Under the Skin director Jonathan Glazer is known for his subversive, uncompromising approach to filmmaking. Small wonder, then, that excitement has greeted the news that his latest production, Strasbourg 1518, will be released on BBC Two later this month.
Alongside Glazer’s direction, the fifteen-minute short film will feature a soundtrack created by Mica Levi, who also composed the award-winning music of Under the Skin. It was co-commissioned by Artangel and Sadler’s Wells and will, according to the BBC, be “a collaboration in isolation with some of the greatest dancers working today,” although so far no names have been released.
That the film was made ‘in isolation’ speaks to its creation, which is in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Produced by Academy Films, Strasbourg 1518 is one of many original and revived productions compiled for BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative, aimed at increasing the general public’s access to the arts while theatres and other venues remain closed.
Glazer’s resume, which also includes Birth and Sexy Beasts, may be short, but critics have little doubt of his talent. The Guardian, for instance, ranked Under the Skin among the top five films of the 21st century so far. Moreover, Glazer is no sweet summer child when it comes to short films, as evidenced by his five-minute horror The Fall. The production debuted entirely unannounced on BBC Two in October last year, shocking unsuspecting viewers who had tuned in expecting an hour of stand-up comedy on Live at the Apollo. Those who enjoyed the unapologetically chilling tale of a masked lynch mob – plus at least some of those who didn’t – will doubtless be interested to see what its director, and Levi, can do with fifteen minutes of runtime and several highly skilled dancers.
Details of Strasbourg 1518’s content, like its cast, remain closely guarded secrets. However, the BBC’s statement that the film is inspired by “a powerful involuntary mania which took hold of citizens in the city of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago” indicates that it will at least heavily allude to the so-called “dancing plague” that occurred in – guess where – Strasbourg, 1518. The “plague”, which spread to around 400 people over its two-month lifespan, caused sufferers to dance or at least convulse uncontrollably, not stopping until they collapsed and in some cases died from exhaustion. Contemporary accounts blamed the outbreak on demonic possession, overheated blood and lazy women (yes, really). Today, however, it’s thought to have been caused either by food infected with a fungal disease or by mass hysteria.
Strasbourg 1518 is set to premiere at 10pm on Monday, 20 July. It is unclear whether further information about the film will be divulged prior to its release.
Words by Emma Curzon