The Underground Film Studio: An Interview in 12 Parts. Part 4: ‘Experiential Cinema, Expanded Cinema and the Sacrificium Intellectus’.April 30, 2018
By Bradley Tuck
Let us ignite a fire from the sap of the most radiant flowers. Let us ferment a concoction, whose theurgy will untether us from the stagnant morass of stifled thoughts and unleash a sphere of fresh ideas. Let us create an intoxicating illusion that is more revealing than the clarity of its absence. The optician will be recast as a mesmerist and our eyes will be induced with the power of a psychic archaeologist tearing through the sediments of life, discovering new facets and uncovering the caresses and wrenches of meaning. From the scorched sap a path will be formed and a journey will be commenced. And all of this will form our story, a story already told, but in its retelling it will recommence the most clamorous echoes such that we will swear that we have never heard this story before.
In this fifth part of our interview with The Underground Film Studio, Bradley Tuck and Daniel Fawcett discuss Daniel Fawcett’s film Splendor Solis: Home Movies from 1998-2015 (2015), the process and journey of its creation and the themes of alchemy, Jungian psychotherapy and personal journeys.
Splendor Solis can be viewed on Vimeo on Demand here, and the DVD can be purchased here.
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.
BRADLEY: The other night a friend came around to my flat, we were talking about art and artistic projects and one thing led to another and we ended up watching Splendor Solis, a visually mesmerising film created out of Daniel Fawcett’s home videos and film experiments from 1998-2015. The film footage, divided vertically with a split screen, seemed persistently awash with bright and compelling images. The film also had a personal significance for me because I was in it. I could remember with fondness the nights we spent creating trash homage soap opera ‘Cesspit Alley’, our trip to the Jack in the Green festival in Hastings, the attempt to make a film inspired by a Godard film trailer, or the many trips into the Hastings wilderness. When I had first encountered the film I was struck by how visually stunning it was, but I had wondered what other people who didn’t know the context would get out of it. Knowing the context, everything had a very particular meaning for me.
Nonetheless watching films with different people is a useful exercise, it often helps us perceive things in the film that we didn’t see before. So as we watched this film it struck me that these images didn’t need this context. Somehow they seemed to convey ‘a feel’, a sense of a group of creative people coming together and the energetic sense of excitement that comes with that.
In many ways the film could be seen as a retelling of the story that we have been telling here so far. This is a film that chronicles Daniel’s early forays into film. This is a film that brings to life the world that ran alongside One+One Filmmakers Journal and informed much of our ideas and discussions that seeped into its pages. This is a film that shows the making of Savage Witches and Sacrificium Intellectus. This is both fast-forward and rewind. We are simultaneously moving to 2015 when the film was released, but also moving backwards to 1998 when the film was started.
What originally gave you the idea to make this film?
DANIEL: Splendor Solis was conceived sometime around 1998 when I made my first films. My very first film was called Cottage Tape and consisted of a VHS tape filled with lots of small fragments of footage of myself and friends filmed in and around the old cottage and countryside where I lived. It was edited in camera and finished once the tape was full. Sadly this tape was destroyed and I only have some very small clips from it which I had edited into a part of another film.
It was at this time when first experimenting with recording, transforming video images and exploring what the camera could do that my uncle suggested to me that I should make a kind of diary film which gathered together the many fragments and documents I was shooting. So alongside shooting short films I collected what I call my ‘home movies’, this refers to anything from unused shots from my films, behind the scenes footage, video experiments, as well as all those things normally considered home movies such as documents of friends and outings, etc. Between 1998 and 2010 I made around 80 short films and two feature films while at the same time still collecting home movie material. Most of the time I wasn’t thinking about the home movie project directly, it was more that this kind of daily shooting had become a habit. I’d give the edit an occasional thought but as time went on the task became more daunting as the number of VHS and mini-DV tapes increased into the hundreds. A couple of times I did attempt to dig into them and started logging the footage, I did this first around the time I moved to Brighton in 2008, but I got so busy with other projects that I put it on hold for later.
Then I met Clara and we made Savage Witches, and after this we moved away from Brighton, away from everyone we knew into a little dilapidated seaside house in the middle of nowhere and this began a very different kind of lifestyle for us and a new stage of my life. After the chaotic and extraverted couple of years in Brighton I suddenly found myself in a very quiet place in relative isolation – it was a very strange time and took me a while to adjust into a new way of being. Even though this change was extreme it was a lifestyle I had been seeking for some time, one of the major activities of this period became gardening and for a while we were producing nearly all of our own food and what we couldn’t produce we were buying cheaply from other gardeners and fishermen.
It was in this period that Clara and I began a very intensive study of our dreams, we would begin each day by talking through and analysing the dreams of the night before, we dedicated a huge amount of time to this and the study of dreams led us to a study of mythology, alchemy and a rediscovery of the Tarot. We became very deeply immersed in this ‘soul work’ for a good couple of years. While doing this we were also writing a lot of scripts, somewhere in the region of 20 feature film screenplays plus some shorts, but we weren’t filming very much. We made a couple of attempts to produce a new feature film which hit against a wall, they were very ambitious projects and somehow we couldn’t manage to get them going. We started to feel very disheartened and frustrated and even at one time wondered if we would ever manage to make another film. After some time I realised I had to do something – as important as the study of dreams, the research work and writing was, I really needed to create something. It occurred to me that one of the reasons I was feeling so stuck and unable to move forward was because I was carrying a great weight around with me, this mass of unused footage, this epic unfinished film and all the emotional and psychological knots that carried with it. So in the autumn of 2014 I began the intensive task of organising the material, capturing and logging tapes and very slowly shaping it into the film it became.
