Sheffield Hallam University Thursday, 13 June 2013 from 10:30 to 18:00 (BST) Sheffield, United Kingdom
“We want to make films that unnerve, that shake assumptions, that threaten, that do not soft-sell” Robert Kramer, ‘Newsreel’ Film Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1968-69), p.46, University of California Press
The late ’60s and ’70s saw the development of documentary film collectives in the UK that addressed the burning political issues of their day. They developed radical forms of independent film production and distribution prior to digital or the web and produced a large body of work, from short agitational cinetracts to sophisticated essayistic features.
The symposium seeks to re-ignite the work of this radical wave, to ask how they engaged with politics and film and how this might inform politically engaged filmmaking today. It will feature films, and filmmakers, from the ’70s generation alongside radicals of today.
Keynote Speaker: Federico Rossin (Critic and Curator)
Panelists include: Holly Aylett (Vertigo and ‘In the Spirit of Marc Karlin’ project) · Luke Fowler (Artist, Turner Prize Nominee 2012) · Lina Gopaul and David Lawson (Black Audio Film Collective/Smoking Dog Films) · Ann Gueddes (Founder of Cinema Action) · Dan Kidner (Writer and Curator, recently published ‘Working Together: Notes on British Film Collectives in the 1970s’) · Christine Molloy (Artist, Desperate Optimists) · David Panos (Artist, Jarman Award Winner 2011) · Steve Sprung (Cinema Action/Poster Film Collective/Lusia Films)
RELATED TICKETED SHEFFIELD DOC/FEST SCREENINGS:
Wednesday 12 June · 18:45 · Showroom 2
‘The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott‘ (2012) by Luke Fowler
Thursday 13 June · 20:45 · Sheffield Library Theatre
‘The Stuart Hall Project‘ (2012) by John Akomfrah
The symposium is supported by: Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Institute of Arts, Art and Design Research Centre, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Producers: Virginia Heath, Esther Johnson, Steve Sprung
Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org · +44 (0)114 225 6918
The Serpent (1997) is a drama-documentary about Rupert Murdoch. Borrowing from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Karlin
tells the tale of commuter Michael Deakin (Nicholas Farrell), self appointed archangel, who falls asleep on his train and dreams of ridding Britain of the Dark Prince (Rupert Murdoch). The Voice of Reason stops him and not only exposes the futility of Deakin’s quest but confronts us, the silent majority, with our complicity in Murdoch’s rise to power.
Karlin guides us through the labyrinth of Murdoch’s psyche. Firstly ‘The Museum of the Fall’, a fable-like archive containing artefacts of Murdoch’s empire, where human sculptures display tabloid headlines that alter with the public mood, and where page three girls reveal the industrialisation of sex. Secondly, the telling silence that greets Murdoch’s 1989 address at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, where he calls for increased deregulation of television in the face of censorship. The Voice of Reason indicates to Deakin, “this is the silence of democrats … and the Dark Prince could bathe in that silence”
Karlin’s film is a stinging indictment on the Left’s failure to counter Murdoch’s increasing influence in the British media since the late 1960s, and consequently reveals the Left’s tendency to create their own monsters (Murdoch) in order to conceal their guilt. As Karlin remarks in an interview before his death, “In a way you could say it is a very healthy part of British democracy, whereby you invite the wolf who doesn’t disguise himself at all. But if you are going to invite the wolf, then you better start shaping up and debating.” Fifteen years later, over to you Lord Justice Leveson…
The Q&A is chaired by Picture This’ Dan Kidner, with Holly Aylett and Karlin’s cinematographer Jonathan Bloom.
For Memory (originally TV and Memory) was a co-production between the BFI and the BBC. Marc Karlin started writing it in 1975, shot it between 1977 and 1978 and concluded editing in 1982. Ironically, a film about TV and Memory was forgotten. It remained neglected until the BBC finally broadcast the film in a sleepy afternoon slot in March 1986.
For Memory is a contemplation on cultural amnesia. Karlin, with his cinematographer Jonathan Bloom, built a model city in a studio. The camera snakes around the imagery city, seeking out fragile testimonies from voices that fail to conform to a collective history. It is an essay on a city that forgets and remembers, and how it forgets and how it remembers. Historians E.P Thompson and Cliff Williams, anti-fascist activist Charlie Goodman and Alzheimer sufferers deliver banished memories from outside the city’s bounds.
