picture palace pictures
 

Ming of Harlem: 21 Storeys in the Air
a  film by Phillip Warnell
Produced by Madeleine Molyneaux and Phillip Warnell

Awarded the Grand Prix International Georges de Beauregard
FID Marseille, 2014

North American premiere, Official Selection,
New York Film Festival 2014
UK premiere, Tate Modern, Feb. 18, 2015 in conversation with Jean-Pierre Rehm
Additional screenings: BAFICI (Argentina), Viennale (Austria), Indie Lisboa (Portugal), Jihlava (Czech Republic); Era New Horizons (Poland) FICUNAM (Mexico), CPH: DOX (Denmark); Valdivia (Chile); Olhar de Cinema/Curitiba (Brazil); Vancouver (Canada) Signes du Nuit (Germany); KW (Berlin) BOZAR (Brussels)


Cinematography by David Raedeker
Music by Hildur Gudnadóttir
Poem by Jean-Luc Nancy
Editor: Chiara Armentano, Phillip Warnell

With Antoine Yates, Rajiv & Brianna
Featuring Johnny Garrett-Graham, Willow Samuel, Mabel Stark, Ming & Al

Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air,   the debut feature film of  UK artist/filmmaker Phillip Warnell (The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, 2008; Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies, 2009; I First Saw the Light, 2012)  advances a series of propositions around sound-image-geographies, secret lives and extreme levels of human-animal intimacy, ultimately privileging the presence of the predatory animals themselves, as prodigious, exemplary visual creatures.

One component of the project consists of the 'only in New York' story of Ming, Al and Antoine Yates, who together cohabited a highrise apartment in Harlem for five years until 2003, when news of their dwelling caused a public outcry and collective outpouring of disbelief. Discovering that Ming was a 500lb Tiger and Al a 7ft Alligator, their story took on an astonishing dimension. The film embraces the wonder of these circumstances, how they might even have been conceived of, let alone maintained for such duration.

 Against the backdrop of this particular "case study" in human-animal domestic relations,  the films focus is, however, on an extended time spent with the animals themselves, observing their prodigious attributes, behaviour and predatory presence in unfamiliar surroundings. It will also reflect in broader terms on the close proximity between big cat and human using startling archival footage of Mabel Stark, tiger training pioneer and queen of the big cat circus display, from the 1960's. Her extraordinarily intimate actions and communication with big cats, as per those of Antoine Yates, verged on extreme animal relations.

Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air develops a bizarre, secret and dangerous domain, mixing real and staged spaces, time frames, recollections and environments, juxtaposing news and archive, animal time and social elements. The film develops, in philosophical terms, ideas on proximity and captivation between species. 

A cinematic mix of (documentary) material shot with Yates is combined with filmed "encounters" with a tiger and an alligator, filmed at locations in the UK, , material generated within two specially designed and constructed animal apartment/sets. These, unusually positioned within existing animal enclosures, thus located in animal territory, corresponds loosely to a re-imagining of the space of the  a high-rise, climate controlled apartment. Exploring the confines of the set -the  Tiger and Alligator are observed during feeding, at play, in repose, during both day and evening.

Extended passages filmed from within the corridors and rooms of the set will dominate the film, intended to enable the atmospheres of 'animal time'. Languishing, embodied metaphors, de-territorialised, territorial behaviour, in contrast to both Harlem and a third element: the stark, diagrammatical and dynamic aerial view of the set from directly above. Archival sonic material features prominently in the film, building an interwoven soundscape as soundtrack.

"Apart yet together, they explore a secret phantasmagoric world, elevated, airborne and outrageous; an inoperative community established and hidden within an urban high-rise. The tension between social space, austere corridors and intimate distances emerges as a number of prolonged, extended real-time sequences convey the moods and behaviours of the animal protagonists: placing the viewer in direct proximity with animal becomings and responses. The film thus presents a range of these extreme pets behaviour: marking territory, during feeding frenzy, olfactory stimulation, sense of unease, response to crane/camera, introduction of objects/stimulus and contact at distance. In this fantasy zone of peculiar domesticity a merger takes place between geometry, architectural form and sound; the apartment itself becoming a protagonist." --© Phillip Warnell, London, January 2013


 "Ferocious luxury, sumptuous fur and skin, luxuriant mass blooming" --JeanLuc Nancy, excerpted from the original poem Oh Animals of Language,  translation: Martin Crowley, Cambridge University.

Key contributors to the film include a voiced text, by Icelandic composer and musician Hildur Gudnadóttir, penned by philosopher and collaborator Jean-Luc Nancy especially for the project, 'Oh the language Animals'. and extensive interviews with tigerman Antoine Yates and the 'working life history' of the stand-in Tiger and Alligator. 

The cinematography and lighting is by award winning DOP David Raedeker  (awarded the Grand Jury Prize in Cinematography, World Cinema, at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival  for My Brother the Devil, (Best European Film, Europa Cinemas Award, Berlinale 2004; Grand Jury Prize, LA Outfest). Other credits include The Whale (2014); The Village (2014); I Am Masrine; Elvis  Pelvis; Top Girl. Previous collaborations with Phillip Warnell include I First Saw the Light, 2012  and The Girl with X-ray Eyes, 2008). 

Shot on location in New York City, The Isle of Wight Zoo, (with the collaboration of Charlotte Corney) and Crocodiles of the World, (with the collaboration of Sean Foggett), the architectural design of the set is by Tomas Klassnik,  constructed by London-based artist Matthew Tickle. Location sound recording by David Hocs (U.S.) and  Adam Gutch and Chu-Li Shewring (UK); sound design and mix by Emmet O'Donnell; editing by Phillip Warnell and Chiara Armentano; Associate Producer: Jacqui Davies; digital intermediate and finishing by Technicolor London.

The film is a production of Big Other Films, Ltd, London, in association with The Wellcome Trust (UK), Picture Palace Pictures (US) & Michigan Films (Belgium), with additional support from the CCA, VAF, Arts Council of England, Kingston University, and the FID Lab.

"When I turned and called him, he would come up on his hind feet and put both feet round my neck. Pull me to the ground, grab me by the head, you know a male tiger grabs the female by the neck and holds her and growls till the critical moment is over. So, in this fashion, Rajah grabbed me and held me. We kept rolling over till he was through, and while the audience could not see what Rajah was doing, his growling made a hit." Mabel Stark - Hold That Tiger


Mabel Stark at Jungleland, California, 1950's

Antoine Yates, NYC, 2012 © Big Other Films, all rights reserved.
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