When I started editing this film I was absolutely convinced that I would never show it publicly, it was made entirely as an act of therapy, to help me release myself from the past and to heal my wounds. I edited for myself in a way that made complete sense to me, the narrative form based on systems that I understood and I made no attempts to shape it so it would communicate its secrets to an audience. It is my most hermetic work and has a very complicated personal structure which is shaped in part around the various narratives of my life between 1998 and 2015 but also a structure based on the alchemical panels of the illuminated manuscript after which the film is named. It was incredibly important for me to work this way, for it to truly be therapy it had to be private, I had to feel safe exposing myself, and it gave me the courage to look at myself and my relationships very honestly and try to understand who I am and why I am the way I am. This is no easy task so the whole process had to be tailored to help me, even force me to not shy away from some very deep questions.
It took about a year to make, from when I first started sorting through the footage to the final cut. During the editing I began shooting new material that became the last section of the film. I watched and re-watched every frame of everything I had ever shot, I wrote reams and reams of notes and reflections probing into the content – during the process my moods would swing from total bliss and ecstatic joy to total despair. It was one of the most emotionally draining experiences I’ve ever had but at the end, when the edit was complete, something totally amazing happened, I suddenly felt so light, so free, so liberated like I had shed a layer of old skin. The future which before had felt like a mountain that I had to climb suddenly felt like it was full of inviting possibilities, it was incredible. And even more wonderful was how my relationships with people began to change, some people from my past that I had had some fallings out with, or negative feelings towards suddenly looked different to me, I felt very warm towards them, as if I could see them for themselves for the first time and not for what I wanted them to be or what I thought they were. It truly was a project to heal that extended beyond myself, I hadn’t known this would happen but looking back it makes sense, that if you change your feelings about yourself it’s obvious this will effect those around you too.
After it was complete I no longer felt that it needed to be a private project, in fact as I watched the final results I realised that this film is a celebration of life, a celebration of living creatively and I feel this is something worth sharing.
BRADLEY: What a journey you have been on! It is tempting to describe this as a kind of Jungian psychotherapy. It is as if the creative process is simultaneously a kind of therapeutic process. It is interesting to think about the way that therapy and art overlap. Of course, art is often used as a form of therapy, but it also strikes me that, especially in this context, therapeutic techniques become methods for creative works. You could, and many people will, get a lot out of the film itself without any knowledge of this background or any thoughts about therapy, or spiritual journeys, and so forth. But it strikes me as interesting to contemplate the idea of therapy as a creative methodological process.
References to dream analysis, tarot, spirituality and alchemy all bring to mind the work of Carl Jung. Carl Jung often took a syncretic and often highly spiritual approach to psychotherapy. For Jung, the therapeutic path was one that needn’t be restricted to the psychoanalytic session and could include art, dance and religion. Central to Jung’s approach is a spiritual quest for individualisation whereby one rediscovers the self freed from the personas and masks we often take to be our true self. In the service of this, Jung often turned to religion. In Psychology and Alchemy, Jung argued that the practice of medieval alchemy could be revealing about the medieval mindset. In attempting to understand the nature of matter, alchemists projected their own unconscious ideas onto matter, and these descriptions could themselves be revealing about the medieval European psyche. By turning to symbols and archetypes of medieval alchemy one could also uncover insights into our own collective unconscious.
This clearly had an influence on both of you. In 2012, writing for One+One Filmmakers Journal and discussing Derek Jarman’s 1977 film Jubilee, Clara writes “Like Jung, who proposes that we should look at the images of our unconscious in order to better see ourselves, Jarman presents for us a dream of the year of 1977 in which the film was made. This dream deals with events and ideas that were happening at that moment, featuring people who were the real protagonists of that movement.” Could this description itself, with a few adjustments, also be a description of Splendor Solis? Could Splendor Solis be attempting to present a dream from 1998-2015, where the dream deals with events and ideas that were happening at that moment, featuring people who were the real protagonists of that movement? There is something very dreamlike about this documentation of the things that you were involved in from 1998-2015!
All this seems to chime nicely with the idea that we discussed in part four, namely, that through your work you are attempting to create “a new consciousness and new psychic possibilities”. This also seems to strike at what is ‘ethical’ or ‘political’ in your work. As Clara goes on to write
“…collective images are not always produced with the purpose to investigate or bring truth to light, they are also produced in order to manipulate and subdue the questioning, to provide answers we can consume rather than questions that can transport us, to simply take advantage of their own power and make financial profit. Whether it be entertainment, high art or simply current events, it is worth remembering that every collective show has that power, the power of a collective ritual that inscribes, establishes or reinforces how we, as a society, understand ourselves, be it the Queen’s Jubilee, the opening ceremony of the Olympics, or the news reports of a massacre in a cinema by an unknown man.”
The point of your work, it could be argued, is to uncover the right kind of collective images and the right kind of collective rituals, that would create the right kind of consciousness and the right kind of psychic possibilities.
It is also interesting that in your journey, like Jung, you turn to medieval alchemy. The panels that illustrate the medieval text of Splendor Solis are certainly beautiful and like the Tarot of Marseilles they seem rich in signification and interpretative possibilities. Maybe you could explain a bit more about this. How did it influence you? How did it wind up structuring the film?
