The film night was a great success. The thrill I felt seeing the Black Tower flickering on the screen in the upstairs room of the Heathcote then looking over my shoulder at the same E11 roofline, the room packed the audience enthralled. The Q&A with Ian Bourn and John Smith lasted over half and hour and could have gone on longer if we all hadn’t been in bad need of a pint (at some point I’ll transcribe the recording and post it here). What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? seemed to really strike a chord and it was satisfying to test my thesis that you can draw a line through from Black Tower, Lenny’s Documentary, Keiller to Mervyn Day. It was interesting to discuss this with Ian and John. I even managed to find an audience for my propaganda film about Marsh Lane Fields in an effort to drum up some support to save this corner of the Lammas Lands before it’s too late.
It was great to meet some of the readers of this blog – John Heron and Inspector Juve and members of the L&LHS (sorry John for missing your call on Tuesday – I’m not sure what happened there). It looks like we may have the momentum to build this into a regular event and form a Leytonstone Film Club, if anybody is interested please get in touch email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to John, Ian and the Mervyn Day team (Paul, Andrew, Bob, Pete), and big thanks to Philip Wray of Leytonstone Festival – a gent.
I’m organising a film night this Sunday for the Leytonstone Festival. I had the idea not long after I moved here when I became aware of the great film references connected to the area. Wouldn’t be great to show some John Smith, Paul Kelly/St Etienne and Ian Bourn in a pub in Leytonstone, I thought. Well this Sunday it’s going to happen and what’s even better, the film-makers themselves will be in attendance to do a Q&A afterwards.
It’s this Sunday 8th July at The Heathcote Arms, 344 Grove Green Road, Leytonstone E11, 8pm till late (the bar at the Heathcote closes at midnight), and it’s an incredible bargain at £2.
I think I’ve written about all these films before on the blog and I wrote an article on this theme for Rising East, but the programme includes:
The Black Tower: John Smith (1985-7, 24mins). In The Black Tower we enter the world of a man haunted by a tower in Langthorne Road which, he believes, is following him around Leytonstone.
Blight (1994-96): John Smith captures the dying days of Colville Road, with a soundtrack of residents’ reminiscences composed by fellow Leytonstonian Jocelyn Pook.
Black, White & Green – the way of pie (2003): Ian Bourn
In this world of marble tables, etched glass and tiles the humble London dish of pie, mashed potato and thick green liquor acts as a catalyst for excursions into memory, fantasy or to places best forgotten. Filmed in the pie and mash shop at Harrow Green, Leytonstone.
Black White & Green is a meditation on the pie and mash aesthetic – an exploration of the terrain and a revelation of what wriggles just below the surface.
What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2006): Paul Kelly & Saint Etienne. Mervyn Day’ is set in the Lower Lea Valley on the day after the announcement that London would host the 2012 Olympics. Kelly has described the film as being like an obituary to the birthplace of the 20th Century. The film follows a paper boy doing his rounds who allows his sense of curiosity lead him on a journey through the ruination of an area that gave the world plastic and petrol.
So today one of London’s most venerable institutions disappears from the cultural map of the capital. What was the National Film Theatre opens its doors as BFI South Bank, after 50-odd years the concrete bunker under Waterloo Bridge that has been the world’s leading cinematheque morphs into this new entity.
To the Renoir to see Iain Sinclair and Robert Klinkert’s 1967 film ‘Ah Sunflower!’. The film is semi-legendary, an important part of the Sinclair narrative. He’s written of how the cash he received from the German TV company WDR paid for his Hackney house. The story of the filming became Sinclair’s first (self) publication ‘The Kodak Mantra Diaries’.
The Renoir is sold-out, midday Sunday. I see Iain in the foyer, and we briefly talk about my film of Nick Papadimitriou, ‘Beyond Stonebridge Park’, that he has kindly screened excerpts of at ‘City of Disappearances’ events. I foist a copy of my Wycombe book, DVD and DHPS newsletters upon him. When I point out the Nodules of Energy reference that I took from his ‘conversation’ with Will Self at St Luke’s in 2004, he seems amused by the application of this formula to High Wycombe rather than Bunhill Fields.
