Once, upon Shaftsbury avenue, in 1982 or maybe a bit later, My memories of time are a little blurred through passage of time and drug abuse, whilst being a young teenage homeless kid and waiting for the Centrepoint Hostel to open and get a safe place to sleep for the night, I was met quite by chance by a fine fellow with kindness and encouraging words, I did not know who he was, he gave no name, only some coin and some advice the coin I accepted, the advice I failed to understand…… These many moons later I see the face of kindness and lament…… I guess he saw in me something that I took many years to recognise, but as the saying goes… ‘better late than never’ .
Who knew that many years later I would be using Derek’s work as part of a Masters Degree research into film making and film makers? He of course spent much time in Italy in the 80’s but he did flit back and forth to London and it was perhaps on one of those jaunts the meeting took place. He came to my attention in later times, when I paid more attention to things, as the stylist/designer of music videos and as the collaborator on Ken Russell’s film(s) and so I go from Jarman to Russell in my research.
Russell was also provocative in his film making and was heavily influenced by classical music where he once stated that he hears music and sees images, he made his way into film via many jobs one of which was as a freelance stills photographer and his eye for composition is clearly visible.
I seem to be interested in film makers that are not ‘mainstream’ and have an edge, some grit and ‘reality’ to their work, perhaps this is because my main interest is documentary and I find that some directors, Alan Clarke, is another, speak with a large element of truth from observation of society, Made in Britain by Alan Clarke, Nil By Mouth by Luc Besson and the directorial debut of Gary Oldman,, Rita Sue and Bob too also Alan Clarke, these came about during a 15(ish) year period where brit grit movies were in vogue and the film makers were able to use a huge pool of young talent, Ray Winstone, Kathy Burke, Robert Carlyle, Tim Roth, and the list goes on…
The directors were able to not just pull great performances from these then relatively unknown actors but the were able to make the censors allow the films to be shown to a bigger audience as people like, Jarman and Russell had already uncreased the trousers of the establishment and ‘artistic licence’ was added to ‘dramatic effect’ . These films were about the Britain I grew up in, I observed first hand, and indeed participated in, some of the events being portrayed in the scenes, I watched these films in awe, and they actually helped me to see myself for the first time.
My journey has not been an easy one I will not go into it here, but in a nutshell I went from abused childhood, to children’s homes, to community homes with education (approved School) to secure unit to glue sniffing and being angry and confused in every aspect of my life, I was desperate to fit in and be valued, I got neither, then drugs and prison doing a number of despicable things all of for which I was punished and paid my debt to society, to realisation of my need to be female and not homosexual as I once suspected and fought against fuelling more anger, to hard work, attitude change and intelligent use of time, throughout all of this I had films, I loved films, they gave me an out for a short time, they fed my fertile imagination but alas I was never encouraged to follow up on my love and it festered for many years. Now though I am getting it all out, I am using these experiences not in an angry teen rebellious way but in a measured and considered(mostly) rebellious way, I guess thats why I adore the film makers I do, There is a film or book or both there somewhere and I am taking modules to try get them out of me….
For me it is a relatively new thing to look at a film rather than watch a film, I do struggle a little because I am used to using films as an escape rather than appreciating them as an art form but the tutors at Leeds Uni are fantastic, they know my history, they are aware of my need to express and are helping me to do it in a non confrontational and academic way so that my stories will be taken more seriously than they were when I just used to kick off and be abusive verbally.
I was a writer. I wrote, but my readers were blind. I was left with no pens, but with blank sheets like curtains and many ink wells. I felt compelled to record everything and pass my writings on to the next generation readers, who I hoped would not be blind, but before everything, I had to write a specific letter to a specific reader who I had never met. I did not know whether this person was also blind or whether they would be able to read me, but the tales of history and the atrocities had to be retold. With my paper curtains, but without my pens, I had decided to wrap myself up and deliver myself as the letter.
Excerpt from ‘The Letter’ by Amaan Ahmad ( https://www.TheBeaconKolkata.co.in/the-letter/)
I used to like writing, I was very high in the English, History and Geography classes in all my schools, My mother taught me how to read before I even started nursery school, and these were my favourite subjects and classes, I hated Maths with a passion and only learnt that which I needed to get by.
I would write poems quite a lot, but it was discouraged by peers and beaten out of me on the school yard, though I would still on occasions of great sorrow sit in a wheat field or wood , especially in the rain writing depressing prose of my own construction, though I had never read much poetry I felt compelled to write it….
Mathew Brady the American Civil War photographer was one of the first people I started to look into upon starting my B.A(hons) degree, I was introduced to his work by a tv documentary and immediately admired both his imagery and his work ethic and that led me to Robert Capa both of whom were accused of ‘staging’ documentary shots. I am only half convinced that these images are ‘fakes’, in the sense that they are staged is now a given, but I still think they are documentary in the sense that they depict actual conditions and occurrences that perhaps the photographers witnessed but due to danger to themselves were unable to make the shot at the moment they happened. Of course nowadays the adage ‘the camera never lies’ is no longer true, with the advent especially of digital image making and software to adjust them, though that is not to say that ‘manipulation’ did not occur in the darkrooms of the past.
It seems very sad to me that great artists who push boundaries are usually vilified and ridiculed during their life time and struggle to make both ends meet and produce works and that after their passing they are held aloft and placed on gelt pedestals where they are proclaimed ‘Genius’ but benefit nothing nor see the changes they have affected. It seems like ‘they’ will only allow one to be artistic if it suites their purpose and does not cause thought to invade the minds of the drones they created to fire the furnaces and card the wool….
Orson Welles once said of his film making that he was not aware of what you can’t do, he just thought , well, why not? He, like many other great film makers learnt s they went along, if an idea struck they work out how to achieve it.
Rosemary’s Baby Came out one year after I was Born (1968) and I got to see it when I was about 9 1n 1975/6 when I, as the eldest child, were allowed to stay up and keep mother company whilst my step father went out and drank money we did not have on a Friday and Saturday night. My mam loved horror/thriller mystery genres of TV and film so I naturally loved them too, we would eventually watch Tales of the unexpected, which started in 1979 and The Twighlight Zone re runs, and cook together, it was my introduction to directors like Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock etc, because prior to this I was not allowed to watch horror or stay up when they would be shown on one of the three channels we had…..
My mother also had a love of Elvis Presley and everything he ever did…… I heard all his songs and saw all the movies he was in growing up, I actually cried when he died in August of 1977 because I felt the pain of loss my mother felt and I felt like a cousin or something had passed away, I was only 10 and did not really understand why I was upset other than mam was, so I was too….. Musicians acting in Movies was really the precursor to music videos which would really take off in the 80’s, there had been tentative attempts previously but they were mostly either too long or too pretentious and contrived, the public wanted less but more….. the technology of the 80’s would be the catalyst for MTV and the like.
Michael Muller, a movie stills / portrait photographer of some 40 years has said in this film….. he never goes online or looks at other peoples work for inspiration….. I said that to my teachers on my B.A and they said I was stupid…sort of, they insisted that looking at other peoples work was imperative…. I disagreed and still do….