DANIEL: You are right to point to Jung (and other Jungian writers) as being a major influence on us and reading about the various Jungian ideas has definitely contributed to our artistic process. We certainly could not be considered to be Jungian filmmakers in any way but he has definitely given us some useful tools as well as some new ways of thinking about the material we are interested in. Lots of the things we were drawn to before reading Jung are brought together in his writing, he helped us see the connections between subjects such as dreams, painting, nature, tarot, alchemy, magic, psychology, fairy tales and ritual etc, through his writing we understood how all these things are all intimately connected.
When I was a child I became really interested in these various subjects, many of which I was introduced to by a fascinating old man who lived in my village. I don’t know his full name but most people called him Old Nick, but I seem to remember that wasn’t his real name. He was a tall thin man with a long beard that went down to his waist and ended in a twisted point, it was completely white except under his mouth and the edges of his moustache which were stained yellow from tobacco. He was a practicing witch and lived in a small two room shack that had no electricity or running water, his toilet was a bucket and he had a pump tap in his garden for water. His tiny house was nestled in a patch of land between the back of a farm and a more modern looking house, the garden was wildly overgrown and you wouldn’t think that anyone lived inside. You would enter the garden through a little wooden gate and go along a tiny path which was adorned with stones, animal bones and crystals hanging on wires. My dad became friends with him as my mother used to cut his hair (she was a hairdresser and would cut the hair of people in the village), so sometimes my dad and I would walk down the lane from our house to see him as he lived only a few minutes away. Inside his house was dark and damp and we’d sit there for an hour or two drinking tea and talking about all manner of subjects while he puffed away on smelly hand-rolled cigarettes. He had a lot of unusual magical objects in his house and a huge collection of books (all stained yellow from smoke and the damp), he introduced me to many subjects from tarot, to witchcraft, Buddhist meditation, and various mystical practices from around the world.
When I was about six or seven years old I began having some very unusual experiences where I would float out of my body and look at myself laying in bed. I also had some where I would float down through the bed, through the floor and into the room below. It was Old Nick who explained that these are experiences people have been having for centuries and it is called astral projection. We would go and see Nick every so often and he would fill my head with wonderful and strange ideas which were sometimes scary but always deeply fascinating to me. Some years later the local council found out that he was living there in such poor conditions and they moved him out into a modern flat, a few weeks after this he died. I inherited a few of his books on magic and poetry, which I still have.
So as a child I was deeply interested in all these sorts of topics and alongside my passion for art making they were pretty much a central interest from about age six until I was in my teens. During my teens I had a horrific experience in which I was spiked by LSD and had a terrifying twelve hour living nightmare in which I believed myself to die. This triggered a serious breakdown after which I was having daily panic attacks, depression and OCD behaviour. I became absolutely terrified of all things that could be considered irrational and any experience that was at all hallucinatory, I gave up alcohol and had a period where I barely left the house in the day time. I was terrified of busy places, noise and crowds and had problems eating for many years. All of the stuff that I had been so interested in as a child was suppressed and cast out and I gripped to anything rational and tangible. The only thing that really sustained me through this period was making art – art and therapy became inseparable for me.
Now jumping forwards another fifteen years or so to my late twenties I had another breakdown but this one turned out to be almost the opposite effect. After this second deep descent into the darkness which was equally as scary and an equal dose of madness, I recovered and I saw the re-emergence of so many interests and experiences that had been locked up for many years. Memories that I had forgotten came back with a vivid clarity. Now we have already covered much of this but after this point when I met Clara and through making Savage Witches I made a deep reconnection with interests such as the tarot, witchcraft, dreams, numerology etc, and then during the final editing of Savage Witches we read Carl Jung’s book Man and his Symbols – this somehow brought a bunch of disparate threads together in a way that strongly resonated with me.
All of our films have symbolic language, even my first two features (Come On Thunder, 2006 / Teenage Wildlife, 2010) are filled with tarot symbols, numerological structures and patterns and references to mythology, although much much more subtly than later films. I don’t remember exactly when we first saw the Splendor Solis illustrations but I know my first response was to the rich imagination of them. I do remember that at one point the material of my home movies kept connecting to that of the panels and to the tarot, characters and symbols seemed to echo between them and all the while my dreams kept strengthening the importance for me to pay attention to these images. The tarot and the images of the Splendor Solis seem to be built around a very similar set of ideas and image making instincts, I believe them to ultimately be dealing with the same things, which is a set of signposts of human experience to aid one’s journey through life.
There are 22 cards in the major arcana of the tarot and 22 panels in the Splendor Solis. The Splendor Solis images can be grouped into 3 parts, the first contains 11 images, the second 7 and the third 4. The written text of Splendor Solis is in 7 parts or ‘treatise’ plus an introduction and conclusion.
The film Splendor Solis has 8 acts, each of which has its own title, act 1 is single screen whereas acts 2 to 8 are double screen, in this way act 1 could be seen as a prologue followed by 7 sections, the titles are as follows:
Act 1. Paradise Trees & The Fruits They Bear
Act 2. Pandora’s Box
Act 3. Teenage Wildlife Take 1
Act 4. Don’t Fence Me In
Act 5. A Number Of Young Lovers
Act 6. SW Phantom Film
Act 7. Monsters Picnic
Act 8. Return Of The Dreamer
I won’t give the titles for all the smaller sequences but within this larger act structure there is a more complex sub-structure of 25 scenes, and then within those 25 there is a series of micro-structures, some that run all the way through the film, others that stop and start only in certain moments. The various narrative threads cover at times a single screen, sometimes the double screen, sometimes two playing at once across either side of two screens or layered images over a single screen. The overall narrative shape is the narrative of my personal psychological & artistic journey, but the film is also conceived as a mythological narrative rooted in various creation myths, and then there is the structure that could be called the mystical structure, which is shaped around the Splendor Solis panels and the tarot. So I have constructed three structural layers: personal, mythological and spiritual. But there is also a fourth layer and that is the experience of the viewer, the narrative created by them which for each will be unique to them. As I have said earlier and it is worth remembering, this film was initially created for myself and while making it I had no conscious intention of screening it publicly so these structures were used for myself, for my personal reflection on my life and experiences and this shape gave me a very focused way of working through this deeply personal material.
