Bait is a film I was not expecting.
When I summarise the plot, it may not sound like much; A Cornish fisherman struggles to save money to buy a trawler.
Bait is so much more than its premise.
Bait: a secret masterpiece
2019 has been an excellent year for film. In the mainstream, you saw the juggernaut of the Marvel movie machine reach its Endgame. At the same time, Joker represented an evolution of the comic book genre.
Tarantino put out an original piece of work. While it wasn’t for me, the box office receipts show that there’s an appetite for original work.
Adam Sandler finally put out a film worthy of his talent in Uncut Gems.
The financial success of Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite tells us audiences aren’t afraid to read subtitles.
In short, this year had something for film fans of every stripe.
Although awards season is upon us, I must remind myself that films are not a competition. However, when it comes to “the best” movie of 2019, there was one film that stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Bait is easily my favourite film from last year.
On the surface, it would not be my standard choice.
Somehow watching a film about a man selling fish to a local pub in Cornwall would not usually be my thing. There’s more to the story than that, of course. It’s about how a fishing village deals with the invasion of middle-class townies. Townies who want an idyllic version of country life.
The kind of people who bring their kids to the zoo. Then they ask to speak to the manager when the giraffes are humping.
At the same time, there’s nuance. The mum of the middle-class family develops sympathy for the hero.
Even the hero isn’t idealised. He’s a stoic person who sticks to his principles. At the same time, he can be viewed as someone held in the past, fighting the tides.
A discussion with a friend about Bait
The man who writes about himself and his own time writes about all people and about all time.
George Bernard Shaw
Part of what makes Bait so good is there is a universal quality to the story.
I went to see Bait with a friend. Afterwards, we discussed our thoughts on the film. He believed that it’s a film that could only be made today. I disagree, it’s a film about all times.
My friend said that fishermen becoming Uber drivers is unique to our time. I don’t agree. This is a timeless story about how the city imposes on the town. How the new clashes with the old. It comes in strips the place of identity and then moves onto the next village.
I’m not saying I’m right, it’s my own opinion, maybe you agree with my friend. I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
Black and white beauty
Bait is filmed in black and white 8mm. There are scratches on the film, and sometimes there are random cuts to events that may or may not have happened. Flash forwards, flashbacks, dream sequences, sometimes it’s not clear which is which. To be honest, it all adds to the appeal of the film.
Bait is filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. This is a film not about the landscape of the terrain but the landscape of the human face.
The film was shot silently with all sound added in after. It lends a surreal quality to the film. The lighting too is bright and does the job.
There are moments of intense staring, and you feel the tension. You feel the underlying rage of the hero.
Without wanting to get too pretentious, the long looks combined with the look of the faces reminded me of a Sergio Leone western.
Evoking Sergio Leone is a good thing.
Combine those elements with grainy black and white, it becomes a thing of beauty.
One other aspect of the look that I loved is exemplified by the following scene:
The girl who works at the local bar gets arrested in the middle of the night.
There is a shot of her being put in the back of the police car. The scene is illuminated by a huge glaring spotlight on the police car she is being put in.
Now when I was watching Bait, the analytical side of my brain saying “where is that light sources coming from?”. Almost immediately, the other side of my mind said, “It’s black and white, forget about it”.
For me, that’s part of the appeal of black and white. Your mind accepts techniques you wouldn’t let slide in colour photography. Techniques like light sources, lighting and blocking.
It reminded me that not only is black and white beautiful, but it is ideal for low budget projects.
Bait and in particular the writer/director Mark Jenkin revel in a love of physical film.
Bait reminded me of my own passion for specific formats.
I was a child during the age when every middle-class family had a camcorder. I remember watching back hours of boring holiday footage, shaky pans, awkward zooms. At the time I hated it, now I miss it. I miss the tracking lines, I miss the grain.
Most of all, I miss the sound of the tape being run through. Modern cameras are too quiet.
Bait got me nostalgic.
It also got me thinking.
Bait is a film to inspire filmmakers.
What I loved most about Bait is specific to me. Bait feels like it has lit a fire under me. It made me remember why I want to make films.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to Bait.
Bait reminded me if a story engages and entertains people don’t care about presentation. In fact, the presentation will be seen as part of the appeal.
Here’s the thing, I’m in love with Bait’s presentation.
The scratches make you feel the film physically.
You can feel the director Mark Jenkin developing the film and cutting the print by hand. Without wanting to read his mind, it felt like this was a story he was burning to tell.
Jenkin had to birth the story on the screen, even if it meant he had to cut it out of him violently.
You might think I’m being a bit over the top, but I know this feeling. I made a film ages ago, I thought the fire went out. Bait reminded me that the light’s still there. The flames have dimmed, all I need to do is add some fule.
PS, you can watch my film, Deadville here, for free.
How do I do that?
I need to get back to making films again.
You know what there is something about watching films made in the UK in particular that sparks the flame.
The last time I felt the heat, it was Dead Man’s Shoes. A very English film that said to me, “All you got to do is grab your camera and film something”.
Bait gave me that feeling too. I’m finishing up a short film script. I’m looking over feature-length scripts I wrote years ago. Some of them are pretty good.
The fire grows.
Thank you Bait.
Bait is a fantastic film. In a strong year, it was the strongest.
Perfectly paced, it conveys so much with what feels like minimalist production.
I hope you will give it a watch at some point. I understand it might not be to your taste, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. It’s a film made with confidence and self-assuredness. Bait doesn’t require your approval.
I love this kind of film, and if you’re honest with yourself, you do too.
You can watch Bait through the BFI player. Get a 14-day free trial or a cancel at any time subscription of £4.99 ( I am not affiliated with BFI).
For a filmmaker, even a cynical one like myself, it rekindles the romance of film.
Bait got me, hook line and sinker.