Bed of Flowers (2001) is a TV-length documentary about Lancashire theatre company Horse and Bamboo as they put on a show called The Girl Who Cut Flowers. The documentary follows the company as they put together the show, from early concepts and prop making, through various stages of rehearsal to the actual performance.
Like much of what I’ve seen of director Erik Knudsen’s work, it’s not an entirely conventional documentary, having no voice over, long sections without dialogue and no one ever speaking directly to camera. On a couple of occasions discussion between senior production staff takes place with the participants angled towards the camera as though it were a participant, albeit a silent one, in the creative discussion. Clearly the director had built up a great deal of trust with his subject by this point. There are fascinating sections as the puppeteers work to build their ‘girl’.
Early in the film there is a somewhat odd sequence in one of the workshops with the puppet girl, which is clearly a constructed sequence and the only scene to feature non-digetic music. It feels almost like a fragment of another film, a blurring of fiction and reality, which the viewer then expects to continue throughout the film but it doesn’t. It’s almost as though the filmmakers began making one type of film and then ended up making another one entirely, but kept that scene because they liked it. It feels out of place looking back on it, like it should have been discarded; yet it also feels as though it was left in purposefully, to undermine the viewer’s perception of reality and to feed back into the play itself.
Watching the film is a bit of an odd experience and I can’t help but feel that it’s incomplete without seeing the final theatre production. I suspect in that way the viewers of the play have missed something in not seeing this documentary alongside it. In that way it feels more like a companion to the theatre production rather than an entirely separate entity. Rather than being solely about the production it has become a part of the production. Given that the director has gone on to collaborate more directly with the production company, producing the audiovisual elements of another production it is possible to infer that this was, if not the intended outcome, certainly one they were aware of at the time.
This is fly on the wall filmmaking but not as we know it. Whether this is the genre at its purest and most distilled or a glimpse at the next level of its evolution is up to the viewer to decide.