London Overground film – edit notes #1

Iain Sinclair Overground film

Screen shot from the edit

So the editing of my film of Iain Sinclair’s London Overground has formally begun. I’ve previously casually spooled through rushes, and even put together a 7 minute short cut from the first shoot for a couple events Iain has done and at which we’ve spoken about the film – but today is the day I mark the edit as beginning.

It can be a lonely business at times working as I do alone on the film-making side, although I have become so conditioned to this process now I don’t think I could work any other way. I say ‘alone’, but the shoots have been a thoroughly collaborative process with Iain and Andrew Kotting. But it’s at this stage looking down the barrels of what will become a 3 month edit that it can feel slightly daunting – the edge knocked off with each clip you view. It’s looking good.

So I wanted to share this as I go – with you – the readers of this blog, the single piece of work that links all my projects together.

I worked on a ‘big’ documentary once – one with a proper ‘big’ budget and a team, a team that changed and grew, then shrunk, as the project endlessly lumbered on for years. There was a period that must have lasted for about a year (if not longer) where the core team of 4 of us sat in a small edit suite every day viewing rushes, cutting, discussing, despairing. I took to calling it ‘the group therapy room’. This partly explains why I work the way I do on my own projects – no budget, no producers, no crew, just me and the people I’m working with in front of the camera.

Serendipitously that edit suite was next to the Overground and we passed it on the recent Night Walk for the film – it felt like a moment of redemption for all those wasted days.

Now I sit in my box room alone at midnight slowly working through the footage I’ve shot on and off over 7 months with a festival screening in the summer to aim at. From the first shoot, with Iain and Andrew Kotting walking from Rotherhithe to Queens Road Peckham, the biggest dilemma was always going to be what to leave out. There is a conversation between Andrew and Iain in La Cigale cafe in Surrey Quays that runs for about 12 minutes – I must have watched it through 4 times and I still can’t see a cut, it’s all great stuff (and if you are a fan of either of their work then it’s priceless viewing).

Tonight I’m going through a walk with Iain from Haggerston to Shadwell. I am less than half-way through the bin and there is 24 minutes on the timeline. Assuming I carry on at this rate, if I follow the old edit adage of ‘Kill Your Darlings’ then this will make the Slaughter of the Innocents look like an exercise in passive restraint.

Iain Sinclair Overground film

screen shot from the edit

At this stage I feel that the film will take multiple forms. There will be the ‘feature length’ cut of no more than 80 minutes for public screenings. And I think we’ll try and find somebody to put out a DVD. But after the initial run of these I can see it as a YouTube series that could run for several episodes.

Both my previous feature docs – The London Perambulator and Make Your Own Damn Art enjoyed great runs of screenings (that continue to pop up). But they’ve also had a second life online with London Perambulator clocking up over 50,000 views on YouTube. After some successful screenings Make Your Own Damn Art was distributed online by Curzon On Demand and was also on a continuous loop at New York’s prestigious MoMA PS1 for 6 months. It was odd to sit at home in Leytonstone and imagine my film playing for 8 hours a day to passing art liggers in one of the world’s great galleries.

Independent film-makers today are spoilt for choice – as long as you don’t want to make money – and if you want to make money then you shouldn’t be making films.

Ok, I enjoyed sharing this with you – thanks for listening. There are going to be a lot more nights like this over the coming months. I better get back to the edit, Iain is just arriving at Hoxton Station – this is a really good bit.

Overground Nightwalk with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting

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I was out last night filming the first section of Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting’s nocturnal 35-mile yomp around the London Overground – a reprise in reverse direction of the walk they performed for Iain’s book about the ‘Ginger Line’, London Overground. I scampered alongside with my camera (often falling behind then having to run ahead) from Haggerston before leaving them at Hampstead to head off into the freezing cold night with my GoPro strapped to Andrew’s head.

I’ve been shooting the film in small sections since last summer with just a couple of shooting days left. We started at Rotherhithe in July, a walk that ended with Andrew dressed as a Straw Bear traversing the Old Kent Road. The previous walk saw Iain joined by Radio On director Chris Petit surveying the area around Willesden Junction and Old Oak Common.

Shooting is always the fun bit – soon starts the edit of long nights sat in front of a screen. Look out for news of screenings in the summer.

A chat with Iain Sinclair in the basement of the London Review Bookshop

Iain Sinclair was launching his latest book, 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films so I got the opportunity to interview the great London magus in the basement of the London Review Bookshop. This was the second time I’d interviewed Sinclair, the first was for my documentary, The London Perambulator in his Hackney home 6 years ago almost to the day.

On that occasion we’d talked off camera about Iain’s elusive film collaborations with Chris Petit that had been originally broadcast on Channel 4 – The Cardinal and the Corpse and The Falconer, now impossible to find on DVD or YouTube and Iain had invited me to watch them with him there and then on VHS. But I’d had to pass up this golden opportunity as the strong painkillers I was taking following knee surgery were making me dizzy and nauseous and it had been a massive effort to get through the interview without passing out on his floor.

Those Petit collaborations had eventually been screened in the 70×70 season put together by King Mob to celebrate Iain’s 70th birthday – a year of 70 films which had been mentioned in Sinclair’s books, and screened in venues both obscure and grand, some of them joining the ranks of the disappeared before the season had been completed.

The 70 x 70 book is more than just a record of this filmic dérive around London, it is a repertory cinema season on paper, the SCALA brought back to life in print; a revival of the world of wall-charts peppered with classics by Fritz Lang, Douglas Sirk, Godard, unheralded oddities, all-nighters interrupted at 4am by a punk band to keep you awake. But it is also a form of autobiography, weaving a path through Sinclair’s life and work as he discusses the background to each selection, or “an accidental novel”, as he describes it.

