The Underground Film Studio: An Interview in 12 parts. Part 1: On Avant-Gardism and the Purpose of ArtJanuary 28, 2018
The roots weave and knot as they entrench in the dirt and the grit. They spread their encampment through ever-reaching toil; an endless search for nothing in particular, except sustenance. Each new convulsion carves itself into the retina of the soil. It searches with no clear direction in an unending beginning that fabricates its own base. As it contorts it fashions the foundations of its being and locks into the ground.
The tree, in contrast, saws upwards. “Progress” is its cry, as it battles against the sun’s scorching rays and the rain that ricochets off of its hardened chalky bark. It struggles and reaches skyward, ever grasping for that illuminating light. Its fruit is born, but departs. And it struggles on. Waiting. But reaching.
Where the earth and sky rendezvous we find the centre of its multiplications: One side weaving and grounding; the other striving and reaching, each grasping and redefining its territory.
In a process of weaving and grounding, striving and reaching, we return to the second part of this year long interview with The Underground Film Studio. Just as the roots weave with an apparent lack of direction, so too will we be drawn off on different tangents. The processes that ground us will take us in multiple directions all at once with little clarity of where they are heading. Yet, just like the tree itself, we will be drawn upwards, with ambition, towards the future, telling our story as we go. *
The Underground Film Studio is a collaboration between Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais based in the UK and Portugal, where they make both long and short experimental films, as well as editing and publishing their own magazine ‘Film Panic’. Throughout 2018 they will be collaborating extensively with Exploding Appendix as resident artists and, alongside this interview, will be collaborating on events, screenings and film projects.
In this second part of our year long interview with The Underground Film Studio we discuss their journey from their artistic first steps to their involvement in One+One Filmmakers Journal, which drew its name from Godard’s film One Plus One (Or Sympathy for the Devil), and like that film, explored the idea of a revolution-in-progress.
Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais reading Film Panic
Bradley Tuck: I first met Daniel Fawcett, one half of The Underground Film Studio (I will get onto Clara later), in the winter of 2008/9. At that point you were leading The Brighton Filmmakers Coalition, which was a group, where, every Sunday, anyone could come and discuss any films they wanted to make, or were making, or anything like that. Every-so-often there would be a film challenge and we would have 24 hours, or a week, or a month to make a film. I found it a lot of fun, there was a great sense of comradery and a real passion for exploring and creating. During one Sunday meeting someone suggested to you that we produce a newsletter for the group and you took this as an opportunity to create something more than a mere newsletter. You gathered a group of us together and we set to work creating our own magazine. In May 2009 One+One Brighton Filmmakers Journal was born.
So, Daniel, I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your life story leading up to that point. What was the process that took you from your first artistic steps to living and creating in Brighton in 2009?
Daniel Fawcett: I was born in the village of Layer De La Haye near Colchester. I grew up in a 500 year old cottage which stood on the grounds of a large house which my dad worked for as the gardener. I have been making art and thinking of myself as an artist for as long as I can remember so it’s hard to say when it all began, what I am doing now is simply a continuation of what I have always been doing since I was a small child. I have two uncles who are both artists and they have had a significant influence on my life. One uncle is an abstract painter who takes a particular influence from landscapes, and the other is an expert in renaissance and medieval painting techniques such as fresco, panel painting, gilding and stained-glass windows etc. They both taught me a lot about painting techniques and art history. So painting and making things was just something I have always done with my time.
I should also mention the massive impact that the cottage I grew up in has had on my perspective of the world. The cottage was very old and cold, it really needed to be brought into the modern world but the people my dad worked for were of that old world where the rich had servants and the servants put up with what they were given, it really was a life left over from Victorian times. Anyway the house contained a lot of mysteries and I spent a large portion of my childhood trying to uncover those mysteries, the secret passageways hidden in the walls and the strange symbols carved into the beams. I suffered from severe ear infections almost monthly for several years of my childhood and these would be accompanied by hallucinations and visions. In these visions I would see and hear the spirits and creatures contained within the house. Eventually the ear infections stopped but the visions continued into my mid-teens, when they stopped for about 15 years, and only recently began again in my early 30s, when Clara and I began our investigation into dreams.
So all of these things, painting, art history, the countryside and the visions are the bedrock on which my work as an artist sits. I was always interested in making films and from about the age of 11 I was experimenting with and researching special FX, for a time I thought that I would like to be an FX make-up artist but I was also painting prolifically at the same time. When I was around 15 or 16 one of my uncles introduced me to the films of Derek Jarman, he showed me his film The Garden (1990) and by the time it was over I knew exactly the path my adult life was to take. I wanted to make films but films as art. I intended to bring in all the world of painting and visions into cinema and make films as personal to me as Jarman had made for himself. So it begun. I bought a Hi8 camera with some inheritance money and over the course of 3 years made about 30 films. I then got a DV camera and simply continued, filming almost daily. Painting fell to the side and when I was in my late teens I burnt nearly every painting I had ever done, literally hundreds and hundreds of them on paper, on wood and canvas, were put on a big bonfire. All gone! This coincided with moving out of the cottage and leaving that world of my childhood. It was a great liberation, from then on I dedicated myself to the cinema!
