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SXSW capsule review: ‘The Possibilities Are Endless’

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Edward Lovelace and James Hall previously worked as executive producers on the 3D concert film “Katy Perry: Part Of Me.” As directors, they’ve headed in the complete opposite direction, both musically and tonally, for this chronicle of Edwyn Collins and his recovery after a devastating stroke.

Collins was the leader of a Scottish post-punk band called Orange Juice from 1979-1985. While the band only once broke into the UK Top 40 chart, they are still revered as masters of melody and wry lyrics thanks to their acerbic frontman. Many years later, Collins would yet again break into the charts with his solo hit “A Girl Like You” in 1994. It became a radio smash in America thanks to its inclusion on the “Empire Records” soundtrack.

While his solo career never experienced that kind of massive success again, he continued making music until two cerebral hemorrhages in early 2005 came close to ending his life. After emerging from a medically-induced coma, the only things that he was able to say were “yes”, “no”, his wife’s name “Grace Maxwell” and the phrase “the possibilities are endless.” Grace says in the film that the phrase sounded profound at first, but began to lose its meaning after the 80th time she heard it.

The documentary begins with a clip of “A Girl Like You” being performed on ‘Late Night With Conan O’Brien’, but then quickly evolves into unexpected imagery paired with distorted, repeated vocals. This strange visualization continues for some time, making it clear that we’re not watching a standard music biopic. Through a technique of blending nature footage and underwater imagery, Lovelace and Hall give us a small glimpse into the disorientation that Collins experienced. With slightly slurred speech, he admits “I’m struggling to come to terms with who I am.”

When he first left the hospital, he couldn’t speak. He was, in fact, fully unaware of his own legacy. A man whose life revolved around witty wordplay was still standing, but without a voice or memory. The nature of a brain injury this severe is that you get stuck in your own thoughts like a broken record. It was a daily struggle to reassemble his memories (“I wrote that?”) and an overwhelming experience for Grace, who was there with him every step of the way.

His wife was a firm believer that he had to be reintroduced to his life slowly, but that because his career and recording studio were in his DNA, it would all come back. Slowly, it did. She reveals that “out of nowhere, he started to recall the words to one of his songs.” From there, the memories began to filter back. He’ll likely never have the memory or physicality that he had before the stroke, but his determination has pushed him through to where he’s making music again. In fact, he performed acoustic with his son after the film’s premiere at the Ritz yesterday.

Alternately heartbreaking and life-affirming, this is a hauntingly abstract and beautiful portrait of the healing power of love.

“The Possibilities Are Endless” is playing Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Alamo Village and again on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Violet Crown.