The film opens with an emotional interview with the members of the British Army Film Unit recalling the images they recorded after the liberation of the Belsen Concentration Camp. Karlin wrote For Memory as a reaction to Holocaust, Hollywood’s serialisation of the genocide. He asks: how could a documentary photograph die so soon and be taken over by a fiction?
The Q&A is chaired by Holly Aylett, documentary filmmaker, lecturer and cultural sector director, Luke Fowler, a Glasgow based artist and filmmaker, and Sheila Rowbotham, Writer in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American studies in the British Library.
The Serpent (1997) was originally entitled The Cancer in tribute to Dennis Potter, who named his pancreatic tumour “Rupert” in his famous interview with Melvyn Bragg. Potter, in a parting shot, stated he would love to shoot Rupert Murdoch, who not only lowered the standards of British journalism but had contributed to the wholesale pollution of British political discourse. The Serpent, Marc Karlin’s film broadcast on Channel 4 in 1997, is a fantasy drama-documentary told through Milton’s Paradise Lost. Rupert Murdoch is cast as the dark prince and Michael Deakin, played by Nicholas Farrell, a liberal, London based architect, sets out to destroy the mogul who has made England, “a hard, sniggering, resentful, hard shoulder of a place”.
What stops Deakin in this quest is his Voice of Reason, “Could it really be the devil that has given you 5,000 channels – soaps, sport, sci-fi, music, games, arts, education, videos on demand, data services? Free will on this earth has been restored and, according to you it is the devil that has done it”. Karlin’s film is an indictment on the liberal establishment’s failure to do anything about Murdoch’s increasing influence in British media. He reveals how readily the Left of the 1980s and 90s have created their own demons in order to conceal their own stagnation.
Karlin integrates footage of Murdoch’s 1989 address at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to illustrate the sheer lack of any oppostion. The camera zooms in on the audience of British TV executives, who listen in respectful silence as this self-styled champion of liberty mounts a pulpit to accuse them of waging the same sort of thought control as the established church before the invention of the printing press. The Voice of Reason indicates to Deakin, “this is the silence of democrats … and the Dark Prince could bathe in that silence”
Here is an excerpt from a Radio 4 interview broadcast in February 1999. Marc is being interviewed by Patrick Wright on his Outriders programme.
PW: You’ve also got in that film footage of Murdoch himself talking at Edinburgh. There he is, and he’s outlining his vision, saying this is the new – almost the Copernican revolution! We’re going to turn the world of media upside down, we’re going to deregulate, there are going to be a thousand channels of whatever. You then show the audience, who are basically television professionals to a man, and a woman too, I guess, looking apprehensive and saying nothing. And, you’ve talked about silence. Now, in a lot of your recent films you re-show television footage, whether it be Newsnight or whatever, whether it be people responding to how marvellous Princess Diana was… And you show your own impatience by revealing images of inertia, of concessions you think should never be made. What is that we should have done with Murdoch?
MK: Well, I find it pretty strange they invited him. In a way you could say it is a very healthy part of British democracy, whereby you invite the wolf who doesn’t disguise himself at all. But if you are going to invite the wolf, then you better start shaping up and debating. I mean, I think Murdoch in The Serpent… I think he does represent the real contradictions of Milton’s Satan, so the Edinburgh Festival thing was about that contradiction. On the one hand you invite him, on the other you don’t fight against him. You say: “How terrible it is, Murdoch is going to ruin England!” You know, the number of articles that have been written about Murdoch ruining England, as if those people who have been ruined have had no participation in it whatsoever. They are virgins, they are white paper, they have no soul, they have no passion, they have no heart, they have no ideas, nothing. Murdoch, apparently, has walked all over them. It’s Murdoch who’s done it, not us. That really does make me angry, because you can’t have your cake and eat it. I mean, you can’t, on the one hand say: “We’re democrats, therefore Murdoch can do everything he wants” and on the other: “We can’t stand for our own values because that would be imposing.” That would be saying: “This is what we stand for,” and that would be hideous because that means we would be censorious!