In 2006 I made my first feature film Come On Thunder, shortly followed by another one called Teenage Wildlife. The day after finishing filming Teenage Wildlife, all my belongings were packed into a van and I moved to Brighton. You can see this in my biographical film Splendor Solis about mid-way through. This was the first time I had ever moved away from my home town. When I went to Brighton I had three plans: 1. To find a gang of filmmakers to collaborate with, 2. To start a magazine and 3. To make another feature film. I managed to do all those things in the following four years, it was an exciting time!
Brighton life as Captured in Splendor Solis (2015 Daniel Fawcett)
Bradley Tuck: Yes, it was a very exciting time. It felt like a real flurry of creativity, not just within the magazine but in all the different projects that we were engaged in. Your film, Splendor Solis, captures some of that. It was all born out of a very creative spirit.
For the first year, 2009, there was a group of about 7 of us who would meet and discuss ideas for what would become the first two publications. It was run as a collective, but for the first year you and Matthew Hamblion took the helm.
The idea for the name and the logo came from you and Matthew Hamblion. I wasn’t at that meeting, but from what I can discern the two of you met with Benoit Schmit, who designed the logo and was graphic designer for many years. There was a discussion of Godard’s film One Plus One (1968) and its theme of an unfinished and open-ended revolution. The tree in the logo, was, from what I can tell, meant to be a metaphor for that process of this continual becoming.
In the first issue you opened with an article on artistic independence: ‘My Independence is More Independent than Your Independence’, which was a passionate call for artistic integrity in the face of commercial pressure, a criticism of film funding and a call for artists not to compromise for money. Along with this, the first two issues of the magazine included articles on filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, Derek Jarman, Vincent Moon, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Orson Welles, James Mackay, and topics such as the Iraq war, homophobia in football, how to share, DIY, Copyfight and Occupy, and the Enlightenment-to-come.
How do you feel your ideas were forming and developing at this point?
Daniel Fawcett: For me this was a period of extraversion, I was involved with lots of different projects and spending a lot of time meeting different people. By nature I am at my best when alone or working with one or two people on a project but in Brighton it was a very social time. Brighton is a city of extraversion, it stimulates that and draws it out of people, there is definitely something in the air there. So due to this, for the first time I was thinking a lot about how the work I was making might fit into the world and how I might go forwards in producing more ambitious films. I instantly hit a lot of obstacles in regards to trying to get screenings for my previous films and money to make new ones, so part of the motivation for starting a film group was to try to create an alternative structure, or at least some possibilities for getting things done in the face of industry and art world indifference.
I shot quite a lot of short films and material over this time but very little was edited until later, there was too much going on and I thought I could do everything all at once. My ego was in full bloom and I was heading at full steam towards an inevitable crash! The most significant thing that happened was this great outpouring of energy, the bubbling to the surface of previously restrained thoughts and feelings followed by a complete mental breakdown. It’s very hard to describe fully the ins and outs of what was going on during my breakdown but I have no doubt that I went completely mad, I was totally taken over by terrifying voices and impulses and I frequently found myself in places doing things that were totally confounding to me. But somehow during this period I was still filming, how I managed it I don’t know, but there is a lot of material that exists in a rough edit titled A Number Of Young Lovers (Unravel) – I haven’t quite had the courage to finish the edit yet but I will one day.
Eventually I came out of the other side and I was changed, a different person, my vision was different, things seemed clearer, there was a mist that lingered for about a year after but it was lifting a little day by day and taking with it a lot of pollution that had been clouding my sight for a long time. It was after this, after recovering from the breakdown, that one of the most important moments of my adult life took place and that was meeting Clara and starting our collaboration. We met at the end of 2010 and within a few weeks we had begun work on Savage Witches, our first feature film together. From then on there was no looking back!
Savage Witches (2012. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais)
Bradley Tuck: Those years were difficult years for me too. However, One+One often served as something to remain excited about, even when everything else was crashing down around me. It was an important time for me because I found a medium that I wanted to experiment with – the online magazine. For me One+One often became an escape from a lot of the harder things that were going on in my life.
In 2009, you had provided a kind of infectious energy that got people going at creating things. It was almost as if you were a cult leader, or something. Not in the sense of group conformity, there were a lot of divergent views, but in the sense that you got people enthused and things started happening. But, yes, I did see something change. I didn’t know at the time the full extent of what had happened, but I could see that something like what you described was going on.
It was at that point that it looked like One+One was finished. The group already seemed to be falling away and I sent you a message asking you what you thought about it, whether you wanted it to continue. You said you did and we asked the rest of the team who still wanted to be involved. What emerged was a team of three: James Marcus Tucker as Publishing, myself as Submissions and yourself as Publicity and Marketing. Together we met and carved out the direction of the Filmmakers journal. We had broken our link with Brighton Filmmakers Coalition, dropped ‘Brighton’ from our name and opened for outside submissions. We made links with old luminaries of British Independent Cinema: James Mackay (Derek Jarman’s Producer), Ron Peck and Jeff Keen, as well as a collection of new writers writing a diverse array of articles on independent, experimental and underground cinema. One of those new writers was Clara Pais who sent us an article on the films of Stan Brakhage and then travelled down from London to Brighton for its (Issue 5‘s) launch.
Clara, maybe you could fill us in on your back story. What was your journey from your first artistic steps to contributing to a small lo-fi magazine based in Brighton?
