A few free films and some notes/thoughts on why I want to grow old (dis)gracefully and will always (r)age against the machine…..
Art school punk circa 1981
One of the side-effects of living with and through cancer treatment has been that my immune system has been severely weakened both by the illness and the therapy.
So as well as making me feel my age if not act it – I’m also more vulnerable to whatever flu-viruses are doing the rounds and this year – the start of my 60th – hasn’t been that great so far, and it’s only now – having struggled with flu since Hogmany (the Scottish New Year) – that I’m starting to feel like 2019 has finally kicked off.
Historically at this time of year – as well as being my own and many friends who are far more beautiful and more creatively productive than I’ve been’s birth dates – it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, as well as the birth of another revolution – of a different kind but one with the same importance and spirit as the Cuban one – the birth of Tamla Motown.
But 60 years on with the Brexit vote looming as a write, we’re all facing potentially a much more negative revolution on our birth dates.
So rather than celebrating my 3 score in this world and remembering with big respect: Fidal Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Berry Gordy and many, many other known and unknown soul brothers and sisters, I’m instead left with a growing thought that the “safe European home” and new life I’ve tried to create for myself in Denmark, may end as a result of whatever happens over the coming days, weeks and months back in my xenophobic homelands.
But then where is my homeland now?
Because it certainly isn’t that xenophobic, class-traumatized, racist, X-factor obsessed and militarized little Ingerland town that I left as soon as the first chance arose.
Neither sadly, is it to be found in the country I adopted and exiled myself to: Scotland, after leaving art school full of hopes and dreams before “failing” (or perhaps succeeding as it turned out) the entrance interview to get into the Royal College of Art, which anyhow turned into more of a trial and judgement on my masculinity, views on violence, class politics and attitudes towards LGBT identity issues, rather than an evaluation of anything in my 1st class honored portfolio of films and videos.
Less than a decade after I’d been dismissed on my application form by the head of the school that I’d applied to at the RCA – whose name is an irrelevance here – as being: “Just another skinhead type from a council estate that doesn’t know his place” I did however get my revenge when I was commissioned by Stuart Cosgrove – then the Commissioning Editor of Independent Film and Video at channel 4 – to make a creative documentary my way – which also meant with a S8mm camera and camcorder: World of skinhead.
To pour even more gasoline onto the class-war/cultural bonfire fire that I’ve lit here, as well as being critically acclaimed as “the most definitive film about a much maligned youth sub-cult” World of skinhead also ended up being made with the same production funding that had usually had the Arts Council of Great Britain’s/RCA’s illuminati’s name written on it, and which for the most part had resulted in a lot of unloved and mostly unwatchable films.
But then – sometimes – its nice to see wealth being redistributed isn’t it?
I also probably wouldn’t have got to make World of skinhead and the films that were triggered by it, had I – as I was expected to do – have just moved into a squat in south London and “known my place” rather than have headed north to Glasgow and got to know the gatekeepers, culture trendsetters and power-brokers who worked out of a TV production company owned both by Cosgrove and director Don Coutts: Big Star in a Wee Picture. It also wouldn’t have been made had I not met George Marshall – a skinhead writer – who’s still out there somewhere doing his own thing.
Neither would I have ended up getting the chance to trip-off around the world with a camcorder for much of the 1990’s to the Balkans and beyond, had I stayed put back in a little Ingerland or eventually – having been pretty much blacklisted despite 2 BAFTA nominations by the Scottish Media elite – have ended up where I am now living a good life in Denmark.
A place where I now hope to live until oblivion’s fine-cut….
So I guess a place called home or a homeland doesn’t really exist for me in a blood and soil sense now. Not even in the small nation/occupied territory that I’ll always love, where sadly a tendency to view the world and what’s happening in it through Tartan eyeballs is blinding even smart people to what the neo-liberal policies of their government is – or rather isn’t – doing to tackle the poverty of economic well-being and “poverty of the imagination” that austerity has created.
