Low key spectacle with good tunes and elegant visuals
As a ‘live cinema’ event – the film is accompanied by two musicians performing a soundtrack – Lost Treasure fits elegantly within the fashion for expanding both the audience’s experience and experimenting with formats. Using material from an unfinished film made in 1956 by a socialist collective, Drew Wright (Wounded Knee) and Hamish Brown (of Swimmer One) respond to Minttu Mäntynen’s editing of the source material with a folk-inflected score that oscillates between nostalgia and more robust love of the Highlands.
The film, which was intended to reflect on the depopulation of the Highlands and was driven by a political interest, offers a loving view of rural life. Happy children learn and play, a couple wander along mountain paths and reflect on the spectacular scenery. At times it reflects the 'Visit Scotland' presentation of the majestic peaks and lyrical glens, celebrating the beauty of landscape: stripped of the socialist impetus, it is uncritical and warm, attending to the detail and imagining an idyllic past.
It is in the music, with its sinister electronic throbs and waves beneath Wright’s layered vocals, that a more challenging undercurrent haunts Lost Treasures. Wright’s cunning adaptation of Scottish folk song – he has previously re-tooled traditional numbers to reveal a connection with American soul music – adds in a poignant melancholy. Where the intention of the collective was to comment on a then-contemporary clearance, the soundtrack connects this to a longer, historical process of Highland social change, as the apparently powerful landscape has been manipulated for the benefit of ruling classes.
While the polemical intentions of the source film are lost – there is a nostalgia for even for the 1950s themselves in this performance – the music and the assemblage of the scenes is a warm but clearly serious comment on both the magic of the Scottish countryside and its use for the benefit of capitalism. If it sometimes falters into sentimentality, it is nevertheless a charming and melancholic entertainment with a subtle critique of the representation of the land as a rich man’s playground.