Clara Pais: I grew up literally watching movies all the time, mostly on TV and VHS tapes at first, which I played almost on repeat. Movies always had a kind of transfixing power for me. I’d get frustrated that my friends couldn’t sit still and watch a movie to the end and preferred to interrupt things to play at something else, I was already obsessed, under a spell. Maybe this submission to the moving images also came from the fact that I used to get sick quite a lot, until I was 12 very often I had allergies, asthma and trouble breathing, so I preferred more quiet and low-key activities than most children. I also used to watch movies in English with Portuguese subtitles before I could read, my older brother or my dad sometimes would read the subtitles out loud and tell me what was going on. We all loved movies in my house, we talked about characters that existed in movies as if they were real people, and there were movies we’d all watch together like a ritual at specifically significant times of the year. Also I remember realising for the first time that there were films that some adults seemed to think were ‘difficult’ or ‘not appropriate’ for a child, but I watched practically anything, my parents had a very open attitude and didn’t treat any kind of culture as if it was not appropriate. I did have my own sense of self-preservation though, some films had an aura of terror or mystery that I couldn’t face watching until much later, especially if the films were about possession of some kind, I imagined that my body might be swallowed up and my mind be dissipated if I saw them. So I had strong experiences with all kinds of movies, books and paintings from an early age in which I was free to make up my own mind about things, and it was strange to me that most other kids were given a more compartmentalised version of the world and were constantly robbed of the authority over their own experience.
I experienced this also in other dimensions of my life – I was born and grew up in the city of Porto, in Portugal, where the Catholic church was still a major part of people’s lives in the 90s, it was the way for organising reality and society, and even if people were not fervently religious most people still participated in all the customs without question and were educated in that frame of mind. Contrary to the norm, my brother and I were not raised Catholics because my parents weren’t so sure about it all, so they thought it would be best if we were free to decide for ourselves. Growing up I realised this was a question of some importance because it seemed to come up all the time, I was not christened, I didn’t do communion, I didn’t know how to pray, I didn’t believe in the bible, so apparently I was doomed to eternal damnation! Even though I didn’t really believe my parents would put my soul in eternal danger, I still considered whether these things were real since they seemed to be of paramount importance for so many people, and I probably ended up thinking about the nature of god and reality much more than most children. In truth I didn’t feel like I was missing anything because I got the basic gist of the story from all the Charlton Heston bible epics, which I loved watching, and I also loved reading about mythology and folktales from all over the world and had a lot of different images of reality available to me through this interest in other cultures.
I started filming very early, by the time I was six we had a Hi8 camcorder that I used to snatch away from my brother during our holidays and weekends to film anything and everything. I liked looking at things through the camera, I’d walk around zooming in and out and looking through the viewfinder, walking into things because I couldn’t trust my sense of space through the camera. I also filmed plays and performances that I created with my cousins, where we sang and played roles and also for a while used puppets. I knew I wanted to make films from about 13 so I went to a school that was dedicated to the arts from age 15, it was the first time that art making became real to me and it immediately made sense, I felt relieved. Besides learning the basics of filmmaking, I got to try out various crafts like ceramics, screenprinting and photography, we also did drawing and learned about art history and philosophy. It was a great place, the atmosphere was very open, both critical and encouraging in the best of ways, and it was there that I got some of the tools that I needed.
When I was 18 I came to London to do a BA in Film. I felt like I needed to leave Portugal to dedicate myself completely to exploring art and cinema. It was an amazing time in many ways but a very difficult time too. It was hard living in a different country being so young and by myself and I quickly became very disappointed with film school in the UK, but for the first year or so I was almost oblivious to how I was suffering from all this because I was so high in excitement from all the amazing things I now had access to. I had almost no money but I went to all the free art galleries all the time, I went to as many film screenings as I could, and I also went to see some dance and theatre performances. I also got a membership to the Close-up film library in Brick Lane, where I went every three days to rent out DVDs of all the avant-garde and experimental film anthologies they had, as well as films by people like Fassbinder, Peter Greenaway, Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Werner Herzog, Jörg Buttgereit, Tsai Ming Liang, a kind of cinema that I hadn’t had any contact with before in Portugal. It was strange, it all made sense and it was so exciting, it opened up new possibilities in my filmmaking, but I didn’t feel like I was successfully exploring these in the films I was making at film school. I was creating constantly but I felt hampered by the resistances I began to feel in the environment I was in, which were making me feel more and more frustrated and less confident. Mainly I felt there was a resistance to treating cinema as an art form like any other, with the same expectations and approaches and subject to the same kind of interrogations as other art forms. It was not until I met Daniel that finally there was someone who really understood what I was getting at and felt the same – it was these kinds of questions that started our collaboration and fuelled the creation of Savage Witches.
Savage Witches (2012. Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais)
Bradley Tuck: I want to talk about Savage Witches in more detail in the next section, but it also seems like a turning point in the story for you both. In what way was it a big shift from what you had both done before? How did it influence what came after?
Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais: Perhaps the greatest change is that through the making of Savage Witches our collaboration was formed, and since then everything that we do grows from or is supported by this constant exchange between us. Savage Witches grew as a conversation between two people who were looking for a way to liberate cinema (and themselves) to a place of total creative freedom, and that dialogue carried through the whole process. It was a very intense 18 month production, during which there were many moments where we felt we had to knock everything down and start again. We took the film itself and all our ideas of cinema apart and put them back together again many times. We worked on it frame by frame until we felt we had gone as far as we could and everything worked. We never argued over anything to assert our individual artistic expression over the other, it didn’t work like that, the authority was the film itself, not us, and if one of us felt something wasn’t working then we’d both ask the film what was wrong and what was it trying to reveal to us. This is how the process of our collaboration was established.
