“I suppose you might compare them to the mid 60s style, flower power and all that sort of thing, but of course you're now into the 70s and of course didn't have all that free love.”
Director Jessica Bishopp has always delved into films that show strange ongoings in life. Particularly focussing on documentaries. But this time Bishopp has developed a fictionalised re-enactment of an urban legend: the Pampas grass plant, a 1970s signal for your front door being open to swingers;
The creative hybrid documentary takes place in 1970s suburbia in Britain. The documentary audio explores the suburban legend around the majestic pampas grass plant. The female voices first nervously discuss the rumours connected to the plant. As the film progresses we hear a female voice reminiscing about the parties where swinging occurred in 1970s rising middle class suburbia. The voices of the women bring the myth visually alive. The rumours surrounding pampas grass have been claimed to have caused the decline in sales of the plant since the 1970s; reported on The Guardian, The Telegraph and Daily Mail.
Bishopp <<The concept of sexual signalling in suburbia through the use of pampas grass intrigued me. I was fascinated by the great lengths people, who often presented themselves in a conservative manner on the surface to their neighbours, would go to to orchestrate swinging parties; “hiding in plain site”.
PAMPAS is incredibly timely and relevant now, despite being set in 1970s suburbia. More and more people are experimenting with non-monogamous relationships and realising that there is no “normal” relationship.
I grew up in the area where the film is set, my grandparents’ old house is featured in the 16mm footage as there is a majestic pampas grass in the front garden - the voice of the woman who now owns the house is featured in the film. All the voices you hear in the film are women who I found through family friends, friends of friends, and also strangers who let me into their homes. I ended up enacting the rumour, as when I saw pampas grass in the Sussex/Kent area I would go and knock on the owners’ doors and chat to them about a documentary I was making.
I wanted to create “essences”, small glimpses of visuals, moments that create a fleeting of emotion, so that we could create a seductive and mythical atmosphere without giving too much away. Also it was important for me that in order to make this film from a female perspective on sexuality that the only face we fully see in the film is Naomi’s, the main character. Every other person in the film, during closer shots has their face dissected, to push the sense that this is the main character’s fantasy, she is the driving force. William Eggelston and Martin Parr’s saturated, satirical and very situated photography and also Annie Leibovitz’s glamourous, sumptuous and timeless staged portraits influenced the film. The way in which painter Edward Hopper used light, colour and composition in his work had a huge impact on the film.
The music was influenced a lot by Angelo Badalamenti’s score for David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet (1986) but with a hint of Simon & Garfunkel from their music in the 1970s, e.g. Mrs Robinson and Cecilia. The film’s composer Hollie Buhagiar and I worked together closely and fluidly, she sent music sketches back and forth during the editing process. Along with lead actress Naomi, composer Hollie and I all collaborated on creating a music playlist of tracks from the 1960s and 1970s that was played during the film shoot and also used to influence the film’s final score.
I love period dramas, I’ve always had a passion for them and always wanted to direct one, however I don’t believe in the idea of replicating or reproducing the past, and in particular white washing it. I think there needs to be a new generation of period dramas, telling new and wonderful stories set in periods we may have already seen before but exploring nuances and people who are normally not represented in the period dramas we see today.
I hope the audience take away humour from the film, but also an unquenched curiosity for the suburban myth, that relationships can have multiplicity and also an inkling that there’s more than meets the eye in suburbia. This film was a lot of fun to make, but also a very personal film for me, and I hope the audience get a sense of this. >>