There are many people present in the film but they are not portraits of those people as they are in real life, the scenes are not documents but more images of their place as they exist in the dream-sphere of myself, they are presented as psychic manifestations of parts of myself. Of course, as I was dealing with filmed images they no doubt capture elements of those people but the camera eye and the editing choices disrupt the possibilities of a true document or portrait. These are my inner images of myself manifested through others, through my relationships – people become symbols, as do places, animals, objects, sounds, music and everything else in the film. It could maybe be called a psychic self portrait rather than a home movie but then again in the universe of our work the image of the home is always a metaphor for the self so it results in the same thing.
I am sure there is no way anyone could ever know about these structures unless they are told because they are not clearly indicated within the film, and even if the act breaks could be discerned I doubt their significance communicates to the viewer in an intellectual way. The experience is much more sensory and poetic, and hopefully all these ‘secrets’ that I wove into the fabric of the piece seep through in an unconscious way to activate something personal for the viewer that is beyond anything to do with me.
The goal of alchemy is the creation of a philosopher’s stone, from a Jungian perspective this philosopher’s stone is not an actual physical object but something we should think of symbolically. The philosopher’s stone is the realisation of the self. When starting to piece together the footage, and still seeking an answer to the question of ‘what is this film I am making?’, I found that in a lot of the earliest footage I had of myself I was wearing a t-shirt that had the word ‘element’ printed on it. This triggered something for me, I quickly understood that the element of this work was myself. There was also the frequent appearance of another t-shirt that had the number 69 printed on it, which maybe could evoke a slang for a double oral sex act, and also could echo the yin yang symbol which is obviously related. Seeing myself in these two t-shirts helped me understand that this was the central journey of this film, myself as the material of the work and the goal is a balance, or wholeness, a harmony of the elements.
So maybe this in a way can give some insight into how alchemy and various symbolic systems have informed this film and also the relationship between art and therapy for me. The connection to dreams is obviously very important but rather than this film being a dream of a certain period that relates to the collective or a movement it is more appropriate to see it as truly personal alchemical work. The film is a retort, the footage is the material with which I work but ultimately that material is an externalisation of inner work, it becomes something I can see and physically manipulate, explore and transform, and through doing so, allow deep psychological changes to take place within myself.
BRADLEY: This is all very fascinating and it adds a whole new layer to the viewing experience. I have just re-watched the single screened section, the section that you (above) entitled “Act 1. Paradise Trees & The Fruits They Bear”. It is really interesting to re-watch it with that title in mind. It is a very colourful sequence. The colours of the garden, which are so bright and artificial, are evocative of both Savage Witches (2012) and Sacrificium Intellectus (2012). The effect you created to shift the brightness and contrast definitely gives it an exotic and other worldly feel. The music and chimes give it a ritualistic feel, and the shots indoors, which often strongly evoke a feeling of the 90s, also feel like a kind of spell. It is as if a spell is being cast which will bring into being the film that follows. It is a prologue, but it also feels like an invocation.
DANIEL: Yes this is exactly what I was thinking about, in fact one of the smaller sequences within this section is called The Sorcerer – so it is both a creation myth referring to the gardens of paradise as well as also being a spell enacted by the sorcerer and by me as the filmmaker. I think a lot of our films start like this, with an invocation and a creation, Savage Witches starts both deep under water and deep within the body, then life forms emerge, abstractions become figures which then become the two main characters. At the same time there is also the voice over which is telling the story of the creation and casts us under the spell of the film. It is similar in our film The Kingdom Of Shadows, which begins in the dark and shows the creation of Adam and Eve out of a single form, but it also has a character of the alchemist performing a ritual with a magical bowl filled with bubbling blue waters. So both creation myth and spells or invocations reoccur often in our work.
In regards to the way it looks, this process of working with the video footage is similar to how we processed it in Savage Witches but the first sequence of Splendor Solis, with the flowers, was shot on Hi8 which has a slightly different look to VHS and does some beautiful magical things when put through our re-filming process. I love how the images transform, pulsate and glow, they become like a moving painting, I still find it very beautiful and it stirs in me memories of being small and running around in the gardens and fields of my childhood.
BRADLEY: The next section you entitled “Act 2. Pandora’s Box”, which, of course, evokes Hesiod’s Works and Days and the Greek myth of Pandora, whose jar (or ‘box’), once opened bestows evil and death upon the world. Like the Christian story of Eve, this is a story that attempts to explain how evil comes into the world. In evoking ‘Pandora’s box’ it brings to mind the idea of opening something that would unleash many troubles and dangers. Watching this section of the film it strikes me that it isn’t so obviously negative, but, following on from the previous section which felt like an invocation, this does feel like something is unleashed. Yet what has been released feels more like a kind of creative energy. It might be a spell, but it isn’t necessarily a curse (or, if it is a curse, it is a curse that could have positive connotations too).
