Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ideas, cinema thereof

Went to a curious new event this week, Cinema of Ideas, organised by the Independent Cinema Office at the shiny new BFI Southbank (aka the National Film Theatre, rebranded for the covergence generation). NFT 2.0 has a huge concrete and glass barn extension, which is eerily reminiscent of the spaceship in 2001, and in this extension there is a Studio, where the COI took place.

From the description circulated, it was going to be a salon, a soirée, an interlocution and circulation of ideas among the soignée folk of the cineaste world. Only, the Studio does not have moveable seats -- it's a small preview theatre with fixed seating and a classroom-like atmosphere exacerbated by an excrutiating echo/feedback loop on the sound system that occasionally made the panel sound as if they were speaking from outer space or the Tate Modern turbine hall.

Andrea Arnold didn't show (but, I've just discovered from IMDb, was in No. 73, one of my favourite TV shows as a kid!). But two out of three ain't bad, and both Ali Smith and Gaylene Gould from the Bernie Grant Centre were great raconteuses, very personable and engaging. Ali Smith in particular was a thoughtful respondent and addressed larger social questions with ease.

The same can't really be said for the audience -- it was a lot like an encounter group crossed with the first day of class, with each speaker starting "As a..., I feel that..." No-one really responded to anyone else's point. Few offered evidence or grounds, and fewer still were able to be reflexive or self-critical. There was a decidedly anti-intellectual atmosphere - we were there because we loved cinema, not ideas -- and apparently the two are incompatible.

Further frustrating proof that the salon culture that produced thinker-creators like Susan Sontag is little in evidence in the UK. The Guardian were full of praise, recently, for a new crop of small journals -- started and curated by editors at Faber and close personal friends of Manolo Blahnik. This is salon culture the wrong way round, proceeding from celebrity and established voices. Would Gertrude Stein have made headway in such a world? Could a journal like Close Up exist today?

I would love to edit an anthology in the spirit of Close Up, bringing together writing of all genres by poets, playwrights, essayists, psychoanalysts, filmmakers, artists, novelists like Smith (whose most recent novel The Accidental is one of the most brilliant pieces of thinking about film I've read) as well as academic theorists to really see how film is being thought about. The legacy of Close Up's writers, like HD, Dorothy Richardson, and Stein has been erased by the institutionalisation of film studies, although The Red Velvet Seat has collected many modernist women's voices, both professional writers and amateur cinemagoers, into an amazing collection.

There's so many exciting writers thinking about film now: Lee Ann Brown, Abigail Child, Dodie Bellamy, Tony Harrison, Anne Carson, to say nothing of all the emerging writers whose work appears in Chroma's Cinema issue. As well as critical writers who aren't film specialists like Marina Warner, bell hooks...

1 comment:

Rehan Qayoom said...

You mention Tony Harrison. Film/poems are hard to come by. He has written in the introduction to his Collected Film Poems that he'll probably make no more since they are impossible to find funding for. Hence none of his own film/poems are available on DVD.

The recent stuff shown on the BBC Poetry Season was really good and I hope that more films of that kind are made.