“I believe people accept there is no real alternative.” Thus spoke the Iron Lady. After the freezing Winter of Discontent came the long-awaited “winter of common sense”. An era is drawing to a close, she claimed, meaning that the time for foolish dreams and misguided actions was over. There were to be no more diversions from the one and only course worth pursuing: that leading to the triumph of global capitalism and liberal democracy. While those in power started to pursue vigorous reform programs of neoliberal economic policy and regressive social agendas, some of those who lost their bearings blamed the “bloody-minded” commoners for having invited and brought such ravages upon the dreams of another future. As the memories of struggle faded, counter-forces retreated to a defensive position, where they could merely see fit to protect the freedoms and entitlements that had been acquired with so much grit.
“Wanting to believe has taken over from believing,” a filmmaker observed. But the uncertainty did not stop filmmakers from making films, just as it didn’t stop movements from occupying the spaces that the traditional counter-forces had excluded and abandoned. Instead of holding on to the plots of historical necessity and lures of an imagined unity, they chose to explore twilight worlds between multiple temporalities and realms of experience, situated in the wrinkles that join and disjoin past futures and future presents, memories of struggle and struggles for memory.
This program presents a selection of British films that has documented and reflected on the changing political landscape in a period that stretched from the mid-1970s to the beginning of the 1990s. At its core is the work of a filmmaker who was pivotal within Britain’s independent film community: Marc Karlin (1943-1999). He was a member of Cinema Action, one of the founders of the Berwick Street Film Collective, director of Lusia Films, and a creative force behind the group that published the film magazine Vertigo. He also made a major contribution to shaping Channel 4 into a platform for experiment and discovery. Described by some as “Britain’s Chris Marker”, with whom he became friends, he filmed his way through three decades of sea change, wrestling with the challenges of Thatcherism, the demise of industrial manufacturing, the diffusion of media and memory, the crisis of the Left and the extinguishing of revolutionary hopes.
The resonant work by Marc Karlin and the other filmmakers assembled in this program allows us to feel the pulse of an era of transition, whose challenges and transformations are still with us today. At the same time that the Iron Lady is being immortalized as “a force of nature”, while the arguments for the austerity policies that she championed are crumbling before our eyes, a time when the present is declared to be the only possible horizon, it may be worth our while to revisit this era, if only to discover that history is not past – only its telling.