The Serpent is a pertinent reminder of our own culpability surrounding Murdoch’s rise to power, like a cancer being very much part of us and not a foreign body however strongly we deny its existence. The film succeeds in offering a passionate and multifaceted argument to the present debate, overshadowed by the relationship between the press and politicians, and one that perhaps is being neglected by the Leveson Inquiry.
The film was recently screen at the Arnolfini at the Mark Karlin weekend with Picture This. A Q&A with Jonathan Bloom, The Serpent’s cinemathagrapher, Holly Aylett, former editor of Vertigo Magazine, and Picture This‘ Dan Kidner will go up shortly.
This month Picture This, in association with the research project “In the Spirit of Marc Karlin”, held an exhibition and screening programme focusing on the work of British filmmaker Marc Karlin (1943-99). Marc Karlin is an important but neglected figure within the British film avant-garde of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Arnolfini, hosted a weekend of screenings and talks which began with the seminal, Nightcleaners (1974). Shot in black and white, and punctuated with sections of black leader, Nightcleaners fuses political documentary with a rigorous reflection on the materiality of film and the problems of representing struggle. The programme continued with three films that Karlin made for television in the 1980s and 90s. For Memory (1986), features E.P. Thompson, and explores historical memory, Between Times (1993) looks at the fate of the British Left in the wake of Thatcherism, and The Serpent (1997) is a drama-documentary about Rupert Murdoch told through the lens of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Each film brilliantly captures the mood of the left in Britain through the 80s and 90s, whilst the aesthetic and political issues, and questions, they raise remain relevant and urgent.
The weekend ended with a round table discussion with contributors Holly Aylett, Jonathan Bloom, Kodwo Eshun, Luke Fowler, Andy Robson, Sheila Rowbotham, Steve Sprung and hosted by Dan Kidner.Picture This presents Marc Karlin, Roundtable discussion.
The audio from the weekend’s Q&As will soon be up.
Picture This, in association with the research project “In the Spirit of Marc Karlin”, is pleased to present an exhibition and screening programme focusing on the work of British Filmmaker Marc Karlin (1943-99). The Video Shop at Picture This hosts a presentation of photographs, documents and journals, whilst at Arnolfini, Picture This will present a weekend of screenings and talks (see below for full programme).
The screening programme at Arnolfini (13 – 15 April) begins with the seminal, Nightcleaners (1974). Initially commissioned as a campaign film in support of an attempt by the women’s movement to unionise London’s night cleaners, the film soon became something else entirely. Shot in black and white, and punctuated with sections of black leader, Nightcleaners fuses political documentary with a rigorous reflection on the materiality of film and the problems of representing struggle. For Memory (1986), featuring E.P. Thomson, explores historical memory, Between Times (1993) looks at the fate of the British Left in the wake of Thatcherism, and The Serpent (1997) is a drama-documentary that portrays Rupert Murdoch as the Satan of Paradise Lost.
Each screening at Arnolfini is followed by a Q&A with one of the filmmaker’s former colleagues, and the weekend concludes with a roundtable discussion featuring all the contributors.
The project is generously supported by Arts Council England. With special thanks to Arnolfini, BFI, LUX, and In the Spirit of Marc Karlin (Holly Aylett, Hermione Harris and Andy Robson).
A research project focusing on the work of British Filmmaker Marc Karlin (1943-99).
In the Spirit of Marc Karlin was set up by Holly Aylett, fellow documentarist and founder member of Vertigo, Hermione Harris, anthropologist, collaborator on Nicaraguan project and partner of Marc Karlin, and film archivist Andy Robson. It aims to secure Marc’s film and paper archive, to facilitate research and publication, and to build a platform for future generations to have access to Marc’s work.
Marc Karlin is an important but neglected figure within the British film avant-garde of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He was a founder member of the film collectives Cinema Action and the Berwick Street Film Collective, an active member of the film union ACTT and the Independent Filmmakers Association, and he established the journal of independent film, Vertigo, in 1993.
His groundbreaking films for television in the 80s and 90s combined documentary and fiction film tropes to explore the themes of memory, history and political agency. Karlin was, resolutely, a political filmmaker, but his dense, yet subtle films are also rich meditations on the nature of filmmaking, the formation and collapse of ideologies, and the endurance of the human spirit.
This project aims to secure Marc’s film and paper archive, to facilitate research and publication, and to build a platform for future generations to have access to Marc’s work.