The CCA, as Glasgow’s longest-running and most prominent arts centre, has been celebrating its history with an exhibition, “What We have Done, What We are About To Do”. While the CCA has existed for twenty years now, younger readers may not be aware that it was built on the site of an earlier arts centre,. The Third Eye Centre, which, as its rather hippy-dippy name might suggest, was founded by counterculture mover and shaker Tom McGrath in the heady days of 1974.
The CCA has been celebrating its former incarnation with an exhibition and the opening up of a video archive, with over 200 hours of footage documenting what was going on in the 70s. Some of the people and objects are forgotten now; this is partly a call for those were there at the time to remember things past. Others, however, are unmistakable; I, for one, never knew that Allen Ginsberg visited, and performed in Glasgow.
The highlights however, had to be the live performances and talks by tom Leonard and James Mackie. Tom Leonard, the gutter laureate of Glasgow, need s no introduction. A personal friend of McGrath, he was invited to work in the CCA and produce a piece of sound poetry with tape recorder, My Name is Tom, which proved to be as funny and disorientating (if rather more exhausting for the aging Leonard than in 1975) to perform.
Leonard apologised for not being able to remember too much about the era; with winning honesty he told us, “Ah’ve only been aff the drink fur ten years” He was able to remember enough to brilliantly evoke an era when people passionately fought over, experimented with, and believed in the power of poetry.
The second guest, James Mackie, was in a sense representing someone who could not attend. Mackie was Secretary of the London Filmmaker’s coop in the 1970s, where he discovered the work of Derek Jarman, going on to become his producer. Jarman’s 1988 exhibition at the Third Eye was perhaps the most famous, certainly the most controversial exhibition it held. It was a long time ago, but I remember tabloid newspapers vilifying AIDS and homosexuals defaced with red paint and decorated with homoerotic photos, while two boys lay in a bed of barbed wire in the centre of the gallery.
Derek, of course, died of AIDS almost twenty years ago. Mackie was here with his new project, which is digitising and preserving Jarman’s entire super 8mm output. Now, I have seen some of the super 8 work before, silent and badly projected, and not been too impressed; however, when I saw the last official Jarman film, “Glitterbug*, with the old footage stunningly edited and sored by Eno into his cinematic autobiography, I thought that perhaps Jarman had put his talent into his feature films, and his genius into his life.
The super 8 films were obviously made under the cheapest of circumstances, so he could only very rarely afford to get a soundtrack from Eno or Throbbing Gristle. However, they were never meant to be shown silent. Mackie told us how Derek would project the films in his front room, and play a record over them. Seeing the films perfectly restored, with new soundtracks from Cyclobe ( formed from his old collaborators Coil) was a revelation. The films were densely layered, trancelike and hypnotic. “Sulphur” in particular, with its masked characters bleaching out the image by firing mirrors or other light sources at the camera, seemed a far more radical work than I had ever given it credit for.
The restoration is only half complete; other soundtracks have to be commissioned also. I understand that Max Richter has also been working on soundtracks for the films, which sounds like a perfect choice. This looks tantalisingly like a major body of work waiting to be rediscovered.
Jarman may be best remembered as one of the most in demand video directors of the period, making iconic videos for bands from Orange Juice to Marianne Faithfull, from Patti Smith to the Smiths He managed to get super 8 films released into the multiplex (“The Last of England”), and on “Top of The Pops”. While he may have been driven into using the medium by necessity, he willingly took it up as an aesthetic. I still remember his glee at capturing the saccadic eye movements caused by (good) MDMA on super 8 for his “Panic” video. Nothing could stop him from making films, not even blindness, which is why he remains such an inspirational figure to a younger generation of filmmakers, even if his films are more read about than seen. Hopefully a situation that the restoration project can rectify.
Words: Brian Beadie
Shortlisted films for the Film London Derek Jarman Award will be shown at the CCA on the 20th September
The CCA celebrates another Glasgow institution with an exhibition, “21 Revolutions: Two Decades of Changing Minds at Glasgow Women’s Library”