Whilst I’m blogging about podcasts I’m going to plug the Free University of the Airwaves poddies put out by the brilliant Resonance FM. When doing my physio yesterday I listened to noted Walter Benjamin scholar Esther Leslie’s lecture called ‘Spam, Rubbish, Left-over Culture’. She’s got a wonderfully soothing voice to listen to in any situation – perfect though for a battle with an unco-operative post-operative knee – if only I could have piped her velvety tones directly into the traumatised meniscus.
The second item in the lecture, ‘Rubbish’ (4 mins in), is a meditation on Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s video response to Sinclair’s epic M25 yomp-verse ‘London Orbital’. Leslie isn’t saying that the film is ‘rubbish’ – this appears to be a reference to the film’s use of found footage and low quality CCTV images – rubbish in the surrealist use of the word – the discarded offcuts and throwaways of the digital age.
She relates to the theme of the M25 being resistant to recognition – it is a repetitive looped image – it is about “erasure like videotape”. One of the themes of the film as I remember it is a discourse on the nature of video, it’s flatness – unsympathetic response to light and texture. This is clearly the reaction of a film-maker(s) schooled in the art and craft of film – Petit’s debut feature ‘Radio On’ is lustrously shot on 16mm Black and White stock by Wim Wender’s cameraman Martin Schaffer. In the voice-over to London Orbital Petit almost sounds disgusted by the images he is looking at in the edit – by the whole idea of video – its disposability.
In the days when everything was shot on film – the ratio of amount of film shot to amount used in the final cut was used as a criteria to judge the effectiveness of the film-maker. It is now an irrelevance with a MiniDV tape costing about a pound and the new generation of Sony High Def cams using no stock at all – just solid state memory cards that are transfered and wiped at the end of the day’s filming. No more physical legacy – no bins of 16mm, no drawers and shelves of tapes – just hard-drives with digital folders of images.
We were teased with similar grabbed on-the-hoof handheld handicam images of Sinclair on a Newsnight item in 2005 where the great ‘perambulator of the margins’ is talking about The Edge of the Orison and the changing landscape of middle England that he witnessed on that Clare walk. Somewhere else I read an article by Iain Sinclair where he mentioned that Petit had joined him on parts of the walk and had brought along a camera. Where is this footage? I was lucky enough recently to watch Paul Tickell’s brilliant film about Sinclair whilst he was writing ‘Vessels Of Wrath’ – the book that would be published as ‘Downriver’. It’s a lost gem – Sinclair reading early drafts of the book in Rodinsky’s dusty Princelet Street Synagogue, the real-life Driffield rummaging in second-hand book shops talking about the art of book collecting and how Sinclair has rendered his life in literary form.
There is also a trilogy of early Sinclair – Petit collaborations: The Cardinal and The Corpse, The Falconer, and Asylum. None of which I’ve seen but written about by Stewart Home.
Writing this post has helped clarify something I was thinking about before I started at the keyboard – how to approach an Iain Sinclair programme of films for the Leytonstone Film Club – I think the programme has written itself almost.
Grab the Esther Leslie podcast from here