In 1951 James Duthie cycled from his small fishing village Cairnbulg in Scotland to the Artic Circle, and wrote a book about it: ”I Cycled into the Arctic Circle”. Director Matt Hulse got hold of the book and decided to make a film about it. Dummy Jim, Duthie’s nickname, contains fiction, animation, and documentary footage. Hulse included a wide variety of visual materials and sources in his film, which form several of the threads he weaved together.
The film opens with a man in somewhat outdated clothing roaming a community hall with laid tables. The hands of a designer creating an animation accompany the opening titles. The man is Samuel Dore, himself a deaf man, who plays Duthie, and re-enacts and re-cycles Dore’s trip. Later we see him pack, leave the village, and cycle and camp in the various countries he crosses, all in fifties styles and with fifties gear. We observe the various countries with him and witness the tribulations travellers meet: flat tyres, a broken bike, rain, fatigue. The community hall is the site of a tribute of sorts, where children read Duthie’s poetic texts on-screen, introducing the various countries, wearing the clothes of the era. The texts also accompany the images of the trip and are displayed on-screen. In addition, Dore recites some of them in the first person. Cut with this we see rehearsals, as well as dress rehearsals, for what seems to be a commemorative event in the community hall.
These two major strands, the cycling trip and the commemoration, form the backbone of the narrative. Apart from the cycling and the scenes related to the commemoration, there are three central activities in the film: knitting, drawing and stone-cutting. A lady sits knitting in her wool shop, and later images reveal she is working on a pattern for a “trimly orthodox” pullover Eventually we learn that this piece is for Dore. The designer reappears throughout the film, drawing lines with black Indian ink. The figures remain abstract for a long time, form single lines or very simple elements, the shots extremely brief. In the end they reveal a certificate confirming Duthie’s achievement. Throughout the film we see clips of the cutting of stone. It starts with close-ups of the sawing of a piece of rock that is then transported through the workshop and chiselled into shape; an inscription is designed and created, and eventually it turns out to be a commemorative gravestone for Duthie and his mum. These three activities serve as an ode to Duthie’s times, to the era of the mechanical and the manual, the creative, the individual, in which mistakes were allowed.
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