DOCUMENTARY THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS – WHICH PAINTS A PICTURE OF FORMER ORANGE JUICE FRONTMAN EDWYN COLLINS AND HIS WIFE GRACE MAXWELL AS THEY ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH A NEW NORMALITY IN THE WAKE OF HIS TWO CEREBRAL HAEMORRHAGES IN 2005 – HAD A LIMITED RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, AND IS NOW OUT ON DVD.
It begins with a brief archive burst of Collins performing 1995 smash hit single A GIRL LIKE YOU on American TV before plunging into abstract underwater visuals intended to be the subconscious. Disembodied phrases – mere syllables, in fact, fractured from meaning, lost and adrift – float about in the eery darkness. This is Collins in deep trouble at the moment of his strokes; his past – his very essence – shut off abruptly as he drops into coma and his system tries to close down for good. It is a mesmerising but wholly disorienting sequence. Maxwell’s voiceover, culled from interview (as is all voiceover throughout, directors James Hall and Edward Lovelace opting to jettison a conventional narration in favour of something much more effective in maintaining intimacy), describes just how close her husband came to death. As he emerges from his coma, spends six months in hospital and begins to convalesce, the acute aphasia allows Collins to repeat just four things over and over: “no”, “yes”, “Grace Maxwell” and “the possibilities are endless”. “No” and “yes” are tools in the return of basic abilities, but the other two are key to establishing a new way of being.
The film could be described as a ‘tone poem’, and if it is such then it’s a poem with two verses. The first is brutal, and deals with the stroke and its effects, and the second shifts gears through Collins’ extremely difficult recovery, as his memories and less prosaic functions begin to come back to him fragment by fragment.
There are several truly touching moments; archive footage of Collins and Maxwell looning about backstage many years ago; his disbelief, when hearing Orange Juice, that he could have been responsible for writing something as wonderful as RIP IT UP; a tentative return to his London recording studio for the first time since his strokes (Maxwell: “He was very quiet”, Collins: “I cried and cried”); a live appearance on Radio 4, with Maxwell having to strum his guitar as Collins, right side severely affected by his condition, can only make chord shapes; the realisation that his more acerbic nature is returning (describing his wife, also his manager, as “Sharon Osbourne” when she fusses over him); his eventual immersion in the habit of drawing birds (and quite beautifully) after once puzzling over exactly what he was supposed to do with the foreign object – a pencil – his wife had placed in his hand; pulling conspiratorial faces at his teenage son who has returned home after staying out all night; and a small but romantic gesture while out on a walk – producing a secret can of ginger beer from his duffel-coat pocket and offering it straight to Maxwell.
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS is not just an inspiring story about a remarkable recovery from profound debilitation, it is a remarkable love story. It is the story of the unyielding love between Collins and Maxwell, and the story of Collins’ unyielding need to express his love for life – both of which save him. If history baldly records only two things about him – the music and the medical – then a (forgivable) disservice will be done. Hall and Lovelace’s tender film offers the opportunity to witness the human element, and to relate to it deeply; Collins’ determination, Maxwell’s patience, and the trust and kindnesses on which a shared life should be built. It leaves the impression that it’s the strength of his marriage which is Collins’ defining achievement; his triumph. At times it can be bleak and upsetting but THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS is always beautiful and, ultimately, extremely uplifting.
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