Theater of Cruelty

Lots of life, movies and poetry

Notes on film and poetry
Forfatter: Margaret Tait
Forlag: Antipyrine, (Danmark)
ESSAYISTIC / Immediately dive into the scribblings of Scottish Margaret Tait about poetry and film and all that makes life worth living. For example, as she writes about the experimental film – it is like poetry: airy, open, you can dive into it and just swim around.


The other day I went to a literary salon in my local area. A local poet, Mads Mygind, read aloud and talked about poetry along the way. One of his points or experiences was probably that poetry is a type of text that you can simply explore, let yourself be absorbed in, read at will – in contrast to the novel, which he experienced as a more difficult to access text. In the novel, you have to be convinced by a world and some characters and a plot that another person has invented. You have to deal with one uniform page of text after another. It is heavy, thought Mygind.

It lives and breathes while you read it.

I remember that point while reading Scottish Margaret Tait's notes on film and poetry, which have just been published in Danish. Tait's text is a train of thought. It lives and breathes while you read it. She writes about scripture and moving images. About poetry and different types of film. Occasionally she seems to say the same thing as Mygind, just about the film. That the fiction film, the long feature film, can seem like a novel – heavy, long, mechanical, and like something you have to be convinced by. The experimental film faces this – it is like poetry: airy, open, you can dive into it and just swim around. You don't have to find your way around a plot or be convinced by an action and some characters that someone has invented. You can just be in it.

Colors, rhythm, musicality and order

Tait makes many good points. They are short but heavy. They are like random thoughts that appear while reading. Several of the printed words originate from conversations and have thus been spoken words before they came into book form. Perhaps that is why the text seems so alive.

Some of the most inspiring thoughts in the book revolve around the haircut. After all, films are living images, alive in the sense that they move, but also alive in the sense that they are put together. Something comes before something else. Something is left behind. This creates a movement. It is in this composition, this shaping, that the movement of the film is created. Tait writes, for example: «This film's editing is done almost exclusively by color, almost never (if ever) by action. Or indeed, perhaps after action – or movement – ​​as a movement in itself. So it is, in a way, very abstract.”

How one trunk can be faded, dry and porous, while another trunk on a tree right next to it can be damp, dark and sturdy.

As the example shows, the text thinks as it comes into being. It is essayistic writing. And that in itself sets thoughts in motion. In this way, the text is also movement and sets a movement in motion. Think about it, movies are so much more than plot and characters. It is colors, rhythm, musicality, order. These are connections, impacts, breakdowns and associations. Whole and fragment. This kind of thing is good to remember in a film world where sequels and prequels seem to take up most of the time.

Margaret Tait

The artist's basic board material

Who is this Tait then? I didn't know her, but she has created a steady stream of films, more than 30 pieces. Some are difficult to locate, but the web now contains most of them. Check for example Aerial (1974) on YouTube and just watch where the wind blows, the leaves rustle, the rake digs, the dogs do, the birds die, the drops drip, the children play, the old lady sweeps.

She was originally a doctor, and yes, in the book she actually writes somewhere that she cannot imagine that you can be an artist without having studied medicine first. I still haven't quite figured out what she means by that, but she is at least familiar with anatomy, suffering, illness and death, and not least hope, healing and drive. Perhaps it is the artist's basic fuel that she gets from there.

On the spot with the camera

Another thoughtful touch: Tait describes a morning when she is busy creating stop motion images. She makes one exposure per minute. And occasionally she does other things. Eats breakfast, makes an exposure, clears away breakfast, makes an exposure, reads a letter, makes an exposure, opens the paper, makes an exposure. The time of the film becomes the time of the world, the time of life. At the same time, Tait achieves a different sense of time by watching the recording come into being through the use of time. It is as if the camera captures time, because it takes time to expose. And so Tait remembers a moment as a child when she absolutely wanted to see a clover pop out. It doesn't work, but her reasoning at the time was that she didn't have the patience to keep looking. By looking into the camera and looking long enough, this ambition might succeed.

I feel the same way about places as Tait seems to feel about time. The camera also gives a special attention to the place. An attention that you don't quite get in the same way if you just walk around the place. Recently I made a kind of documentary film about the forest that is close to my home. I have come there often over 20 years, but this time was different. Being on the spot with the camera is different. I noticed details I hadn't seen before. What the texture of the trunks really is like. How one trunk can be faded, dry and porous, while another trunk on a tree right next to it can be damp, dark and sturdy. How the puddle mirrors the treetops. How the forest floor sounds different depending on where I walk and what kind of steps I take. Before that filming, the forest was a place of the world. With the recording, it also became a place of the camera, a place of the film. Now, when I walk in the forest, the two are inseparable and form my new impression of the place. It's magical, isn't it?

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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