From the beginning there was an instinctive shared sensibility and similar response to visual language, a desire to develop our own image-based narrative form of filmmaking, and a shared tendency for intuitive and exploratory processes, which is what sparked off and made the collaboration possible on a creative level. But there was also a shared willingness to submit to the work, to dedicate ourselves completely to the journey of transformation that making art entails, to be servants to creativity and allow ourselves to mutate along the way without holding back, which is perhaps what has made our collaboration so solid and fruitful. It is a collaboration built on friendship, respect, personal reflection, daily work, and a deep love for art, cinema in particular. We are two individuals but together we work as one artist. We see ourselves both as the receivers and mediators for the films to come into existence, each film has its own energy and its own will, and presents a unique journey for us to go on. So the moment of personal change that Savage Witches marks, from before to after, was no less than a revelation and a reforming of ourselves into a new whole!
Savage Witches (2012 Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais)
Bradley Tuck: Yes, I find your collaboration quite unique. You seem incredibly close. It is tempting to compare the collaboration to a romantic relationship or some kind of deep mystical union. It seems more than simply an artistic collaboration. There is an intensity, a dedication and a unity. You seem like eternal comrades of cinema.
Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais: We sometimes think it is a bit like being monks, we live in the same house together, work and eat together but our devotion isn’t to each other, it is to creativity and the personal journey each of us is on. We approach our work as if we are servants rather than masters, so there is a monastic quality to it.
We are very concerned with living our lives in a deep harmony with our essence and not doing things simply because it is the way things are done. In our society we are brought up to think that relationships are divided into four categories: friends, family, colleagues and strangers, and there are pretty fixed lines between these, but we have found and developed a relationship dynamic that is right for us and doesn’t fit neatly into any of the above. Sometimes this bothers people, we live together and share all our belongings and money but we are not lovers, it is closer to being family than friends but we are not family and our primary purpose for being together is making our work. And of course we are always changing and growing so the dynamic cannot become fixed, it has to grow and change too. Maybe we’ll always grow and change in parallel or maybe one day we’ll part ways, whatever happens it will be right because we are on personal paths and as long as we follow our intuition then things will go as they must.
Bradley Tuck: Yes, it seems like something that runs throughout all that you do. Whether it is relationships or creative projects it is always on your own terms. You seem to have little time for living up to arbitrary rules and expectations. If it doesn’t work do it differently.
I think something of that spirit was ever present in One+One. It, of course, championed independent and underground cinema and prized experimentation and not working as stooges for the studio system or ‘tick-box’ funding bodies, but it also seemed to go beyond that. This experimental energy seemed to overspill into an exploration of the social and political.
That social and political exploration was there from the start, but it deepened and shifted somewhat in 2011. The two of you were largely busy with Savage Witches, and for that year James Marcus Tucker and myself took the helm. Diarmuid Hester also joined partly through the year. Politically and socially there was a sense of change in the air. In an attempt to understand that change I had been reading The New Left Review, and writers like Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou. I especially found Žižek useful, not because I always agreed with him, but because his writing seemed to subversively mash-up political ideologies and reveal unexpected aspects buried within. In many ways, this made him an apt thinker for thinking through the changes that were taking place. James Marcus Tucker and myself would have long discussions on everything from queer theory to communism. Zer0 books had also started publishing a series of books that seemed radical, fresh and exciting. They were publishing little books by Mark Fisher, Nina Power, Benjamin Noys, Dominic Fox, Mark James Léger and Graham Harman. Some of whom would go on to contribute or be interviewed in the magazine.
There were also a lot of political upheavals and protests that year. In April 2011, inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’, we published a special issue on ‘Revolution in Progress’ and set a film challenge on that topic. This, of course, harked back to the origins of the One+One name in Godard’s film, but it also looked forward. The times seemed to be changing.
How did you feel about this shift? I sometimes feel like there were two wings to the magazine. One side that was more political, social and theoretical, and another side that was more artistically explorative. Of course, the two sides influenced each other and I found that a very productive process, but the two of you seemed to exemplify the latter. Your emphasis, as we have already pointed out, was much more based on the image, not the text.
Nonetheless, in 2012 we both embarked on collaborative projects which seemed to reflect the political upheavals of the time. I started writing a Christmas film set in a dystopian not-too-distant future, where economic crisis and environmental catastrophe had brought questions of ideology back to the fore. The political homogeneity that had characterised the third way politics I had grown up with felt far more unstable, and this emerged in the script through warring groups such as Hippie fascists, beatnik Capitalists and Communist punks.
At the same time you were writing a script called The Gun That Killed Cassidy, which was a bit like a western set in the digital age, about a band of revolutionaries, their failure and ensuing exile.
Neither of these films were made, but both, at some level, seem to reflect how some of these upheavals were on our minds and influencing us at the time.
