Cold mechanical steel, met by a dull blanket of grey concrete. An unexpected setting for the profound emotional insight and raw humanity that Marc Isaacs exposes in Lift. Marc Isaacs is a North London-born documentary filmmaker with a passion and flare for bringing those on the fringes of our society to centre stage. His documentary films to date include Lift, All White in Barking, Travellers, and the harrowing Calais: The Last Border. His films force the viewer to look without judging eyes at people who remain on the lower rungs of our communities. Those ghosts in the background who work the unskilled jobs, speak with simple tongues and return home alone at night.
These common characteristics of his work are perhaps best displayed in Lift, possibly due to the sheer simplicity of the idea and the confinement of its subjects, but also because of the distinct sense of pathos we get from the wry smiles and faintly sardonic remarks made by them. Isaacs spent two months in the elevator of an East London tower block, speaking to the residents as they went on their daily commute. London’s multicultural nature ensures Isaacs encounters a diverse range of people, different colours, creeds and ages. The superficial yet clear divide in many of the tower’s residents is something which undoubtedly contributes to conveying the film’s message.
What is particularly interesting is the confidence that builds between Isaacs and the characters. A confidence that grows simply from being present in such a familiar and confined space, often without any real engagement at all. At first some are reserved, a few are somewhat overconfident in the gaze of the lens (alcohol having a role in these cases) and there are others completely unwilling to cooperate. However, as the films progresses all seem to grow used to his presence in the elevator, he becomes part of their daily ritual.
Once a bond of trust is built between Isaacs and his subjects, he poses a simple question. This proves to be a cuttingly effective technique in bringing out that which lies deepest within the characters. Questions such as ‘what is your best childhood memory?’ retrieve some of the most fascinating answers from lives which seem steeped in mundanity. But it is the development of the characters that these questions are posed to which truly captivates the viewer. A striking example in particular, is a man who at first appears to be completely unremarkable and too anxious to hold any relevant discourse with Isaacs. Even this man’s fondest childhood memory is ‘winning a recorder competition as the only boy’. But the story this man goes on to reveal to us is truly shocking, one that highlights Isaacs talent at bonding with his subjects purely by becoming involved in the most simple aspects of their lives, both through his physical presence and questioning.
Lift takes place in a world where a morbid, futureless, artificial light illuminates the lost souls of dirty hallways. But beneath this grim aesthetic lies an undeniably true concept. It beckons us to consider one of the truly sad things in life, that there are people everywhere, who are alone.