Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Victor Burgin at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol
On September 29, 2002 I received a email saying:
I don't know how interested you are in modern art, but there is a new work being exhibited which has significant relevance to P&P. The artist is Victor Burgin, and his video work 'Listen to Britain' - exhibited at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, is heavily influenced by, and indebted to 'A Canterbury Tale'. Here is the description from the exhibition guide:'Listen to Britain' builds on the memory of a narrative. The title is taken from a documentary film by Humphrey Jennings (Listen to Britain, 1942) - a film about Britain at war which makes no direct reference to the war itself. The images were shot on the location of a sequence from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's film 'A Canterbury Tale' (1944). The sequence comprises two scenes: a young woman climbs a hill; she has a conversation with a man. Burgin shoots his video footage from the point of view of the protagonists, and juxtaposes his shots with edited fragments from the original soundtrack, and from the opera 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (1960) by Benjamin Britten.I was there last week, and found the film to be fascinating and quite hypnotic. Not everyone's cup of tea of course. Incidentally, Victor Burgin is giving a lecture at the Arnolfini on 30 October, which will be followed by screenings of 'Listen to Britain' and 'A Canterbury Tale'.
The artist organises the whole work around a single brief clip from the original film, in which the woman turns her head. Burgin views a Kent landscape as it appears in 2002 through the memory of the same landscape as filmed in 1944, and the memory of a (fictional) event in that landscape narrated by a character in the film.
Mark Fuller went along to see it & reported back thusly:
October 6, 2002
Just popped into the Arnolfini Gallery to see this,and it is interesting if you happen to be in the area. The installation is interesting, hypnotic and slightly disturbing. It runs in a continuous loop, as a video projection onto the end wall of an otherwise dark and empty room.
It focuses on the sequence in ACT where Alison climbs the hill, eventually discovering Colpeper watching the clouds roll by; and it goes like this. The screen is black; in fades white text, one phrase at a time,dissolving one into each other, with a theme from the film soundtrack playing. The words say Landscape; Girl climbs over fence; Dissolve to view down hill; Longshot; Girl walking towards camera; Dissolve to wide shot; Girl stops, looks out of frame; Cut to long shot distant cathedral; Cut Girl looking all around her. This text on screen cuts to the head and shoulder shot from the film as Alison looks left, then right, then spins around. The sound is still the music,not the Canterbury pilgrim sounds as in the film. This cuts to a slow, black and white, pan of perfectly still woodland with silence; back to a black screen with text, this time cut line by line, and with Britten as the soundtrack; American Servicemen; cannot find; local girls ; who will go out with them; at night; the glue man; emerges from the shadows; pours glue on a girls hair; then disappears. The shot of Alison is repeated, then the slow pan in silence. Then, a colour video of a wheatfield, ripe under a blue sky, first seen through an arch-like gap in wooodland,then the open field, close-up of some weeds (Cow Parsley?),then poppies in the field, first in medium shot, then long shot. On the soundtrack is the conversation between Alison and Colpeper about her idyllic summer, from the line "Thirteen perfect days...." to "We're having one" The head and shoulders shot is repeated, then the silent pan, then the loop repeats.
The effect of the head and shoulders shot, followed by the slow, silent pan, is quite eerie and unsettling, almost an air of hidden menace about it, despite there being no real danger, or even an imaginary one being hinted at. The juxtaposition of the modern film of the location site with the conversation from the film is extraordinary; we hear Colpeper and Alison now in the same way that they heard the thrumming of the hooves back then; ghosts in the wind, or from inside your head, as Colpeper believed. Whether or not that was Burgin's intentions, it conveys both the distance in time from then 'til now, and the permanence of the landscape, and its memory.
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