Cover for Issue 6 ‘Revolutions-in-Progress’ issue. Designed by Luke Dacey,
Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais: The full title of the film we were writing was The Gun That Killed Cassidy, or How I Lost My Mind And Came To My Senses. It’s a good description to say it was a western set in the digital age, we were thinking about the ideas of outlaws and new frontiers. The initial inspiration for the film came as a reaction to those so called revolutionaries who seek to change the world around them without first changing themselves. The film portrays a gang of outsiders who think they know what is best for everyone else but are totally constrained and blinded by their neurotic impulses and personal problems which stops them from ever being able to make a constructive change to society. At the time, as you say, there was a feeling of change in the air, after a long period where people weren’t very politicised young people were suddenly waking up a bit and taking notice of what was happening around them, all of us included. But we often felt, and still do, that a lot of people go about arrogantly shouting about how things should and shouldn’t be but at the same time they are deeply suffering within themselves and projecting this inner turmoil onto the people and world around them. The Gun That Killed Cassidy… was our first attempt to dig into this idea and question this and, at least for ourselves, to think about how we may be blind to parts of ourselves and are blaming external situations when the problem may be arising from within us. We still believe that in order to heal society we must first heal ourselves.
Another way to look at it is that The Gun That Killed Cassidy… was exploring how revolution can continue, and in what form, once all efforts seem to fail and everything falls apart. Interesting attempts at radical political and social change often fall short of their ambitions because the monster they’re trying to fight is just too big and protected by inertia, and when this happens, is everything lost? How can one continue to live within the indifference of this apparently undefeatable system without losing hope, without going back on one’s ideals, without betraying one’s desire for change? How can we move forward or go deeper beyond these impulses for social change? It’s interesting you say that the gang in our script moves into exile, we had never quite thought of it in that way, but the image of the wanderer and the exile did become a predominant motif of our work after that.
It’s fantastic that you think of this and your Christmas film as companion pieces, they absolutely are and we’d not quite thought of that before! Maybe we should publish them together as a book? Your film still is one of the best and most original and subversive scripts we’ve ever read! It has to get made some day!
What was so exciting about One+One was that each issue was made as if it was the first issue, each time we almost felt like we were starting over, it never arrived at a fixed position. Much of this was due to the hours and hours of in-depth and passionate discussions going on behind the scenes and also because of the personal and cultural changes going on at the time. You’re right about the two sides or two complementary sensibilities, maybe this is the ‘One’ plus ‘One’ that was always going to be present as we gave it that name. There probably was some tensions due to this at times but it all resulted in something very productive and exciting.
Something that is interesting is that later when we’ve spoken to other artists who we didn’t know at that time, they have talked about how 2011/12 was a significant time for them also, it seems there was something in the air connected to what was going on politically and socially and also maybe a point when our generation grew up a bit and suddenly became aware of themselves in the bigger picture… who knows exactly what it was but these moments are fascinating, when you feel that what you are doing is connected to something going on that is bigger than yourself.
Bradley Tuck: I find it really interesting that you provide these two different (maybe complementary) readings of The Gun that Killed Cassidy… I remember once, just after you had written it, we met for lunch to discuss the script and I described it as (small c) conservative. I had really loved the script, so this wasn’t meant to be definitive, or even derogatory as such, but more the way we would attempt to wrestle with what we thought or where we stood on things. I suppose the aspect that I thought could be (small c) conservative was the ‘change yourself rather than change the world’ aspect. I never particularly noticed the second interpretation, or maybe I did, but didn’t emphasise it. It is interesting! Maybe the second reading adds a subversive element to the first. Both interpretations of it are very interesting.
I suppose I often have ambivalences around the phrase ‘You must change yourself before you can change society.’ Not because I particularly dislike the self, I think I do have a positive account of the self and the individual, but I also see a lot of bastardised versions around me.
I have similar ambivalences to The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love”. There are (at least) two ways of interpreting this. On the one hand, there is the “All you need is love and you can start a revolution and change the world” or “All you need is love, and if you have love you don’t need to worry about changing the world. Put your feet up and relax.” The Beatles, at the time, probably heard something like the former, but Frank Zappa, judging by the cover of his We’re Only In It For The Money, probably heard the latter. Of course, I am not opposed to love, but I also think that if you say that someone was ‘deeply loving’ that doesn’t tell you who they were, what they stood for or what they valued. ‘All you need is love’, in certain contexts, can be a recipe for apathy, in other contexts it can be a recipe for something pretty horrifying.
Likewise, ‘Change yourself’, what does that mean? It could easily become the kind of ‘inspirational quote’ that you could find satirised on Vapid Daily: “Be yourself in a strict Corporate Framework”, ‘Frame your businesses’s exploitation as benevolence by releasing an autobiography with a bohemian-sounding prefix in front of the word ‘entrepreneur’ i.e. the bearfoot entrepreneur’, ‘Denigrate every aspect of western culture while simultaneously benefiting from it. Then meditate or be mindful once a week or something’ ‘REMEMBER, the first step to curing world poverty, global conflicts and racial tensions is to denounce the ego’ and so on.
In 1979 Christopher Lasch published a book entitled The Culture of Narcissism, which argued that the radical politics and spiritualism of the 60s and 70s led to a culture of self-absorbed ‘me-ism’. I think there is something to this. Many of the political changes that inspired the hippies, dropouts and freaks never materialised, but we can nonetheless see traces in the most vacuous elements of our culture: self-help gurus, lifestyle activism, empowerment politics, a politics that focuses more on individual trauma than structural change etc. The politics of ‘self-help’ seems to have infiltrated multiple aspects of social life from the way corporations present themselves to the Conservative party (think for example of David Cameron’s Conservative government’s use of ‘nudge’ theory and ‘the back to work’ note). Many hippies, drop outs and freaks genuinely did think you needed to change yourself in order to change the world, but I am not sure that this is what they had in mind.
