Though quick to ignite, once over, relationships can be difficult to extinguish; old flames destined to continue burning long into the night as embers. Memories of past connections haunt many of us, even as we convince ourselves they have been laid to rest. For the character of Cameron in Canadian filmmaking duo Spencer Hetherington and Jesse Ricottone’s Old Flame – A Super 8 Story, such a haunting proves all-encompassing. As his nostalgic longing for a past love wreaks a deepening psychological unrest, Cameron’s sanity slips, all captured masterfully on vintage Super 8 film stock.
As romance blooms, the young couple at the heart of our story appear picture perfect. Together they ride in roof-down convertibles; sun on their skin, polka dot dresses hinting at a love that is timeless. Soon, however, the relationship sours, Cameron’s partner leaving him for reasons left undisclosed. Pining for his past love, Cameron finds solace in the bottom of a bottle, drinking himself into oblivion on desolate stretches of coastland. But as Cameron’s sanity slips, he is forced to face up to his demons, a surreal and perhaps sinister switch beginning to take hold.
Integral to the filmmakers’ telling of their story is the Super 8 camera, with all the grainy, nostalgic bliss that such a production method provides. As Hetherington and Ricottone attest, their desire was to tell a story that was “well suited to the medium, not just using it as a gimmick.”
Utilising a camera and film stock immortalised by the youthful exertions of such directors as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, this 60s camera, with its reduced frame rate and grainy stock, provides an aesthetic that is hard to replicate. Its suitability for the story it captures is unquestionable, benefitting as it does on many levels.
Exploring one young man’s efforts to let go of his past, there is a slight irony in filming using what is now viewed as an archaic method. However, through the nostalgic viewpoint that Super 8 is so perfectly positioned to provide, it is able to communicate a longing for one’s past with utmost effectiveness. Indeed, there is something almost meta in its use, as just like scratches on an old record, the imperfect quality of the recording makes it hard to forget that you are in the process of watching a film, watching something with an unmistakable homemade quality.
The 1:33:1 aspect ratio is also a welcome touch, and one that will provide much appreciated variation when lining up alongside its competitors in film festival programmes. Likewise, the shaky handheld quality of the shots, forever associated with upcoming filmmakers making their work on the fly with minimal budget, corresponds well with the intimate feel of the piece. As viewers, we are brought in close to the action, made to feel disturbingly complicit in Cameron’s shame and suffering.
The final edit is clear and polished, with several nice cuts segueing effortlessly into flashback sequences, directly communicating Cameron’s desire to keep holding on to his past flame. The sound design is crisp and well executed, both in its diegetic and non-diegetic moments, the all-round execution of the project belying the directors’ age and relative inexperience.
As we close on the spectral image of a still smoking coffin, we are reminded that even as we grow and change, some old flames never truly burn out, destined to haunt us well into the future.
'Old Flame – A Super 8 Story' was part of the Official Selection at Short Focus Film Festival 2020.