Like many others, I spent the bulk of my adolescence wondering how these were to be the most charmed days of my life. Since I was living at home, there was no rent due, no bills, and very little responsibility beyond getting my head around math equations involving sweets and marbles. But I’m sure you’ll agree when I say that the tortuous hormone-induced mood swings didn’t leave much time to enjoy these perks. I’ve always assumed that a more mature mindset would yield genuine appreciation for this set-up, but Duncan Cowles’ documentary short gleefully quashes such hopes.
The simplicity of The Lady with the Lamp’s scenario betrays the eccentricities implied by its title. The lamp is a run-of-the-mill desktop furnishing, the lady is Duncan’s mother. There’s no genie in sight, although give it time and you might just spy some magic in this quietly hilarious two-hander.
Combine the newfound self-assurance that comes with reaching the age of twenty-one with the spoils of your teenage years and you may just be living the dream, right? If man were supposed to stay static, then yes. But for better or worse, we live in a society obsessed with youth and success. One assumes that Cowles, a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art, dreams of both. But this short sees him living at home, sipping at a cup of tea while his mother discusses the pros and cons of his desk lamp.
Cowles avoids the expected themes of compromised freedoms and privacy, instead focusing on an almost microscopic facet of the generation gap between him and his mother. She’s at a stage in her life where she can freely express concern over her son’s overheating lamp. Duncan is not. To me, his reluctance to replace it reflects a familiar fear of getting too settled. The lamp could only be the start, a seemingly innocuous concession to a lifetime of living at home.
His mother’s disquiet is sweet and affecting, but it’s clear that Cowles is ready to fly the nest. He claims the film to have been made by accident, and you can tell. Their interaction is captured in a single static shot. Thankfully, it’s a good one, exposing a vast DVD collection and a sliver of a poster for Blade Runner.
While there’s a lot to be said for diving into the adult world head first, The Lady with the Lamp makes a case for putting those plans on hold. If not to reap the benefits of a free home, then perhaps to bust out a camera, commit your parent-child relationship to celluloid, and pray it registers half as much as this with some other budding talents in transition.