Nonetheless, I do agree with you, activism can be a way of projecting one’s own inner turmoil, especially in the age of twitter where you can get some very divisive politics. It can be very nit-picking and aggressive, but I also wonder how much this comes from a ‘change yourself’ ethic itself. One of the things I have noticed about a certain kind of activist is that they seem little concerned with persuading people, thinking strategically and building a broader movement for change. They would much prefer to call people out, live out a lifestyle and ‘self-empower.’ That doesn’t sound like politics (with a capital P), that sounds like ‘self-help’ transposed onto politics.
So, I suppose some people do need to ‘change themselves’. I am not sure if it can happen in a linear way (change yourself, then change the world), the processes often need to happen simultaneously, but, yes, at some level the kind of person you are matters. If you are awash with inner turmoil, then, in all likelihood, you aren’t going to get the best politics. Maybe this brings us back to your second interpretation. Maybe there is something about self-development, self-discipline and long term thinking that is lost on a particular kind of digital activist. Maybe there is something about having a mental resilience that can stand the test of time.
Yes, both film scripts do feel like companion pieces. I guess I hadn’t noticed this before either. Both film scripts seem to be drawing a tremendous amount of energy from the emerging politics of the time, but also exploring how this could go wrong. I would love you to publish The Gun That Killed Cassidy… it is a fantastic script and, of course, I would love to publish the Christmas film along side it. Maybe I will make the Christmas film, it might have to be re-written a bit, times have changed a lot since 2012, but there is still a possibility it will get made. Who knows.
Within One+One the constant process of ‘addition’ was one of the things that made it an absolute joy. There was an experimental energy that made us always ready to think or explore something new. If one half of that was theoretical and political, the other half seemed rooted in practice. A lot of our thoughts on film grew out of experimenting and creating together. Our thoughts on film were not those of detached film scholars commenting from afar. Part of our desire to discuss film grew out of a desire to make film.
Alongside this we discussed filmmakers and films with a passion. In 2012 One+One launched a blog to accompany the magazine. Your contribution was your Eyeblaze series. It was an absolutely brilliant introduction to some of the most unique and magnificent films that are still some of my favourites today. You discussed Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack, Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, the documentary on the Kuchar Brothers It Came From Kuchar, Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions, the Japanese unique horror experience Hausu, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, Ralph Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic, Marguerite Duras’s India Song and other films such as George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I Am Naked and Ken Russell’s Lisztomania were also discussed. One of the things that seemed to colour our particular exchanges was those low-budget masters at mixing bad taste, surrealism, camp and pastiche. Here I am thinking particularly of filmmakers like John Waters, George and Mike Kuchar, Jack Smith, The Cockettes, Curt McDowell and Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone. Quite often, of an evening, inspired by these filmmakers, we would dress up, often making the story up on the spot and film something. Some of that footage appears in Splendor Solis. It was a lot of fun!
Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais: We’ve been thinking this week some more about this idea of changing oneself and how maybe our ideas differ from the slogans of self-help books and the like. For us there is no separation between art and life, between our ideas and how we live, so this should be considered in relation to all our writing, films and actions – we and our work are the same thing, our work is us and we are the work. In this respect there is always a therapeutic dimension, a transformative aspect to everything we do. This has been present in our work since the beginning for both of us, but it became clearer and more focused through making Savage Witches and continued through writing The Gun That Killed Cassidy… and everything we have done up until now.
The script for The Gun That Killed Cassidy… was structured around 5 acts and each dealt with the beginnings of a revolution taking place in different areas of human experience. This was us working things out for ourselves, trying to understand what it is that really underpins our actions, feelings and thoughts, and working through the various dimensions of a human existence. Act. 1 was about society, Act. 2 was about family/friendship groups, Act. 3 looked at romantic/sexual relationships, Act. 4 was about our relation to the body/nature/the planet, and Act. 5 was about our relationship to the self/god/the soul or whatever other metaphor one likes to use for the inner-self. For us it seems limited to want only to create change in one area of human experience, if we want a revolution of any kind we have to consider how to change absolutely everything. All the obstacles to changes in society exist also within ourselves, and there are many fundamental and much needed changes that cannot truly take place unless there is also deep inner work involved. If we do not know how to deal with change in our individual realm then we are much less able to do it consciously and constructively as a society.
In the society we live in, real change is generally condemned, people may say they want it but when someone really changes something, or even just changes their mind about something, they are attacked by those around them. Change can be the hardest thing in the world, we fear it and there is a great force of resistance against it, this is why we must cultivate a relationship with change within ourselves, within our thought patterns and our daily behaviour, before we can expect to have the skills and state of mind to bring about good change in the world around us. Or else we will very likely be unconsciously perpetuating behaviours and ideas that sabotage our conscious intentions. We might even convince ourselves that all is fine, nothing needs to change, things are much better than they used to be, or that there is nothing that one can do that would make any difference anyway. We must learn not to fear real change and we must not fear how deeply we can change. We can engage with it actively on all levels and see it as an empowering tool.
