Friday 20 February 2009

Black Audio Film Collective

As usual the Glasgow Film Festival has come and gone with me only making it to one of the many wonderful sounding films that I meant to go to. However the night I did go to, a screening of two films by the Black Audio Film Collective was well worth it and was something I hadn't heard of before (although now I read that Tate Britain has acquired some of their work). The first film to be shown was Handsworth Songs, examining the causes and reflecting on the aftermath of the 1985 riots in Birmingham and London. The film is often cited as the beginning of a turn towards the archival and I think this holds out with the mixture in the film of historical footage, contemporary interviews, old photographs, music, newspapers headlines and news footage. The fluidity of memory and the reality that people can have such different perceptions of the same event was a major theme running through the film. It also highlighted the marginalisation of black history and the way that was continuing to happen even in the contemporary news footage and the press conferences after the riots. I also noticed a link to Lindsay Anderson and his early Free Cinema documentaries, specifically O Dreamland, set in the Margate funfair 'Dreamland'. At the beginning of the Handsworth film the camera moves a number of times to a shot of a dummy in a shop window. The dummy is waving his hand and there is an eerie tune playing in the background, giving the impression of dangers to come, a sinister undercurrent to the seemingly everyday. To me this was very reminiscent of a number of shots in O Dreamland, Lindsay Anderson's short film from 1953 where the mechanical dummies in the funfair are moving to the sound of repetitive, sinister laughter.

Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993) was also a blend of different formats, including real footage of Malcolm X, interviews with family and friends and theatrical interludes which dramatised events in his life. There was footage of the premier of Spike Lee's Malcolm X biopic and interview clips with Spike Lee, relating the real man and history to more recent representations of Malcolm X. Once again there was a sinister atmosphere to the film, an unease that brilliantly conveyed the threat and anxiety that were a part of Malcolm X's everyday life. There were a number of more mystical elements to the film such as the importance of the number seven. In an interview with Malcolm's mother Louise she describes seven as the number of vision. The film is divided into seven segments, and Malcolm, a seventh son, was assasinated by Gabriel Prosser, a seventh son. Then there is also the connotations of Gabriel with the angel or archangel Gabriel. Both these films were moving, insightful, educational and haunting and I know they'll stay with me a long time.


  1. BBC 1 TV "Inside Out"

    Portrait of Handsworth riots 1985 by Pogus Caesar

  2. Thanks for the link. The film was interesting, especially the fact that he resisted selling the photos to the media at the time, and even destroyed some of his own negatives. Self censorship or just worried they would get in to the wrong hands?

  3. Yes, my thoughts entirely. A well balanced account of [one person's] experiences. As it happens, many police forces throughout the world can seize photographs and use them to identify rioters.

    I think Caesar has added a new and excellent perspective!

  4. pogus caesar photos of british handsworth riots now on flickr.

  5. I just got a comment from Sarah Monckton on another post Evening event at Black Cultural Archives kindly letting us know of the website of Pogus Caesar, showcasing his photograph, film and photomontage work. The Pogus Caesar Gallery

    Thought it would be useful to post the link here to. Thanks Sarah!

  6. V&A acquire Pogus Caesar's photographs for permanent collection.

    In April 2012 the Victoria and Albert Museum London, acquired four of Pogus Caesar's limited edition black and white photographs for their permanent collection. The archival photographs printed from vintage negatives depict the 1985 Handsworth Riots which took place in Birmingham UK.

    What is now known as the Handsworth Riots lasted for two days. In the aftermath, well over 1500 police officers were drafted into the area and 50 shops were either burnt or looted. Damage to property was estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds, 35 people were injured or hospitalised, 2 people unaccounted for and tragically 2 people lost their lives. Unfortunately some memories and crimes will never be forgotten or forgiven. Even today many people still question themselves and each other "how could a tiny spark turn into such a gigantic flame"?

    Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar found himself in the centre of the riots and managed to document these images. The stark black and white photographs provide a rare, valuable and historical record of the raw emotion, heartbreak and violence that unfolded during those dark and fateful days in September 1985.    

    BBC TV: Inside Out.