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The Invisible Lighthouse (2013)

I achieved world fame as a chart topping musician and entrepreneur. But I am fascinated with the new opportunities opened up by the latest digital film-making technologies. For the first ... See full summary »


Thomas Dolby


Thomas Dolby


Thomas Dolby


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Credited cast:
Thomas Dolby ... (voice)


I achieved world fame as a chart topping musician and entrepreneur. But I am fascinated with the new opportunities opened up by the latest digital film-making technologies. For the first time, it is possible for someone like myself to tell a story that is close to my heart, without needing to seek funding or distribution from the film industry. Many stories like mine will begin to unfold as artists learn to express themselves in this newly accessible medium. The results may be surprising. As a first-time filmmaker, I shot and edited this film entirely myself using affordable consumer cameras, and also wrote and performed the narration and musical score. Written by Anonymous

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Let's see if I remember this right
18 July 2018 | by mikemcareeSee all my reviews

Being at least in part a biopic, this film is a work of memory. Dolby starts from his early days growing up in East Anglia through the height of his popularity in the mid-80s before settling in to his more recent, somewhat more niche interests, reflective solo film projects and conducting interviews with film and recording legends. At our show in Vancouver he interviewed Walter Murch, film editor and sound engineer whose credits include Apocalypse Now, the Godfather films, and notably The Conversation. All of this at a pop music show. Dolby commented afterward that if this were the sort of thing he did all the time, it would be more normal and easier to market. He compared himself unfavourably to David Byrne, suggesting that if Byrne had tried a tour like this one (part film, part interview, followed by short concert and then a Q and A), folks would be more ready for it.

The presentation of the film was unique: Dolby stayed on stage during the show, adding narrative commentary to supplement his recorded voice in the video, and occasionally playing bits of music to accompany the scenes. The through-line for the film is that there is a lighthouse near Dolby's childhood home of Orford Ness. Dolby recounts some tales of memory, including the personal family tragedy that inspired "One of our Submarines." That song is itself about a memory, and one that was wrong: Dolby had always thought the submarine that his uncle had died in had sunk during maneuvers off Plymouth; he would learn much later in life that it had indeed been sunk in combat during WWII. So the song has it wrong, in a way. As a narrative of fact, it is incorrect; as a story of memory, it is personal and autobiographical.

A story that Dolby tells of his childhood involves a memory of a fire that took place when he was not in town. Having heard the story so often, he had for years remembered being there to see it. The idea of false memory is carried forward to a local legend of a UFO visit to Orford Ness, one of those shared experiences that grow in the telling, like Loch Ness or Roswell. The stories, told so often, become real to the minds of the storytellers. So too the Orfordness Lighthouse itself; Dolby says he recalls seeing the light from his home, and then questions whether he ever really did.

The lighthouse was set to be decommissioned during the time that Dolby was making his documentary, so he decided it would add something to be able to witness the ceremony of turning it off. He imagined there was a big switch inside the lighthouse and that maybe he could film the person who turned the switch to shut off the light. He ultimately is unable to get access to the lighthouse, though he does learn that there is no "big switch." We don't learn what the mechanism is, but for me a part of the magic of this film is that in the absence of a real answer, the fiction became real. In my memory of the film, even knowing what I know, I can see the submarine sinking in standard maneuvers off Plymouth; I can see that barn on fire, and I can see a man in an overcoat pulling a large switch to shut off a lighthouse forever.

I saw this film on my birthday years ago and have thought of it often since. I think it's personally amusing that I didn't write about it when it was fresher in my mind. It is a film about memory, and maybe I remember it wrong. If I do, then it is even more interesting to me for that.

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January 2013 (USA) See more »

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