A little while ago, I made some films for Centred (a charity I have previously referred to as Kairos). The films were the product of a workshop I ran in conjunction with the Soho walking tour the charity runs. On December 11th they had their first public airing at the Centred Winter Warmer, which is a kind of performance / logistics evening in which everyone involved with relevant activities comes and speaks.
I briefly introduced the films, but one of the points I wanted to make, that may have been a little irrelevant given the audience, was that this is the first time I have tried a workshop in which the participants transform a social experience into an artistic one.
I love Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon. It was given to me by a friend in Singapore, shortly after we had a discussion about the problems of queerness and cinema: Hollywood dramas such as The Kids Are All Right sit strangely because there’s an instinctive aesthetic discomfort with seeing queer characters in a form / genre defined by heterosexual characters. Mysterious Object shows the possibilities of a nationalist cinema and in doing so hints at what is possible for queer cinema. This was on my mind this afternoon when I attended a BBC Writers Room session – a very thoughtful date my housemate took me on – and heard the northern director of the programme, Henry Swindell, speak.
Karen Mirza and Brad Butler in collaboration with China Mieville
Deep State – from the Turkish “Derien Devlet” – refers to the breadth and depth of state penetration. In the aftermath of international austerity measures, the Arab Spring, the August riots and Occupy, everyone has realised that the monolith of the state is not that monolithic – it’s a web, it manifests itself in different ways, in different locations, among different people; some of us will be treated very well by it, but only because someone else is bearing the brunt. Some of us live in relatively decent societies, but only because some other country is having the bejeezus bombed out of it. If you have been frustrated by attempts to find a way to live the life of truth, justice and the ethical way, Deep State will reflect that frustration, but it won’t bring you closer to the ideal. Which is funny because early in the film, we see a woman in a red shirt beckoning us, repeating the same gestures with the same unintelligible sounds. She is the symbol of that modern condition – attempting to teach, but being unable to speak – which Deep State formally imitates.
I made this film long, long ago, when I was at university, with the film soc’s HD camera and one mammoth imovie editing session.
Whatever you think of the case with Sam Lo, I made a very quick video response, which was screened at the Substation.
Celine Sciamma, 2011
Laure, aged ten, is loved and accepted by her family as short haired and boyish. When they move to another town during the summer, Laure introduces herself as Mickael to the neighbourhood kids – who she will be joining at the local school in Autumn – and is compelled to continue living this new identity until forced, by embarrassing circumstances, to face the ramifications of taking on a different gender. Whatever innocence was behind the initial gesture is blurred as she is forced to acknowledge that, to the world, she is a girl, not a boy, and her name is Laure, not Mickael.
Last night I ate my dinner in front of Ghost (1990, dir. Jerry Zucker), starring the late Patrick Swayze, Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore. Having endured Almodovar’s Broken Embraces the night before, I was in the mood for some straight-up cinema with a linear plot, a central hero and some good old fashioned resolution at the end – in this case, Swayze’s ascent to Heaven, having just sent the bad guy screaming in to Hell.
But what really got me was Demi Moore’s costume. Lead heroine in a button up shirt? One reviewer points out that “the only thing that is possibly more outdated than the visual effects is Moore’s infamous close-cropped hairdo.” But I thought it was kind of refreshing. After seeing Broken Embraces Housemate A and I sat and talked about the Penelope Cruz Porn that we’d been subject to; Penelope Cruz looks at herself in the mirror; Penelope pouts; Penelope walks down the hall in a tight suit; Penelope has sex; Penelope is crushed to death by a speeding vehicle. Thankfully.
In fact, scrutinising Demi Moore’s outfits and appreciating Whoopi Goldberg’s turn as ‘the store front mystic’ made me think of a show I happened upon last week. It was billed as ‘television’s first feminist tv series’ and aired on channel 4 in 1998. It’s called Big Women. Amazingly, the channel’s Test Tube Telly site has all four episodes available, so I spent two evenings in a bizarre feminist time warp. The series charts the humble beginnings of a feminist publishing house in 1971 and its eventual sale to a giant corporation in 1996. In an interview with The Independent, the writer, Fay Weldon, said:
“The series was [Tariq Ali's] idea. But I go on thinking that anything that is done by men and women together has a kind of energy and life as God intended. Things that women do together tend to be more dutiful.”It’s amazing this is the first drama about feminism there has been on television. But for so long we haven’t been able to see the wood for the trees.
“Perhaps the series will show how dangerous ideologies and isms are … you’ve got women with permission to hate men now and that’s what we have to pull back from.”
So I finished my internship at Diva Magazine. I learned that people want to be shown in a positive light and this is okay; that people are willing to talk to you and respond to challenges if you avoid attacking them; that there are genuine nutcases in the world; that writing clearly/simply is as great a skill as writing technically/academically; that you should spell things out; that *everyone* I meet once worked with or was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party; that people who work for magazines have to *think of things* to write about and aren’t magically bestowed with knowledge; that editors might – shock, horror – ask others for their opinion; that the media is probably where I want to spend the rest of my life.
Tonight I saw ‘Hunger’ by Steve McQueen. It charts the imprisonment and eventual death of Bobby Sands, an IRA member (and MP) who died after sixty-six days on hunger strike in 1981.
Steve McQueen won the Turner Prize in 1997 for his video art installation ‘deadpan’. This is the looping of a deserted barn, the front of which looks as though it will fall on to a man standing below – but he’s missed because he’s standing where a window should be.
‘Hunger’ is disturbing because the make-up is subtle and well done, because the camera is stark, because there is a 22 minute shot of a prisoner and a priest discussing suicide, because we hear the rhetoric of Margaret Thatcher who says ‘They are appealing to your most basic human emotion: pity’, because rather than falling neatly to one side, the film simply says ‘This Happened.’
I’ve been busy. Very busy. And as usual struggling to complete poems and projects. So there is something to be said for the slow release of material. A while back – some time in May – I wrote four film reviews which are only just being published on Culture Wars. The latest is my piece on The Escapist, a brilliant film directed by Rupert Wyatt, with Brian Cox as the lead. Read More