In Search of the Miraculous

Art and culture.

Culloden (1964, directed by Peter Watkins)

From Wikipedia:

Culloden is a 1964 docudrama written and directed by Peter Watkins for BBC TV. It portrays the 1746 Battle of Culloden that resulted in the British Army’s destruction of the Scottish Jacobite rising of 1745 and, in the words of the narrator, “tore apart forever the clan system of the Scottish Highlands”. Described in its opening credits as “an account of one of the most mishandled and brutal battles ever fought in Britain”, Culloden was hailed as a breakthrough for its cinematography as well as its use of non-professional actors and its presentation of an historical event in the style of modern TV war reporting.

Jacques Lacan Speaks

The psychoanalyst and theorist Jacques Lacan delivers a public lecture at a university in Leuven in 1972.

Talking Heads - Live in Rome (1980)

A phenomenal set by Talking Heads around the release of their seminal Remain in Light album, recorded with Brian Eno and voted the second best LP of the 1980s by Pitchfork. This line-up includes the original four members and the band ‘s ‘Afro-funk orchestra’, featuring Adrian Belew, soon to join King Crimson.

Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1963)

Synopsis taken from the Close-Up Film Centre website:

Ken Jacobs‘ seminal Little Stabs At Happiness has a magical, beguiling soundtrack that utilizes Jacobs’ own 78’s record collection and a humourous, self-referential voice-over. The music allows for the perfect platform for the subtle lived-performances of Jack Smith, Jerry Sims and co. who seem at once so embracing and all-knowing of the camera and yet resigned to their New York City-dwelling destitution. Humour and melancholia synthesize in both music and image with a sense of ease and lucidity that sustains the film’s vitality to this day.

“Material was cut in as it came out of the camera, embarrassing moments intact. 100′ rolls timed well with music on old 78s. I was interested in immediacy, a sense of ease, and an art where suffering was acknowledged but not trivialized with dramatics. Whimsy was our achievement, as well as breaking out of step.” – Ken Jacobs

Gil J. Wolman - L'Anti-concept

Text from e-flux:

The French artist Gil J Wolman (1929–1995) was a pioneer in researching the intersection and alteration of visual and textual languages. Wolman was an outstanding member of Lettrism. Created in the mid-1940s by the Rumanian-Parisian artist Isidore Isou, it maintained that the expressive heights of all artistic languages (poetry, music, painting and so forth) had already been reached. In order to initiate a new creative cycle, it was necessary, first and foremost, to go back to the beginnings, to deconstruct artistic languages. This meant a return to signs emptied of their semantic weight, that is, a return to letters. Due to the number and quality of the works, documents and publications included in this exhibition, it is a sort of encyclopaedia of Lettrism. The exhibition starts with the film L’Anticoncept (1951), which is projected onto a weather balloon rather than on a traditional screen. The image comes on and off, with the black and the white alternating intermittently and with different rhythms, and the sound consists of poems, brief reflections and syncopated texts falsely sung. Like Debord’s 1952 film Hurlements en faveur de Sade (Howls for Sade), Wolman’s film rejects iconographic narration and effects a strict application of Lettrist notions about film.

Click the link at the top for an English translation of the script - a beautiful piece of poetry in its own right.

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners

A short documentary filmed at the Haçienda, Manchester in 1984, covering a benefit gig for the striking miners organised by the local gay and lesbian community. Features The Redskins, Factory Records mogul Tony Wilson and Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks as well as several activists.

Taken from the Queer City VHS programme of ‘Lo-Res clips from vibrant queer life in NY, Manchester and Berlin, 1984-1994’.

An Observer article from 1995 about transgender theorist and performance artist Sandy Stone, an early look at how ‘cyberspace … can reconfigure our selves and our bodies’. Published here by kind permission of the author, Jim McClellan.

An Observer article from 1995 about transgender theorist and performance artist Sandy Stone, an early look at how ‘cyberspace … can reconfigure our selves and our bodies’. Published here by kind permission of the author, Jim McClellan.

Stuart Hall - It Ain’t Half Racist Mum (1979)

Stuart Hall's 30-minute documentary, shown late at night on BBC2's Open Door strand, about how racist ideas were disseminated through and facilitated by popular culture - TV news, sitcoms and documentaries.

Here, Hall and Maggie Steed from Campaign Against Racism in the Media talk about: who sets the terms for ‘debate’, and which ideas are allowed to make the greatest impression; the nefarious nature of the BBC’s ideas of “balance” with far more airtime given to the National Front or ‘experts’ such as Enoch Powell than the Anti-Nazi League; the way that the Anti-Nazi League were denigrated or derided in what little coverage they got; and the denial of a voice to black and Asian people and other ethnic minorities.

Depressingly little has changed: those who watched the mainstream media and particularly the BBC assist the ‘respectable’ far-right - first the British National Party (as explained here by Bloody Nasty People author Daniel Trilling) and then the UK Independence Party) - will readily recognise the conditions that Hall and his colleague outline and the critique that they make.

Chris Marker & Alain Resnais - Statues Also Die (1953)

From Zoe Pilger’s Independent review of the recent Chris Marker exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery: ‘Chris Marker was born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve in the outskirts of Paris in 1921. It is thought that he named himself after the magic marker pen, one of many mysterious facts that surround his identity. He was famously reclusive. He rarely gave interviews and sometimes sent a picture of a cat when he was asked for a photograph of himself. The driving force of his work seems to be a yearning for an indefinable thing – perhaps love, perhaps more abstract than love – which has been lost …

Another exceptional film is Statues Also Die (1950-3), which explores the colonisation of Africa through the transformation of sacred objects into tourist trinkets. Statues with “the value of illuminations” are mass produced and lose their magical function; dances to the gods are transformed into empty spectacles for white tourists. The film could be criticised for expressing some of the prejudices of its time – black experience is generalised and, to a degree, fetishised as a paradise lost – but its spirit is indignant. Marker evidently hated domination of all kinds.’

Yvonne RainerTrio A (The Mind is a Muscle, Part I)

Choreographed in 1966 and performed here in August 1978, Yvonne Rainer's Trio A is one of the most influential dance works of the 1960s New York avant-garde. Her notorious ‘No Manifesto’, written in 1965 and later disowned in her memoir, Feelings are Facts, declared:

"No to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make believe no to glamour and transcendency of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved."

One key feature of Trio A is that the performer never looks at the audience, throughout the sequence of stripped-down movement that acts on Rainer’s intention ‘to revolutionise dance and reduce it to its essential elements’.