The inspiring and heartwarming documentary The Possibilities Are Endless charts the recovery from a double stroke of Scottish musician Edwyn Collins, much-loved leader of Orange Juice, best known for the 1980s pop band’s single Rip it Up and his solo worldwide 1994 hit A Girl Like You.
‘It’s a very beautiful piece of art,’ said Edwyn, who after his 2005 brain haemorrhage was in hospital for six months and was barely able to move and suffered from aphasia, an inability to use or understand language. He was only able to say yes, no, his wife’s name and ‘The possibilities are endless,’ from which the film took its name.
Edywn, who recovered and eventually returned to give live performances, talked about the film in a discussion with the audience of a recent Cambridge screening. The film was made by two young, relatively inexperienced directors, chosen because Collins and his wife, Grace, wanted to avoid an obvious, sentimental take on their story.
After a short prologue featuring clips of Collins in his pomp, ‘master of all he surveyed,’ as Grace says later, the film goes to silence and a blank screen. The next section is an impressionistic attempt to reproduce his post-stroke world: underwater images, ambient sound, stuttering speech. It provokes a similar feeling of alienation and dislocation as parts of the recent film Under the Skin. We do not see Edwyn and Grace until later, but we hear their commentary. ‘What’s happening to me?’ he says, ‘The world is a little scary and abstract’.
Instrumental in Collins’ recovery were Helmsdale, the place he grew up, with its wild natural beauty, and his recording studio in north London. But most of all it is enabled by the patient care of his remarkable wife. Grace teaches him how to read again, an agonising process for such a literate and witty lyricist (sample: ‘to put it in a nutshell / you’re a heartless mercenary’). Not being able to find the right words is torture for Edwyn: ‘help me!’ he says at one point.
Grace also encourages him to start drawing again and he perseveres, moving from drawing the same cartoon guy every day, to copying birds – many of which appear on the cover of his ‘comeback’ album, Losing Sleep. Edwyn starts to remember snatches of his songs and gradually returns to his guitar, which he can no longer strum with his right hand; instead, it is his wife and teenage son who strum while he fingers the chords.
As Collins says, there was ‘no eureka moment for me’. His recovery has been marked in ‘tiny little amounts, up and up and up.’ He acknowledges that he has lost his old arrogance, but he is still ‘fiercely independent’ and ‘bloody-minded’ and we witness his acerbic side return in the comical bickering between him and Grace. ‘You’re a cruel little woman,’ he jokes, ‘you’re Sharon Osborne.’
This double-act was very much to fore in the post-film session at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse on Sunday 26 Oct. Collins answered questions and did a short acoustic set. Also in attendance were his wife Grace Maxwell and the film’s directors, local boy Edward Lovelace (from Lode) and James Hall.
The directors pondered what they would do next after this ‘dream project’. ‘Can we do a sequel?’ asked Lovelace. ‘The one where we sit in Helmsdale and fight each other’, quipped Grace.
Fans of Edwyn’s music, Lovelace and Hall wrote a speculative letter with their ideas for the film and Grace said ‘yes’. ‘It was a pleasure to work with them,’ she said. Grace recounted the story of how, at the film’s premiere in Austin, Texas, after the sombre, abstract opening, Edwyn had piped up, ‘so far, so good, lads.’
Collins later sang four of his songs, accompanied by James Page on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. His trademark croon and growls were in fine fettle as they performed Home Again, Low Expectations, Don’t Shilly Shally from his Orange Juice days, and a new one, whose lyrics were a stark expression of his recovery so far: ‘When I fall, I fall down / and when I rise, I rise unsteadily.’