So we chatted not just about the book. We spoke about Iain’s early years in London as a film student and eager cineaste, the Paul Tickell film for BBC’s Late Show that captured the world of Downriver when it was still provisionally titled Vessels of Wrath. This rare 20-minute gem included memorable scenes of Sinclair reading aloud in the still semi-derelict Princelet Street Synagogue and the notorious bookdealer Driffield scavenging for rare tomes in Gravesend and Tilbury.

He discussed his collaborations with Chris Petit and Andrew Kotting. It led us to the subject of John Clare and the idea of ‘fugue’ walking, “… to do it purposefully, if that’s not a contradiction, seems quite an important way of dealing with a city that is a series of defended grids and official permeable ways that you can drift through that lead you to the next supermarket”.  Walking, Sinclair told me is “absolute”; “The silence of just moving, hearing your own footfall, listening to the city, watching the city, drinking it through your pores”.

The interview came to a natural conclusion as the camera battery ran out just after Sinclair had recounted a pavement confrontation in Hollywood with a Warren Oates lookalike. The event organiser seized their moment and moved in as went to my bag for a spare. I could have kept asking him questions all night and Iain is so amiable and tolerant you sense he’d sit there patiently answering, but upstairs Chris Petit, Gareth Evans and Susan Stenger were waiting sat before a packed audience for the 70×70 launch event.

70×70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in Film is published by King Mob

This article was originally published on 3:AM magazine

By Our Selves – Andrew Kotting & Iain Sinclair back on the road

Last night to the Hackney Picturehouse – the cinema occupying a building that was squatted in recent history by some of my old associates from Frampton Park Estate. The occasion was a rare one – the chance to see some work-in-progress footage from the latest Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair collaboration, By Our Selves.

The project is a retracing of the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare’s Journey out of Essex when he walked from the asylum at High Beach, Epping Forest, where he was a patient, to his home in Northamptonshire. Sinclair covered this ground in his book Edge of the Orison but the film and associated live art events are no mere wandering documentary from page to screen, no BBC4 style lecture with occasionally moving images. Nor is it simply a sequel to their brilliant two men in a swan pedalo film Swandown. Kötting does the 3-day schlepp dressed as a folkloric Straw Bear led on a string leash by celebrated actor Toby Jones playing Clare. Sinclair appears by the roadside in some of the footage – English Heritage should really pay him to continuously walk around the M25 and up the Great North Road. Jem Finer once again contributes a jaunty, haunting soundtrack of synthetic birdsong and refracted instruments. Alan Moore manifests on a bench reading Clare’s poem I Am.

 

The day after I’m still haunted by the sounds and images – the procession of masked figures beating drums behind the straw bear parading through Epping Forest, John Clare/Toby Jones reading a boxing magazine sat on the side of a field-path (Clare was a boxing fan). The psychogeographers dream ticket of Kötting and Sinclair looks set to deliver another vital  post-millennial vision of England.

 

The project is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish the edit – you can back it for the price of a couple of pints.

Here’s Iain Sinclair talking about his journey for Edge of the Orison on Newsnight in 2005 which includes a snippet of footage that I think was shot by Radio On director Chris Petit

 

 

London Perambulator panel with Iain Sinclair, Will Self and myself

It’s 5 years ago nearly to the day that The London Perambulator premiered at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival. This is the ‘Edgelands’ panel discussion that followed with Will Self, Iain Sinclair and me – hosted by Andrea Phillips from Goldsmiths.

The London Perambulator is screening at the Holloway Arts Festival on 6th June followed by Q&A with Nick Papadimitriou and me – details here

 

Brandon Estate Cine Club

Diving into the goldmine of the London Screen Archives Youtube channel the other day turned up this precious nugget – the archives of the Brandon Estate Cine Club.

The Brandon Estate was built in the late 50’s in Kennington, South London. The Club made Super 8 films of events on the estate organised by the social club – using a camera bought by 17-year old Brian Waterman with his first pay-packet from his job on the Underground. There’s more about the Cine Club on the Film London website and how the members of the club were recently reunited for a special screening of the films.

The first thing that struck me when I watched the footage of the estate in 1961 with the concrete still fresh was the opening credits of Sean Lock’s classic sitcom 15 Storeys High which used the Brandon Estate for the exterior locations.

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The episode where Vince has to return a plough that he drunkenly stole from a pub is a great example of how the estate was used in the series. The Brandon Estate Cine Club footage and 15 Storeys High complement each other beautifully, positive views of life on a south London estate – summer fetes, kids Christmas parties, day trips to Canvey Island, trying to get a sofa up in the lift. I can imagine Vince going along to the screening that was organised on the estate and getting into some sort of light-hearted bother.

 

Like a ‘grunge Keiller’

An article I wrote for 3:AM magazine about Paul Kelly & St. Etienne’s A London Trilogy dvd and my own London perambulations.

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“I first met Paul Kelly and Bob Stanley after a screening of their film Finisterre in 2005, recently released on a BFI DVD, A London Trilogy. I approached them in the foyer of the ICA enthusiastically thrusting forward my treasured copy of Gordon S. Maxwell’s 1925 ‘ramble book’, The Fringe of London. I’d been nurturing the theory that Maxwell’s lost classic was the missing link in the topographical tradition connecting the romantic walkers and flâneurs to the modern trend in neo-psychogeography, and had bothered all the usual suspects with my grand idea drawing a blank on each occasion. Paul and Bob similarly had never heard of Maxwell or the book and compensated by handing me a copy of the Finisterre DVD.” continue reading here