With its beautiful cinematography, Claire Dix’s Broken Song is beautiful visual experience that not only fits the criteria to receive funding from the Irish Arts Council, but one that that fans of independent Irish cinema will be talking about for quite some time. The director, Dix, was a European photographer and this is evident with each beautiful avant-garde frame of the film. The film is mostly shot with a bluish, grayish filter with occasional colorful shots of landscapes. The cinematography is not arbitrary; it serves a purpose to supplement to the story of the struggling young street poets GI, Willa Lee and Costello.
First, the camera filter has a pale blue, almost lifeless filter, accompanied by edits which are often distorted and frenetic in order to match the imperfections of the lives of the street poets. Their lives are not perfect; some of them are past criminals, and many of them are impoverished, and the distorted visual filter in some ways represents the distortion in their own life. Brief shots of landscapes and scenery are the only scenes to be filmed in vibrant color, and in choosing this route it’s likely the director wanted these landscape shots to be a metaphor for a brighter future, while the distorted cinematography of the poets rapping symbolize the uncertain and grim present. One of the themes the director of Broken Song was trying to convey is the young men’s hope for a better future, again, many of whom are prior criminals and impoverished.
The lyrics to each of the raps in the film all share one characteristic in common; the subject matter in each is about hope. Lyrics such as “Walk the road” talk about a road to a better future. The lyrics “I’ll achieve my goal” along with “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” and “The places you’re going to” give evidence that the poets are unhappy with their present condition, in which many are involved in situations including but not limited to illegal drugs, police brutality, and teenage pregnancy, but have hope for a better future. Music is a form of escape for these poets; whether or not they believe the lyrics they expatiate are actually true, it allows them a temporary escape. To add to the theme of future hope, there is a symmetrical poetic shot of two of the boys walking, in the middle of the frame, in a darkened room toward a doorway, which is emitting bright light between its cracks. It’s possible that this door symbolizes a brighter future for these poets; in other words, this doorway could be a metaphor for the “light at the end of the tunnel” for which the poets are perpetually striving.
While the verses regarding the future were uplifting, the lyrics about the present were depressing and gloom. Just to name a few, lyrics such as “Because you know we’re going down,” “He’s broke swallowing regrets,” and “I fell hard for the things I’ve done” which illustrates how the poets feel about their current situation. Here, director Dix shows opts to show two strange close-ups. In one close up, there is an image of a rabbit with a whiskey bottle, and in another, a child with a gun. These are essentially oxymora; the white rabbit represents purity along with the general agreement that rabbits are kind, harmless creatures. A whiskey bottle contrasts this image of purity. The same principle can be applied to the image of the child with a gun. With these scenes, Dix could be using these to suggest that GI, Willa Lee and Costello do not belong in the life they embody, and have potential for greatness outside of it, but have unfortunately become victim to their cultural and environmental context which has entrusted them the lack of opportunity.
The use of water also supplied an important metaphor for the film. Water both opens the film and ends the film. The shots of the water were often fuzzy and unclear, and combined with the fact that one can’t see what’s beneath this murky water, it in some sense becomes a metaphor for the unclear future and disoriented present. Interestingly, in one scene, the camera cuts to a close up of a sign that reads “Restricted: No Swimming” right near a beach. In the next shot, the young poets are jumping off the bridge right into the water in which they’re not supposed to swim. It’s very possible that this may be an editing trick, and the sign wasn’t actually near the beach the boys were swimming but from a separate body of water altogether; nevertheless, it becomes a smart editing trick and serves its metaphorical purpose that the boys are heading down a restricted path.
In Conclusion, Broken Song is a tale of regret, sorrow, and hope. The street poets regret their past, feel sorrowful about their present, and have hope for the unseen future. Dix effectively conveys this message not just with natural dialogue from the social actors, but with use of visual elements like cinematography, and she does so effectively.