Changing yourself is about knowing yourself and becoming as conscious as possible of the unconscious forces that animate you. No matter how much we all think we are in control, most of the time we are all operating on deeply irrational influences, we are a mix of semi-consciousness, unconscious complexes and impulses, learned behaviours and limited historical perspectives. We have to acknowledge this, it’s important to start from a position of knowing that we are fundamentally irrational beings. But there is a use for these irrational parts of ourselves and they can be constructive tools rather than destructive violent forces, this is the human creature’s amazing ability to learn from oneself and change. Changing yourself is really a lifelong process so it absolutely has to go hand in hand with making changes to the world around us, it doesn’t have an end or even a goal, it’s a continuous process of becoming conscious of what rules your thought patterns, emotions, behaviour, relationships etc.
When we look at all of the art and political revolutions of the last century we see examples of how people wanted external revolution but in themselves and in their day to day lives they also denied the possibility of real change. One example would be to look at how deeply misogynistic most of the art movements of the 20th century were, all these male artists were talking about changing the bourgeois society of their time but in their own lives they were treating women as second class citizens and devaluing their contributions as artists. This in many ways devalues their potential for revolution, they only want one kind of change and were blind to the need to change themselves and their relationships, blind to their own limits. Of course we all will always have blind spots, but the journey of changing ourselves is about seeking them out, trying to become conscious of them and working with that material. So should we condemn the artists of the past? We don’t believe so, we should be critical and try to see where they were liberating us and where they were limited and try to learn from them, and be present in the world as it is now and push up against our own limits and do all we can to liberate ourselves.
Bradley Tuck: It seems that what you are rejecting is something like the political militant with a ‘one-track mind’. It seems like there is, for you, more at stake than simply ‘smashing the system’. You seem to be interested in transformation as a whole and that extends from the internal to the cosmic. Again, it feels closer to the mystic than the revolutionary.
I guess something like this was there in One+One. We certainly flirted with the idea of a revolution-in-progress, but this wasn’t a singular political crusade where art was simply seen as a propagandistic means to a political end. We valued artistic and intellectual freedom, creative exploration and a range of issues that extended beyond any singular cause. Some of this could seem apolitical, but I also think it can be seen as political in the same way that art, development and luxury for all are political. As I mentioned in the first part, there is something politically important about the ‘Art for Arts Sake’ rally cry. Sometimes the radical and subversive dimension of art is less overt, more contemplative, more explorative. I think this explorative element is intrinsic to your work. It is not so much about rallying to a cause, but exploring and experimenting. That is something I value very highly too.
There is also, of course, a political tradition of seeing self-change as integral to social change. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, was ever perceptive of the need to ‘make citizens’, never merely laws or political institutions. At the end of The Social Contract, alert to the fact that “no State was ever founded without Religion serving as its basis” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau ‘Of the Social Contract’ in Of The Social Contract and Other Political Writings Penguin Classics: London. 2012 p. 126) and alert, also, to the fact that “Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence” (p.130), he makes the case for the civil religion. For him, a civil religion is necessary in order to bring into being the kinds of citizens fit to partake in their own sovereignty. Rousseau was a deep inspiration on the Jacobins of the French revolution, not only in terms of social and political ideas, but also in terms of the civil religion. In an attempt to create a state religion for the new French Republic Maximillian Robespierre began The Cult of the Supreme Being. Jacques-Louis David, painter and propagandist for this new republic, was integral to this. Through his paintings and festivals David seemed to be creating a new religion that simultaneously worked as propaganda for the new republic. For the Jacobins everything was to be transformed. They set out to create a new calendar, redividing and renaming years, months and days with an audacious tenacity. The creation of new art and a new religion served to create a new citizen for the new emerging politics.
Traces of this Rousseauian spirit can be found in very different contexts. Isn’t there something Rousseauian about Steve Biko’s insistence that “as long as blacks are suffering from inferiority complex – a result of 300 years of deliberate oppression, denigration and derision – they will be useless as architects of a normal society where man is nothing else but man for his own sake. Hence what is necessary as a prelude to anything else that may come is a very strong grass-roots build up of black consciousness such that blacks can learn to assert themselves and stake their rightful claim”? (Steve Biko, ‘Black Souls in White Skins?’ in Steve Biko, I Write What I like: A Selection of His Writings. Penguin Books: London. 1988 p.35)
In Rousseau, the Jacobins and Biko the creation of a new kind of person is integral to achieving their broader political vision. They were calling on people to change themselves in a way that was quite different to the self-help guru. Of course, there is something being said here that is hard to deny. People don’t simply change their views based on mere logical argumentation. Part of the process of persuasion and change also involves inspiring people, getting people to perceive things from different perspectives and giving people the confidence to criticise the way things are. Good and successful politics is often about creating an inspiring vision and empowering people to fight for it.
Nonetheless, I guess there is something difficult, sometimes sinister, about trying to create a new kind of person. Difficult, because it is hard to articulate clearly our aims and objectives. Defining the ‘right’ kind of person or the ‘right’ kind of consciousness is a lot more difficult than it may appear. Sinister, because it can easily slide into something that is manipulative or repressive. Sometimes it can be a way of avoiding getting to the root of the problem and providing a solution.
Looking back on One+One, I often feel that the cinema of the 60s and 70s was a big influence on us. The counter-culture of the sixties and its expression via cinema seemed to be integral in shaping our project. A lot of these films seemed political on many levels without particularly being propagandistic. Some of these films are dealing with social changes. Some of them were about re-imagining our family, our friendships and our relationships. Some of these films were about love, sex and sexual liberation. Some of these films were about our relationship to the world at large. Some of these films were about the spiritual and the cosmic. They were exploring many of the themes that run throughout The Gun That Killed Cassidy… .
