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.

Monday 16 February 2009

Awaken awakened: project & process - research seminar

'Awaken awakened: project & process' was a research seminar at the Glasgow School of Art based upon an exhibition 'Awaken' which is on at the School of Art until 28 February 2009. For the exhibition designers based in the Department of Textiles and CAT (Centre for Advanced Textiles) were invited to reinterpret archive materials from the Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections Centre for current and future textile and design work.

© The Glasgow School of Art
John Walter Lindsay's travel journal is almost 60 years old

The seminar was chaired by the exhibition curator, and programme leader for the Textiles Department, Jimmy Stephen-Cran, with contributions from a number of the artists involved, along with the Art School Archivist, Susannah Waters. Issues raised and discussed during the seminar included the idea of the experience of encounter with the archive, questions over originality and authorship, and the use of personal archives and found objects in the creative process. The artist's talks were all very interesting, particularly as they all seemed to have quite different experiences of the encounter with the archive.

Susannah Waters, and a number of the artists, commented on the difficulty of the initial visit to the archive. With such a vast amount of potentially useful and interesting material how do you find a starting point. For me this highlighted the importance of the archivist as a facilitator, suggesting possible materials of interest, and being able to offer their knowledge of the collections to assist the artist in narrowing down the type of material they would like to look at. One thing which really came across in the seminar was the amount of inter-departmental co-operation between the Archive, the Textile Department and CAT, in order to make the artists work possible, and make the exhibition a success.

© Joanna Kinnersley Taylor Print croquet on paper

I think Susannah raised a very interesting point when she contrasted the artists use of the archive with that of the more usual visitor to the archive - the historical researcher. Not only do artists use the material in different ways but they would also look at and categorise it differently. So, to quote an example Susannah used, a series of posters of events at the art school were catalogued according to their content, e.g. 'degree show poster 1977' fashion show poster 1968', the artists were generally more interested in the style of the poster, the colours, design layout, than the content and context. This idea of different user groups benefiting from different types of cataloguing is something I have also had to consider whilst cataloguing the Lindsay Anderson Collection. The project I work on is in collaboration with the Film, Media and Journalism department and I have found it very beneficial to consult with other team members from that department when I was compiling my subject index. This ensured that the index would be accessible and relevant to them in their research and, we hope, to other film and media academics. Obviously you cannot catalogue a collection purely with one particular user group in mind but it has been very useful to have the insight of film and media academics at hand and I imagine that the same can be said in the case of the GSA archive and its use by these talented artists and teachers.

Something which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the idea of personal archives, people creating their own archives as they go along, whether consciously or unconsciously. This related to my own work cataloguing the Lindsay Anderson Collection but it was also an issue that was raised during this seminar. I noticed that when Joanna Kinnersley Taylor was talking about her project she mentioned that a starting point had been an old map she had up on her wall. It was also noted during the seminar that the artists used their own objects, in particular items they had found and collected over the years, as inspiration for the project. This blend of personal, informal archives with the institutional archive is something that strikes me as being very different to the type of research that archives are normally used for, where context and source are all important. I also liked the idea of the CPJ's (Creative Process Journal's) which the artists worked on as they went along, documenting their design process and the development of their ideas. These CPJ's are works of art in their own right and could one day be valuable archival items for other artists and researchers.

I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m looking for it, but it seems to me that archives are being used in an increasing variety of ways to re-imagine and invigorate ideas about the valuie of the Archive. Opening up the archives to re-interpretation and re-examination by artists/film makers/academics seems to be something I’m hearing about more and more, though like I said maybe it is just because I’m looking for it?

Thursday 12 February 2009

The Cinema Authorship of Lindsay Anderson

The Cinema Authorship of Lindsay Anderson is a three-year research project at the University of Stirling, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). There are four of us in the research team. Myself (Research Assistant), John Izod (Principal Investigator) Karl Magee (Co-investigator and University Archivist) and Isabelle Gourdin (Doctoral Candidate). The project will use Lindsay Anderson's personal and working papers together with previously published material, to examine the director's claim to the status of authorship by investigating the connection between his films and his personality. This will be done by comparing his private thoughts, expressed in his diaries, correspondence and other personal papers, with his public statements about his films, the film industry in general, and the ways in which films are received, found in his articles, interviews, books and letters to the press. Both the public and the private aspects of Anderson's claims to authorship will be examined in the wider context of the ways in which his ideas were received, interpreted and disseminated by the various publics to which they were addressed.

Lindsay Anderson is a central figure in the history of British cinema in the twentieth century. There are his well-known and critically acclaimed films of the 1960s and 1970s including This Sporting Life, starring Richard Harris and If.... starring Malcolm McDowell. Anderson was also one of the founders of the 'Free Cinema' movement in the 1950s which challenged the established conservatism of British cinema with documentaries (and some dramas) reflecting the everyday lives of ordinary people. In addition he was a respected writer and film critic and one of the founders of the influential film journal Sequence in 1947. As well as his important to the history of British cinema he was also a highly respected theatre director. He worked with many of the most well-known and central figures of the British stage. Lindsay Anderson died in 1994, aged 71. There is a complete list (to file level), composed by the University Archivist Karl Magee, which details all of Lindsay Anderson's film/stage/television work and critical writings.

The main focus of my part in this project is to catalogue the collection to item level so that the material can be easily accessed and used for research. The project is now halfway through so I feel I know the Collection quite well now, though there are still lots of surprises (one of the joys of working with archive material) like the other day when I came across a letter from Lindsay Anderson to his friend, the writer Gavin Lambert, where he informs Lambert that he has had to turn down a part in 'Return of the Jedi' because he was too busy with his own work!

© Lindsay Anderson Collection,
University of Stirling

The Lindsay Anderson Collection contains a huge variety of types of records: letters; diaries; notebooks from the sets of films; production notes; on-set photographs for both film and theatre work; personal photograph albums; Anderson's large book library (with annotations by him in some of the books); his personal VHS library with its own card catalogue system; music cassettes; recordings of Anderson transcribing letters; press cuttings (reviews of his work and press cuttings that he used for inspiration for his work); family memorabilia; and many of the paintings and prints that hung on the walls of his home. I'm sure I will still have missed some out but you get the picture! It is a really interesting collection to work with, though I know most archivists think that of the collections they work with - again I think this is one of the joys of the job, getting to work with such a variety of records and realising the potential and interest in all these records. The Collection contains material on Anderson's theatre and film work but as the research project is 'The Cinema Authorship of Lindsay Anderson' my priority is to catalogue all the parts of the collection relating to his film work. This distinction is not always so clear cut, for example, in a letter to a theatre critic Anderson might also discuss the reception of his latest film. However as the Collection is divided up primarily by film/play/television production/book this makes my job slightly easier and gave me a starting point. In future posts I'll talk more about the arrangement of the Collection and highlight some of the interesting records I've come across but for now I'll stop as I just wanted to give an introduction and a broad picture of the Archive I'm working with.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

First post

I decided to start a blog with the intention of using it as a means of charting the progress of my current job as a Research Assistant/Archivist for the Lindsay Anderson Collection at the University of Stirling. I love my job with the Lindsay Anderson Collection and really feel very lucky to work in such an interesting and exciting profession. I quickly realised that there are so many interesting developments going on in the area of film and arts related archives that the remit of the blog would have to be bigger. Therefore I would like this blog to be used to discuss any interesting events/developments/conferences/exhibitions relevant to film and arts related archives.