No script for rhizomatic learning

I recently went to see the film Mr Turner.  I came out rather wishing I hadn’t seen it. I have always loved Turner’s paintings and at one stage of my life lived within walking distance of the site of his painting of the Crook of Lune.

Crook of Lune, Looking towards Hornby Castle circa 1816-18 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Source of image

Mike Leigh’s film intentionally sought to create a tension between the exquisite, ethereal, yet powerful, paintings and the man that Turner was. As Dave Calhoun says in this review, Turner “grunts and grimaces and gropes his way through life” – and through the film.

But the film did make me want to find out more about Mike Leigh, which led me to the BBC Imagine programme in which Alan Yentob interviews Mike Leigh. I now realise that I have seen other Mike Leigh films. The one that immediately springs to mind is Vera Drake, but what I didn’t know was the process that Mike Leigh uses to create his films and this is not only fascinating, but also, I think, rhizomatic.

In the online description of the BBC Imagine programme is written:

On day one of a Mike Leigh film, there is no script, no story and the actors do not know if they will even be in the final film.

And in the programme Mike Leigh says

I say, come and be in my film. Can’t tell you what it’s about. I can’t tell you what your character is. We’ll invent that as part of the process. And you will never know any more than your character knows.

The whole process seems to be one of improvisation based on deep research of the subject and characters being filmed. For example, Timothy Spall learned how to paint like Turner for the part, but the script of the film was the result of many hours of rehearsals, which relied on the cast to ‘make it up as they went along’.

The programme and the process described was fascinating and sparked off all sorts of thoughts and reflections – too many to write about here – but it did jog a memory of seeing another programme years ago where a group of hopeful applicants for art/sculpture school, turned up for interview and found themselves all locked in a large room with a huge polystyrene block each and no instructions on what to do or what was expected. If I remember correctly they were locked in this room for at least a couple of days or more and finally realised that they had to create something out of this polystyrene block –  that was the interview! This also seems to me to be rhizomatic learning.

There is no script for rhizomatic learning.