One of the things that I love about the cinema of this period is that they were and remain thought provoking and inspiring. It didn’t feel like they had one single fixed agenda that they were all trying to parrot. There are some deeply controversial films made during this period, but they also seemed quite self-critical and nuanced in ways that strike me as interesting. They were really getting you to think outside the box and wrestle with ideas. One of the things I like about cinema made in this period is that they experimented and explored. It is this explorative and experimental side that I find really exciting. It is also what makes your work exciting too.
In 2013 you left One+One, moved away from Brighton and launched a new publication: Film Panic. Back in Brighton, One+One continued to grow and develop. Numerous members left the team and new ones joined. 2014 – 2015 was a really big period of upheaval in the magazine. This seemed to be compounded by the fact that the world seemed increasingly unstable and intimidating. Some of the more nightmarish elements of the Christmas film and The Gun That Killed Cassidy… appeared to have become real. The internet seemed dark and intimidating. Amidst a world of emerging cyber-schisms and twitter storms it really did feel like the age of post-ideological political consensus was over. The unpleasant elements of digital life were harder to keep at a distance, and the enthusiasm that we all experienced in 2011 and 2012 was harder to maintain (even if there were plenty of positive things happening too).
In 2014 we started talking about changing One+One into a more internet-friendly publication, this led to an experiment in 2015 which would evolve into Culture On The Offensive Magazine. Greg Scorzo and Lizzie Soden, who joined as editors in 2013, were trying to grapple with the cultural changes that were afoot. They were increasingly frustrated by the way the internet foreclosed the possibility of constructive discussion and debate, the way activism tended to be shrill and censorial, and their vision for the new direction was one of creating a philosophical counter-culture that challenged us to step outside our narrow ideological commitments and create new conversations. In many ways they had a profound influence on me, but also, by the end of the year, it had become clear that we were trying to do different things and we parted ways. It no longer made sense to return to One+One, so this set me on a journey of creating something new that would eventually result in Exploding Appendix.
So One+One divided into three (Film Panic, Culture On The Offensive, Exploding Appendix). Nonetheless that process of being involved in One+One has had a profound impact on me. Above all it taught me to think of the magazine, and the online magazine especially, as a creative medium that can be explored and experimented with. I really like the way Twin Peaks has pushed and experimented with the genre of the Television drama, taking conventions and tropes and then pushing them in all sorts of directions. I would love to achieve something similar with the online magazine. I don’t think I am there yet, but there is a lot you can do with it, and I think there are lots of ways still left to push it and experiment with it. We are only just getting started.
Film Panic Magazine
Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais: After leaving One+One, we simultaneously got involved in two new ventures: one was starting Film Panic Magazine and the other was taking over the running of the London Underground Film Festival (which we also presented in Portugal). At this point we had completely finished Savage Witches and we’d had a few presentations of the film in Cambridge, Brighton and London, and while we felt that we had had a great creative breakthrough with this film, it didn’t necessarily get the kind of attention from festivals, critics and programmers that would take it to a larger audience. Savage Witches did quite well over time though and we still get screenings of it now, but we learnt then that it takes just as much energy to put a film out into the world as it does to make it. Still, we were incredibly energised by what we had done with this film. We had managed to find a process to create cinema that was different from industrial processes and that grew completely from ourselves and our personal conditions. We felt we’d made a significant contribution to expanding the possibilities of cinema narrative and began to challenge experimental cinema conventions.
At that point what we were really hungry for was to connect with other filmmakers who were also making personal, exploratory and truly experimental films. Taking over the London Underground Film Festival was the first steps to try to do that and to find out what kind of films were being made at the time. It was also an opportunity to be in the shoes of the programmer and understand the problems one faces when putting on a festival, dealing with submissions, venues, the programme, promotion, funding (or the complete lack of it, which was our case). We believe that in order to understand how something works we should do it ourselves, it was incredibly hard work but we learnt a lot.
As we’ve said earlier, one of the successes and most rewarding parts of One+One was the discussions behind the scenes, but after leaving Brighton, as we would no longer all be based in the same city, we felt that for us it was a good time to move on to new projects and try new things. We were still excited about the idea of publishing but wanted to do something more directly connected to our own work and interests, which is how the first issue of Film Panic came about. Central to Film Panic and the screenings we’ve organised is a desire to connect with other filmmakers, to create a platform for promoting their work and exchanging ideas. In some ways these projects have grown from a feeling of being alone and uncertain about where our work fits in to the wider film culture. Over the course of the last five issues of the magazine, and the associated screenings, we have managed to seek out a bunch of filmmakers and create exchanges, conversations, screenings and some film collaborations – it’s very exciting to be connected with artists whose work we admire and who like what we do. This is really the thing that keeps us going through the thick and thin!
Film Panic has become our way of reaching out and engaging with the world. It is one part the research arm of The Underground Film Studio where we publish interviews and one part a platform for us to share our personal reflections on filmmaking and film culture. The Underground Film Studio initially was a banner under which we did our work, it referred to that Brighton basement where we had our first studio together, but over time it has become something more, an idea and a place for the production of films plus publishing, screenings and distribution of our projects. It’s still early days and we have more plans of how we’d like to expand our activities and collaborate with more people in the future but for now we plant the seeds of what our dream is in the ground of our daily work.