At certain points the music mellows and the footage feels nostalgic as if you are looking back with fondness at the people and experiences you had at this time. At other points it feels more ‘dangerous’ and ‘foreboding’, not so much because something bad is about to happen, but because creativity rarely feels safe. There are some fascinating clips from your films of the time, such as the scene where many wild and mythical-like things are happening in a white hallway, or where two people in white coats appear to be fighting. It all makes for compelling viewing and the start of an adventure.
DANIEL: Yes, our interpretation is different from maybe the common reading of both the Adam and Eve story and that of Pandora. Our feeling is that, rather than stories of good and evil, what is being expressed is a split, a split that may be experienced in a negative or difficult way but that isn’t fundamentally evil, it is a part of a natural coming to consciousness that we all experience at different stages of our lives. For Adam and Eve one of the things that happens is they become aware of the physical differences between them, that they are man and woman, and also that they are separate from nature and separate from god, and after they become aware of this they can no longer remain in the paradise of simply being, they move out into the field of time which is also the dimension of mortality. This split, when read metaphorically, refers to an experience we all understand and go through at different times in our lives. It happens to us as small children when we start to become aware of being separate to our mothers. There is also a period in our late teens when we start to realise that we are not children anymore but we are also not quite adults yet, it is a strange time, emotionally turbulent, equally exciting, daunting and frustrating. These sections deal in part with this period of life, the scenes from Act 1 and Act 2 cover my teen years and the energy and activity of that moment. The unleashing of creative energy here also creates a split (symbolically and literally in the screen) – change and transformation, even though they are not bad, can be difficult, but that is the stuff of life, that is the material we work with as humans as we each go on our personal journeys.
My teenage years were spent making these films but I was also very involved in painting, performance art, writing poetry and singing in several bands and experimental music groups. It was a time when I was involved in searching for my path, trying everything and being excited by everything. The sequence you refer to with the white hallway was a film I made with my friends Judy Wilson and Thomas Hartley. I collaborated with them on several projects, including a magazine we published called Curious Orifice, which collected our poems, drawings, photos and collages together. Tom also played piano in a band we had with some other friends, called Madame Papillon. Some of his piano playing is featured on a later part of the soundtrack, and Tom features a lot throughout the first half of the film. He was an incredibly important collaborator to me, maybe the one person who I could ever call muse. We created a large number of films, performances and other projects together. He was also the inspiration for the character of Francis in my second feature film Teenage Wildlife.
Like all of our films, Splendor Solis was edited silently and the soundtrack was created once the edit was locked. There are a few pieces on the soundtrack which were from my archive of some of my old bands and a couple of bits of found sound taken from movies or old records but much of the music was newly recorded and mostly played by my friend Jos Dow. I first met Jos in my late teens and for a short while we had a band together, in fact the last band I was in before I decided to stop singing and focus on filmmaking. He is an incredible musician and can play lots of instruments, on this film he plays viola, banjo, Bouzouki and mandolin. We recorded everything in two 3-hour improvised sessions. For most of the pieces I would give him directions on mood and where the changes should happen and we would then record two or three versions, I then took it all away and edited and layered it together to make the soundtrack. His contribution to the film is so important, I really love the music he made. There were a couple of pieces which were new recordings of music I had written years ago as well, so the soundtrack has some elements created like the visual, new and old ideas mixed together for mood and personal symbolic significance.
BRADLEY: Yes, I love the way the music guides us through this footage. It helps create a narrative, and add a layer of allusions and associations. ‘Act 3. Teenage Wildlife Take 1’, for me, starts off a lot calmer, and the music reflects this. Visually we see a lot of creativity and experimentation, but the pace seems to have mellowed. Part way through this act, at the moment you are sledging in the snow, the pitch changes, and we get a melody that strikes me as evocative of both Tchaikovsky ballets and those calmer moments in children’s fantasy films. Interestingly, a variation of this tune is used in the opening of Act 5, but it seems more violent and intense.
Further through Act 3, the music changes again to a swing arrangement and there is a really fun moment where we see an orange unpeel itself and dance around.
My way of understanding this act is as a moment of calm you get in a children’s fantasy film. The spell has been cast and the box has been opened, but at this moment in time things feel safe. That is not to say that this isn’t a moment of intense creativity and experimentation, but it is more a ferment.
It is also interesting that you entitle the act ‘Teenage Wildlife Take 1”. Teenage Wildlife is also the title of your second feature film, but the shooting of Teenage Wildlife takes place in Act 4. Is Act 3 the inspiration for the film?
DANIEL: The piece of music you refer to is played on a toy piano by Thomas Hartley, it is from a song we wrote together called Jenny Nettles, it’s named after a small fairytale witch-type character we invented, somewhere in this sequence you see a puppet of her running around in the garden. This character appeared several times in our work and performances, she is at times an earthy dark feminine character with spiky moods and unreasonable behaviour, at others an ungraspable sprite. We loved creating stories about her and Tom wrote this fantastic piano piece which appears a couple of times in the film, later when we made The Kingdom Of Shadows we recorded a new piece based on it which conjures the same spirits. I think Jenny Nettles somehow relates to the gardens of childhood and the somewhat prickly scary creatures that live there amongst the Gunnera or in the cabbage patch. Tom and I both grew up in the Essex countryside and both lived in old cottages so we shared a feeling for the imaginative realm where goblins and witches live, definitely inspired by C.S. Lewis and Arthur Rackham. We would spend quite a lot of time walking through fields and woodlands telling stories and looking out of the corner of our eyes for glimpses of magical creatures.
