Hearing one of Eighties pop’s more erudite lyricists deliver a halting, stuttering voiceover is an unsettling introduction to The Possibilities Are Endless, a moving documentary about Edwyn Collins’ life following his stroke in 2005. Speech can still be a struggle for the man whose cerebral haemorrhage almost killed him. Yet, albeit hesitant, the wisdom and wit is of the same essence as Edwyn Collins the pop star. The question of whether a charismatic showman and songwriter is still the same person after his memory has been erased is one of many threads to this fascinating, gentle film.
Of three distinct acts, the unorthodox first depicts the stroke by utilising the beautiful landscape of Helmsdale, Scotland, destination of Collins’ childhood holidays. As death threatens, the recollections of Collins and his wife Grace are set to wild, rugged scenery; an ominous storm sweeps over unforgiving cliffs to frightening effect as life hangs in the balance. Collins’ refusal to give in – “I must live, and I must experience the world, whatever, that is, whatever that is” – sets the positive narrative for what follows.
Yet the next section represents the harsh readjustments Collins and Grace have to make back in London. Portrayed by another young couple (there’s a twist), it’s as if they’re starting over. Collins, his memory and speech shot, returns to his beloved recording studio, to equipment and procedures now alien to him. Grace realises that things will never be the same. That they must, well, rip it up and start again. So they adapt and Collins slowly learns to draw and then to sing and to play, a gradual transformation documented in the third act. He begins to write songs again, material first captured on his 2010 comeback, ‘Losing Sleep’.
Although integral to Collins’ story, and his recovery, the film features little in the way of his musical output, the sparse and haunting instrumental score aside. There are snippets, clips of the big hits – ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Rip It Up’ – and footage of his comeback gigs, but, as an immersive account of a man who admits that he can’t relate to the person who wrote and sung his pre-stroke material, the documentary is not concerned with cultural nostalgia. It looks forward, accepts the present and anticipates the future. And it is a love story. Without Grace, Collins wouldn’t have made it at all. “Grace Maxwell” was one of the few things Collins was able to say in the immediate aftermath of his stroke. That and “The Possibilities Are Endless”. By moving from abstract depictions and reconstructions to real-life footage, the documentary immerses us in this story of recovery and rediscovery, offering insight into how the creativity of Edwyn Collins, as well as his companionship with Grace, gained the strength to survive his life-changing stroke.
Following its UK premiere at London Film Festival 11 Oct, The Possibilities are Endless will go on a special UK preview tour and will be on itunes from 20 October, ahead of its general UK release 7 November thepossibilities.co.uk