So although I live in Copenhagen now, I’m not so much homeless – as I was when I first moved to Glasgow back in 1983 – but instead find myself existing in a state of permanent homelessness. Which in the end I guess suits a free spirit who intends to wander widely in the time it has left in this world – both with and without a camera in hand – Although my gut instinct is telling me to make that film that’s in me about England.
A Film-maker’s shadow lost in the “town of the shouting men” Gillingham, Kent, England.
But if I were to try and identify the place where I do feel most at home now, it would probably be in ideas, images and words rather than on a clump of land, and certainly not on any social media network or as part of an on-line community that’s mostly made up of people I haven’t seen for decades or of millennial’s who really need to start to look out at the world and not just at themselves.
My home too lies in what I do – or increasingly try to do in the time I have left now – which, as you get older you fast realize doesn’t get any easier. So since I was diagnosed I’ve just got on with what it is I do and have been working on a lot of short films that – someday – will be made into something a bit special called: Legacy of an Invisible bullet.
So I guess it hasn’t been a completely lost decade. Because in the end what I do as a film-maker has always been a way of life – and sometimes death – rather than just a business.
Some where in the Caucasus the year after 9/11
So on Wednesday 16th January I’m colliding with my 60th year rather than celebrating it. Because this past decade has been tough and not very productive creatively. But then I’m still here, still breathing and experiencing those moments that matter in all of our lives.
Unlike some of my dear friends and comrades who are no longer with us. Back in my teens and 20’s I lost good childhood friends to mindless violence or in stupid accidents involving 2 and 4 wheels, although a few were also killed in the Falklands and Northern Ireland doing the only jobs that they could do, or have ended up being taken – in some cases years later – by the addictions they’d nurtured since their youth.
In my “run and gun” 30’s – it was other people’s wars that took friends, many of whom became the subjects of my films in this world and when I look back at the films I made then, I now find myself often watching ghost stories rather than observational documentaries about real or special people now.
By the time that I’d reached mid-life – despite having walked through many real minefields – they ended up being probably the most dangerous of my 3 score so far, and I’ve seen far too many of my talented peers, who were at the height of their creative and intellectual powers taken by heart attacks, the “crab”, or ended-up committing what the Danes would call “self-murder” – mostly because the fire that had burnt so brightly in their bellies all their lives had – or in some cases – been put out by penury, a lack of love or recognition for what they did. Good Women and Men who had so much positive energy and so much still to offer an increasingly hollowed-out world, but who because of their age, the way they looked, their politics, or where they came from – were never really given a decent or proper chance to rise above themselves.
Remember those “skinhead types from council estates that don’t know their place….” that still scare the irrelevant elitist’s at places like the RCA so much…?
Well, quite few of them ended up becoming artists, free-thinkers and the really big dreamers who dared to go out into a hostile world.They became the “truth seekers” who monitored and exposed the excesses of power and as a reward found the kind of stories, beauty, truths and secrets that are missing in an elitist art-world, in cosy academia, in something called a “film industry” and in the sausage factory that TV has become.
So you’ve probably worked out for yourself by now that I’m still angry about what some people I know would consider a wasted decade full of unfinished business.
And your right.
But then it’s never really been about business.
And yes I’m still as angry as I was when I faced that “politically correct” witch trial/rejection at the RCA in my early 20s.
Dr Martin Boots from another century
But then, I’m still angry too for many, many more important reasons; The main one being that I’ve seen the chances of a better world that I believed in disappear because of greed and war, but also because we’ve allowed ourselves to be seduced by our own vanity in a digital hall of mirrors; A brain-dead, fuck-witted “culture of the self” that’s a celebration of a-political, cosy mediocrity.
But despite all my anger at least I got a chance to live and dream – in-between getting my revenge on the elitist gate-keepers of the RCA whose names I can’t remember…..
Not that any Art should ever just be about revenge mind.
Although when the opportunity does arise in our lives, sometimes revenge and winning a battle – if not the class war – can still make you smile – even when you hit 60…