He’s enthusiastic about the gathering, the numbers, the energy enlivening the corporate monocultural concrete of the newly de-generated Brunswick Centre. We should stage another Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, at the Roundhouse, 40 years after the original, open up the secret London, an all-nighter, Iain says. It seems plausible, it seems like the right moment, the backdrop being Iraq rather than Vietnam, Blair for Wilson.
Sinclair introduces the short film selection as “what some people might call ‘Deep Topography” – a term outlined by Nick in our film. He adds the definition that it’s a “going back into the City and looking at it in a kind of structuralist way.”
Ah, Sunflower!, exceeds expectations, the casual camerawork, the capturing of Allen Ginsberg in full flow delivering mantras and propositions of a kind of psycho-politics that seems ripe for realisation.
Iain’s 1972 film ‘Maggid Street’ gets a rare outing, a surreal Brakhage-inspired gothic tale, a minor masterpiece. Sinclair has hours more of unscreened 8mm footage waiting to be unleashed, Bolex diaries of Hackney’s transformation in the 70’s.
There’s talk of re-staging the event somewhere, in one of the Curzons. If you don’t make it, the DVD is available from The Picture Press (mailto:email@example.com. Beat Scene has also republished ‘The Kodak Mantra Diaries’ (I think Dolly Head Books has one of the ultra-rare originals).
Iain Sinclair will also be at the NFT on Feburary 27th interviewing Andrew Kotting after a screening of Kotting’s new film ‘Offshore (Gallivant)’ – book early if today’s anything to go by.
Iain Sinclair has written about the experience of making the film on the Guardian’s arts blog
I’ve written an article on the topographical films of Leytonstone (and the Lower Lea Valley) for UEL’s ‘Rising East’ journal of East London Studies, which you can read here.
In the course of the research I came across a couple of other filmic E11 references: a Bollywood film called ‘I….Proud to be an Indian’ (2004) set in a late-seventies Leytonstone terrorised by Nazi skinheads. And a 1963 film directed by Joan Littlewood, ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’. There was also a sitcom in 1999 ‘Small Potatoes’ starring Tommy Tiernan, “Ed Hewitt runs the shambolic Screen Dreams video shop in Leytonstone, east London. He has a media-studies degree but is underachieving, consoling himself with the thought that video rental is part of the media business. His working day is enlivened (and/or complicated) by visits from three friends – sex-obsessed Rick, who works in his family’s chemists shop; aspiring photographer Juliet; and the vague Benett, currently working as shoe-hire boy at a bowling-alley.” Apparently it was another failed stab at producing a British ‘Seinfeld’ (a colleague, who also lives in Leytonstone, tells me that it was actually quite good).
I’ll be developing another project with Cathy, in Maidstone, for Architecture week in July. We’ll be posting stuff here as we go along. There’s already a link to the Wycombe work in the figure of Benjamin Disraeli, who failed to get elected as MP for Wycombe 3 times before taking the Maidstone seat.
Probably the greatest living English film-maker is shooting his latest film in the backyard of one of the greatest dead English film-makers. Ken Loach has been spotted around the backs of buildings on Leytonstone High Road shooting his latest film “These Times”. There was a snippet in Time Out recently:
“As he turns 70 – the Times disparagingly referred to him last week as a ‘pensioner from Nuneaton’ – Loach is about to embark on one of his most ambitious films yet: ‘These Times’ (again written by Laverty) will be a contemporary story set just outside London. It’s not an easy project. Loach’s search for authenticity, often casting non-professional actors, is no mean feat in a city of 7 million. But the director is clearly excited: ‘Everything that’s going on in the world is represented somehow in London.'”
It’s apt that in order to make the definitive film about London, Loach sets it on the city’s fringe. When seeking to gain a perspective on the nature of a landscape artists have often ventured out to the Edgelands, as Iain Sinclair proved so brilliantly with London Orbital, Andrew Kotting with his fantastic film ‘Gallivant’ and Jonathan Raban in his book ‘Coasting’.
After writing this post I stumbled upon Loach’s crew parked up in Harrington Road. They were naturally a bit cagey and didn’t give much away apart from saying that the film isn’t specifically set in Leytonstone but ‘East London’ generally. They pointed out where the filming was taking place, above a shop about 3 doors up along the High Road from the junction with Harrington Road. Some of Loach’s ‘non-professional’ actors were lurking nervously outside on the cold street having a fag and rubbing their hands together.