Margaret Tait: The Movement That Light Is

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The movement that light is
Comes out of the sun
And it's so gorgeous a thing
That nothing else is ever anything unless lit by it.
(Margaret Tait, Light)

Scottish poet filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918–1999) has long been one of the best-kept secrets of British cinema. In intimate films attuned to the secret life of things, people, and landscapes, Tait sought to reveal the other side of existence – the side we only notice when our own presence in the world comes to the foreground. An independent mind and eye, she focused on what she saw before her, be it the streets of Edinburgh, the crashing sea on Orkney or a pair of old boots in a barn, shedding an singular light on the manifold dimensions of things.

Born on the island of Orkney, Tait first trained to become a doctor. As her interest in film began to blossom, she enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome at the age of 32. After two years in Italy, Tait moved back to Scotland and began organize screenings in her studio and actively pursue the technique of filming she called "breathing" with the camera. Earning her living as a physician, Tait self-financed twenty-nine of her thirty-three films and published three volumes of poetry.

Tait's independence and genuine breadth of vision as well as her adamant refusal of preconceived notions and forms is exemplified in her reluctance to define her films as belonging to any established category, be it that of avant-garde, documentary of amateur film, instead choosing to identify them as film poems: "The kind of cinema I care about is at the level of poetry – in fact – it has been in a way my life's work making film poems."

Her films provide the life of things with voices; they manifest a kind of listening by watching. In line with what an important figure for Tait's work, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, wrote: "An apple is no less intense than the sea," her work unfurls the myriad dimensions of presence. This quest for intensity in the minutiae has a power like no other, that of exploration as it is rarely seen, an empathy keenly focused on the moment. Speaking in in-betweens, Margaret Tait's work is a valuable contribution to the odyssey of the Film Museum and its many sailings in unknown seas: "For as far as I can see / There never is a conclusion." (Ivana Miloš)

The show is organized with the kind support of the British Council and in cooperation with the Alte Schmiede, where author Margret Kreidl will read and comment on Tait's poetry on October 8, 2019 at 6 pm.

Gareth Evans, British curator, author and editor (Vertigo) will accompany the retrospective.

Wednesday October 9, 19h
Programme 1: Stalking the Image

  • A Portrait of Ga 1952, 16mm, color, 5 min
  • Happy Bees 1955, 16mm, color, 17 min
  • The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo 1955, 16mm, color, 7 min
  • Where I Am Is Here 1964, 16mm, bw, 35 min
  • Colour Poems 1974, 16mm, color, 12 min
  • Aerial 1974, 16mm, color, 4 min

Already in her earliest portrait films, Tait envelops her subjects in their small gestures and the landscapes surrounding and creating them in a singular way, opening up the visible to the in(di)visible. As her mother unwraps a candy in A Portrait of Ga and children frolic on the grass in Happy Bees, we sense an announcement of reverberative humanity. The program traces a line from her early work such as The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo based on Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, a work much closer to a filmed poem, through hand-drawn animation in Colour Poems towards a complete abandonment of words in favour of the pure stream of elemental imagery that is the gorgeous Aerial. (I.M.)

Conversation and poetry reading with Gareth Evans after the screening

Wednesday October 9, 21h
Programme 2: Elective Affinities

  • The Birth of a Flower Percy Smith. 1910, 35mm, bw, 6 min
  • Garden Pieces Margaret Tait. 1998, 16mm, color, 12 min
  • Glimpse of the Garden Marie Menken. 1957, 16mm, color, 5 min
  • Pitcher of Colored Light Robert Beavers. 2007, 35mm, color, 24 min
  • Spring Nathaniel Dorsky. 2013, 16mm, color, 23 min
  • Bouquets 21–30 Rose Lowder. 2001–2005, 16mm, color, 14 min

A walk in the garden of companions: though Tait never participated in any collectives, she was not alone in her quest for the revelatory power of the minutiae. In this small selection of echoing movements in gardens filmed by independent filmmakers, Marie Menken's Glimpse of the Garden follows on the heels of Tait's own melancholy portrayal in Garden Pieces: two kindred spirits reflected in the mirrors of their gaze directed at gardens. Robert Beavers and Nathaniel Dorsky, both great explorers of light, lead the way to Rose Lowder's flickering collection of gardens made over several years, Bouquets 21–30. As a prelude: Percy Smith's early gem in line with Tait’s verse: "I used to lie in wait to see the clover open / Or close, / But never saw it." We do. (I.M.)

Conversation and poetry reading with Gareth Evans after the screening

Thursday October 10, 19h
Programme 3: Resonant Landscapes

  • Caora Mor: The Big Sheep 1966, 16mm, bw, 41 min
  • Land Makar 1981, 16mm, bw and color, 32 min
  • The Drift Back 1956, 16mm, bw, 10 min

Tait's cinema is not one of a recluse, quite the opposite: its independence is reflected in her choice of subjects often related to memory and the forgotten inscribed in the land. In Caora Mor: The Big Sheep, she delivers a severe critique of tourism and its glossing over the history of oppression in Scottish landscapes marked by the Highland Clearances, a series of brutal evictions brought along by the introduction of capitalism. Land Makar follows the daily work of her farmer neighbour, Mary Graham Sinclair, a crofter and, in Tait's view, a fellow poet (Makar is Scots for poet). By filming Sinclair over a number of years, Tait delivers a moving dedication to work and the passing of time, just like in The Drift Back, a film recording one family's return to Orkney. (I.M.)

Introduced by Gareth Evans

Friday October 10, 19h
Programme 4: Places of Work

  • On the Mountain 1974, 16mm, bw and color, 32 min
  • A Place Of Work 1976, 16mm, color, 31 min
  • Tailpiece 1976, 16mm, bw, 10 min

Work features strongly in Margaret Tait's films, as demonstrated in this program, which stages an encounter between writing, filming, and the more 'ordinary' aspects of living and caring for one's surroundings. On the Mountain, Tait's wonderful experiment in shuffling space and time, brings together an older film she had made about Rose St. in Edinburgh, where she used to live, together with the same street in 1973. An exploration of the transformative power of time, but also narrative, On the Mountain naturally leads to the two companion films Tait made about her family house in Buttquoy, Orkney. While A Place of Work celebrates its nooks and crannies across the seasons, Tailpiece is a sad goodbye to the house Tait was forced to leave in 1976. (I.M.)

Introduced by Ivana Miloš

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De Miércoles, Octubre 9, 2019 (Todo el día) hasta Viernes, Octubre 11, 2019 (Todo el día)
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