As I mentioned earlier the character of Francis in my film Teenage Wildlife was loosely based on Tom, and a number of things that we did in this period of my late-teens/early twenties became the basis for scenes in the film. One of the things that Tom and I did a lot was breaking into old unused buildings, and also on a number of occasions we stole boats and went on night trips along the rivers, we existed somewhat in the cracks where we could do the things we wanted without permission and often without being noticed, we were totally broke and living away from home for the first time which gave us that mad freedom and adventure. At the same time we were deeply passionate about art and in a constant act of making things, we felt that everything we were doing was an artistic act, that we were living a performance. We also spent a lot of time discussing art and philosophy and were driven by all the ideas that were newly opening up to us.
BRADLEY: ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ is your title for Act 4. A lot of the footage for this act comes from the shooting of your first two feature films. The shooting of these films is the overriding focus of this act, although other things do happen, such as the band performance that attracts the police. At the end of the act you are packing objects into a van ready to leave.
The fact that this ends with you leaving home could give us a hint of why this section is entitled ‘Don’t Fence Me In’.
It also strikes me that Teenage Wildlife shares this theme of not wanting to be fenced in. Like Savage Witches, it is a story about teenagers searching for freedom and pushing back against the adult life around them.
DANIEL: This act is named after a wonderful song by Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter, there is a version by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters which I really love. It is of course about not wanting to be tied down and fenced in but it’s also about a longing for a particularly romantic experience of roaming the wild plains of North America, not something I ever have had any real desire to do but I like the fantasy of it which is more of a mythic image of the wild west inherited from the movies of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. So it’s a cinema image of the mythic wild, of pioneers and adventure rather than a historically accurate one. I have always wanted to make a western, at one point I contemplated setting Teenage Wildlife in the old west but in the end it became more focused on the world I knew and the landscapes around the Essex coast. But that sense of the myth of the outlaw is present, and the theme of pirates and smugglers is also present in Teenage Wildlife in a very playful way.
Making my first feature film was a magnificent turning point for me, around this time I made the decision to focus all my energy on filmmaking and to put the other art-forms aside. Come On Thunder was not only my first feature length film but my first time doing many things such as writing and working from a script and also my first time working with a crew and professional actors. I wanted to learn and understand the conventions of making movies, I wasn’t necessarily trying to make a film that was conventional in itself but I wanted to understand the process, how each stage of production worked from writing, casting, designing costumes, directing a crew and actors, working with a sound designer and composer etc. Of course being a zero budget production I couldn’t do anything in a big way but it was certainly a lot closer to a professional production than what I had been doing previously.
I learnt a lot through this, I began to understand more about what kind of films I wanted to make and what didn’t work for me. I knew instantly that the feature film form was right, something about the length allowed me more time and space to create an immersive and contemplative narrative. I was deeply inspired by seeing Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman… (1975), Gus Van Sant’s Gerry (2002) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), they gave me the confidence to shoot things slowly, to shoot long takes and minimize dialogue. Even though Come On Thunder is a study of two characters I also wanted the landscapes and environments to be characters in the film. It is a film about people and their relationship to the place they live.
Through writing and making Come On Thunder I developed some personal ideas about narrative and film form that have been present in everything I have done ever since. From then on the films have been conceived not as stories about characters existing as independent units within a filmed world but as a whole, the film in itself is a single fully contained unit. So you could say that in this way the film itself is the main character and all that exists within it, all the characters, props, spaces, sounds, music etc, are parts of a whole, parts of a single unit of consciousness in the same way that a hand, foot, eye and heart are parts of a single person.
For me this developed because I was using the films as therapy so I wrote characters and scenes that represented and externalised different parts of myself. I didn’t want to create a representation of reality, instead I externalised inner energies represented by landscapes, characters or objects in order to inspect and understand them. Later Clara and I developed and deepened this way of thinking and working into the concept of the ‘film psyche’, this concept is rooted here in my first films but it wasn’t until later when we read a lot of mythology and Jung, and in particular through the study of dreams, that we were able to fully get a handle on this idea. It’s still being developed and our recent feature films have worked with it more consciously but there’s still a lot more to explore. But this idea is a foundational theory for us, it permeates everything we do and also frames how we read other films.
After Come On Thunder I made several short films before making Teenage Wildlife. In a way Teenage Wildlife is the end of a chapter of my life, it looks back and reflects on who I was, where I grew up and the things I have done. There is a bit of nostalgia here in these scenes of Splendor Solis, it’s not stuck on the past but it looks back with a fondness at a period of great change, a moment where I was able to take charge of my life and really move forwards with a sense of purpose. The day after the shooting of Teenage Wildlife was completed I packed all my belongings into a van and set off to start a new life in Brighton. It wasn’t so much that I was breaking free but growing up.
BRADLEY: The next section you entitle ‘A Number of Young Lovers’ and it shows you creating a new life in Brighton, the many film experiments that ran parallel to One+One Filmmakers Journal (Part 2) and the night we shot the footage that became Sacrificium Intellectus (Part 4). It strikes me that there is a marked shift between this section and the previous one. The location change is striking. The lights of Brighton seem dramatic and intoxicating. You really get a sense of the glamour of the city and a feverish bohemian spirit of exploration accompanying it. It also, often, seems very stylised and at times brings to mind the French Nouvelle Vague and other iconic moments of cinema history. It seems like it was a very intense creative period, and a highly social one, but it was also, as you mentioned in part 2, a hard time for you, and some of the footage remains unedited. It also strikes me as an important shift in your journey, and in the development of the film.
