the film in their entirety, as well as an informative Q&A with director Longinotto. The BFI's usual fantastic accompanying booklet is present, complete with articles on the film and a full list of the Hawley songs and the films used to create the project.