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On loop

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A surreal ode to the wee hours when daily anxieties meet sleepless dreams

‘Not again! Middle of the night, you’re such a shite.’

For many, bedtime isn’t a six-to-eight hour period of rejuvenation so much as a fragmented, semi-hallucinatory state of snoozing, overthinking, eating, Googling, texting, and kind of having to pee. The UK filmmaker Christine Hooper captures the nights where dreams bleed into reality and daily anxieties bleed into dreams with a delightful eccentric touch in her short film On Loop (2013), which she directed as a student at the Royal College of Art in London.

With a kitchen-sink visual approach, Hooper expresses the experience via a disorienting combination of live action, photomontage and other assorted effects. The visuals are accompanied by a poem, written by Hooper and narrated by the Scottish comedian Susan Calman, which cleverly evokes the scattered, semi-coherent stream of consciousness that often accompanies an unwelcome middle-of-the-night awakening. Hooper explains that the visual style – characterised by intersecting lines and a flamboyant colour palette – takes a cue from the style of David Hockney, while the portrayal of sleep troubles is inspired by her own bouts of insomnia.

It’s entertaining stuff – Hooper’s vivid nocturnal world is replete with droll one-liners and sight gags. But alongside the humour, there’s a slightly disquieting – and, for many perhaps, all-too-familiar – edge to the proceedings, as surreal characters pop in and out of view, and anxieties compound. That Hooper’s immersive world is at once strange, relatable, unnerving and funny is an impressive balancing act – and one that can likely be credited to many a sleepless night.

24 February 2021