DANIEL: This act, as the title indicates, relates strongly to card 6 of the tarot which is called ‘The Lover’. This card, like this act, points to emotional relationships, not only with lovers but also with friends. There are many echoes between the card and the footage. It also relates to plate 8 of the Splendor Solis, plate 8 shows a strange figure emerging from the mud and being greeted by a winged queen. We can also find strong relevance with card 15 ‘The Devil’ of the tarot, which in this context refers to being taken over by unconscious forces and possessed by unseen powers from the depths!
We’ve discussed much of my activities of this period in detail earlier but I haven’t spoken yet of my turbulent friendship with artist and musician Matthew Hamblion, in some ways he is the main figure present in this section. He is also from Colchester and we began collaborating in around 2006/7, we very nearly made a feature film together around this time but in the end it was abandoned – it had been cast, partly funded and pre-production was under way but a number of things occurred that led to a split between us. Later when I moved to Brighton I found he had also moved there so we got back in contact, forgave and forgot and set out on a number of projects together including performances, short films and starting One+One Filmmakers Journal. We were very close, thick as thieves, and always plotting and planning. We are very similar in many ways but unfortunately the intensity of our friendship was destined to be broken or to break us. During the time of my breakdown we parted ways for good and haven’t spoken since. I still feel very fondly toward him but things will go as they must. Much of this section is shaped by our friendship of that period as well as some of my romantic relationships of that time.
The first part of this act is frantic, frenetic, and shows the energy of friends creating, playing and dressing up. It’s very nocturnal, with fragments of sounds from ’50s B-movies like Attack Of The Killer Leeches (1959). Brighton was very much a place where things happened at night, at 3am I’d get a call from a friend and go off on some adventure to shoot a film in an abandoned building or on a rooftop somewhere, we see these kinds of things here.
The second part of this act has two longer sequences, one takes place on the River Blackwater, sailing on a yacht during a regatta, and the other on a beach in Cornwall. The latter sequence is called ‘The Sailor and The Mermaid’, which indicates that we are definitely in the realm of romance, the sphere of the anima and all the symbolism connected to the mermaid. It’s a strange section, to me it feels very fragile, the music was created by Magnus Williams, all on instruments that he made from junk, a cigar box violin, a percussion machine which has a wheel you turn and it bangs tin cans in a rhythm. It’s beautiful but feels like it could all disintegrate at any moment.
These scenes were filmed over several days we spent on a beach near Tintagel, drinking rum and sleeping under the stars. Tintagel is one of the places connected to Arthurian legends, a subject which I have a great passion for, the stories of romance, adventure and magic are an ongoing source of inspiration to me. This sequence of the film is definitely under the spell of Morgan Le Fay, the dark rocks shimmering with an eerie green enchantment and the dragon’s breath lingers in the air! It ends with a funeral, a Love Heart sweet with the word ‘surrender’ written on it and a barometer which points to change. After this there is a short sequence called ‘Shadow Dance’, and here we have the clue to the main thing that was going on throughout this whole section, an encounter with my shadow. I danced with it and was swallowed up but thankfully I survived!
BRADLEY: I guess if Act 5 is your dance with your shadow and the experience of being swallowed up, Act 6 is a solution. Savage Witches is the moment where you find your path and things come together.
One of the things that interests me is that this act is entitled ‘SW Phantom Film’. You talked about your Phantom Films project in Part 4 of this interview series. How are these two related?
DANIEL: Rather than using behind the scenes footage from the making of Savage Witches, in the way I did earlier with the on location footage of Come On Thunder and Teenage Wildlife, here I worked with unused footage and scenes to create almost an alternative version of Savage Witches. As the title of this act suggests it is like a phantom limb, connected to the main body of the film but something not quite there, something that can’t quite be grasped, it is more like a dream of the film that could have been. It was around 2013 or 2014 that we began exploring the Phantom Film concept, at first we worked mostly with written texts, not scripts but films as words, text-based phantom films that would only exist when read. But we also thought about films and video installations that could be directly related to the world of the feature films, expanding the universe and characters into places not seen in the films, ‘SW Phantom Film’ is connected to these ideas.
Act 6 starts with a silvery shot of singer songwriter Fiona Bevan who composed the music for Savage Witches and ends with a golden glowing image of Savage Witches actresses Christina Wood and Victoria Smith walking along the top of a golden bricked wall in a forest, while the other screen shows my dad in a golden jumper walking through some giant gunnera leaves in a garden. Somehow we have gone from silver to gold and have made contact again with those paradise gardens! I feel this is one of the gentlest and most peaceful acts in Splendor Solis, everything dissolves into an ethereal solution, the images are watery and light blue – on the soundtrack you can hear me playing an improvised tune on a zither and like the music the sequence drifts softly like a breath of fresh air after the intensity of previous sequences. This doesn’t so much reflect the mood of the time but reveals an inner state that was accessed through the work of that time. What we have here is an encounter with the inner feminine, and the development of gentleness, receptivity, and acceptance. There is a certain amount of healing that has taken place which enabled me to begin to open up to other kinds of experience, and in some ways this opening up was when the true deeper healing could begin.
BRADLEY: I love the fact that Act 7 is entitled ‘Monsters Picnic’. Nearly everything in that section could fit that title even though there are a number of different projects going on. It opens with footage from Cesspit Alley, which was never made, but was our soap opera homage to underground filmmakers such as the Kuchar Brothers, Jack Smith, The Cockettes and John Waters. Then there is footage from the Jack in the Green May Day celebrations in Hastings that brings together Morris Dancers, extraordinary costumes, celebration and dance in an attempt to recreate the old pagan festivities. Then there is a lot of footage that we shot in the hills of Hastings, some of this was meant to be a monsters picnic, and much of it, I seem to remember, was filmed as a kind of homage to the filmmaker Jeff Keen.
If you compare this act to Act 5, it seems a lot less polished and a lot less conventionally ‘cinematic’. As with the films of Jeff Keen and the Kuchar brothers, a lot of the props and costumes are handmade, things seem childlike and there is no attempt at ‘realism’. More than simply low-budget or DIY it has a self-crafted feel. The Kuchars and Keen were both influenced by B-movies and Keen’s alter-ego Dr. Gaz was one of his ways to explore this. By adopting tropes from B-movies and pushing them in new and experimental directions they were able to create their own style and their own worlds. This often went beyond B-movies and the worlds they created often had a sense of being shaped by the childish joys of dressing up.
Monsters Picnic also has a childlike feel, not so much in the Jack in the Green section (which might be closer to The Wicker Man, or a pagan ritual more fitting of Derek Jarman), but in the Cesspit Alley section it is child-like verging on monstrous. It is almost a bedtime story induced horror.
In the latter part it is certainly childlike too. Here it could almost be a strange little adaptation of short children’s stories by Enid Blyton or A.A. Milne. In that respect, it has a ‘teddy bears picnic’ kind of feel.
DANIEL: The scenes of ‘Monsters Picnic’ are scenes of play, the spirit of Jeff Keen is definitely present here. I first learnt about the films of Jeff Keen while I was living in Brighton and was excited to find he lived around the corner from where my studio was. I got to know him a bit and I feel very lucky to have been able to spend several afternoons with him and his wife/collaborator Jackie drinking tea and talking about making films. His incredible rapid-fire collaged frenzied Super 8 cinema has been a huge inspiration to us, somehow he managed to ingest the entire history of cinema and let it seep out through his films – if one day the work of every single other filmmaker vanished and we only had the films of Jeff Keen left we would still understand what cinema is. He is easily one of the greatest filmmakers to ever bless us with his creations, unfortunately he is very overlooked and his work hasn’t yet received the recognition it deserves. When he died we were incredibly moved and set about making a tribute to him, this included the film of us dressing up as monsters and going on a picnic.
The ‘Cesspit Alley’ scenes were also at one time called ‘Birthday Films’, as they were initiated by each of us on our birthdays, it was all about dressing up and playing at characters and the fact that an edit of the final film was never made was probably because it was more about the act of doing it than the final results. It was a very silly and joyful way to spend our birthdays, but to say it’s silly is not to say we didn’t take it seriously at the same time.
So through this act we have picnics, birthdays, parties and outings in the countryside as well as a pagan-inspired festival, there is something here about leisure and pleasure, being with friends and participating in personalised versions of yearly rituals. The whole act is strongly ritualistic, in our work play is often used as a way of acting out fantasies and accessing images and feelings buried deep within us, it doesn’t need to be planned or intellectualised, the simple act of saying ‘let’s make a movie’ can activate this ritual. Most of the second half of this act has scenes which were filmed over the few months we lived in Hastings, the private rituals of dressing up and playing in the woods seen alongside the public ritual of the Jack In The Green festival cut with the eternally crashing waves of the English channel. I feel that the picnic in the English countryside and days out at the beach are very British rituals of trying to make contact with nature, to sit on the earth with friends on a sunny day, share food, play Frisbee and paddle in the sea – these are rituals about community, friendship, connectedness and the joy of life.
BRADLEY: The final section, ‘Act 8. Return Of The Dreamer’ feels like an epilogue. Creative things are still happening, but there is a marked contrast. It feels calmer, more reflective and contemplative. You seem to be looking back over the whole period, packing up and moving away. It seems like the end of an adventure; the closing of a chapter.
Yet maybe it is also the beginning of a new one. Are you still making home videos? Could there be a sequel to this film?
DANIEL: The last act was shot over the year that I was editing the film, film critic Mark Cousins said that this section had a sadness to it which I didn’t feel at the time but looking at it now it does seem tinged with melancholy. I didn’t want the film to have a big finale, to feel complete or to make it feel as if the journey was over, I wanted a sense that life continues, that the work of the artist continues and the work within oneself continues. The last image of the Splendor Solis manuscript is of a golden sun shining over a strange blue landscape, it has a similar feel to the footage, things have been brought out into the light but there is still more to be done. Over that year I stopped shaving so by the time the film was coming to an end I had a huge beard, once I felt the film was almost complete I shaved it off in a personal ritual cleansing of letting go, I then covered my face in honey and gold leaf and for a moment became the sun, shining bright and celebrating the sweetness of life, of time passing and of the daily work of my art. The final two shots you see in the film are of myself sat on some rocks looking out across the sea, while on the other screen there is a shot of my niece Molly, she was only a few weeks old at the time and her journey, like the continuation of mine, is ahead.
Splendor Solis covers the years 1998 to 2015, in 2015 I started shooting material for the next film in the home movie series which is called BIOPIC: A Work In Progress, this film will continue these explorations but will be slightly different in a number of ways. Alongside the home movie footage I will also be shooting a series of sequences based on dreams and some reenactments of moments from my family history, I also have around 35 reels of Super 8 films which were shot by my grandfather in the 1970s which will be included. The film will also include fragments of voice recordings and sound as well as music. I am calling it a motion picture excavation, it will dig into family history and look at how family myths shape who we are and how we can take charge of those personal narratives and rewrite and transform them.