Thursday, February 15, 2007

Recent discovery: Margaret Tait

Yesterday I published this article to coincide with the DVD release of a compilation with the short films by the late Scottish film poet Margaret Tait (pictured, left). The article appeared on

"The term film-poem is the most apt description of the work of the late Scottish director and writer Margaret Tait, whose visual compositions were positively Zen and sometimes whimsical visual distillations of everyday life. They also have a handmade feel and look about, which enhances their sense of intimacy. Apart from being a poet, Tait is now seen as a forerunner of the British experimental scene of the late 20th century, having worked in relative isolation for decades on the island of Orkney, Scotland and Edinburgh, where her Ancona Films company was based, at Rose Street to be precise. This DVD compilation and the accompanying reader (called Subjects and Sequences) represent an important step by the distribution leg of the Lux in London to keep alive the memory of Tait's legacy. She died in Kirkwall in 1999.

Born in 1918 in Kirkwall on Orkney, Scotland, Margaret Tait qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University 1941. That was followed by a stint at the Centro Sperimentale di Photographia in Rome between 1950 and 1952 where she came into contact with Italian Neo-Realism. In the 1960s Tait moved back to Orkney where over the following decades she made a series of films inspired by the Orcadian landscape and culture. She financed all but three of her films and also produced several books including three titles of poetry.

Watching the seven short films included in this compilation is an experience comparable to contemplation and meditation. Her experimentalism is not overtly cerebral and conceptualist, although she often adheres to the structural rules of poetry, with great emphasis on rhythm, rhyming and sound syncronicity. But Tait didn't seem to be using the medium of film as a conveyor of theoretical formulations. You get the impression that she was a rather instinctive artist very much atuned to the here-and-now, her surroundings. Besides, she had no hurry to complete her films - some of them were shot of the course of years. Titles like Where I Am Is Here (1964) and Portrait of Ga(1952), a stunning portrait of her mother, indicate where her interests were, although, as open texts, her films can be interpreted according to each viewer's own experience.

In Tait's work, even the human figure becomes a metaphor and shares on equal terms with everything else its position in the realia of her films. In her view of the world, things and beings come together on the poetic plane, with no difference between them. This creates a wonderful sense of completeness, of life being looked at for what it is, of perfectly balanced inclusion. Tait often quoted Federico Lorca's phrase of 'stalking' the image to define her philosophy and method. In other words, if you look at an object closely enough it will speak its nature, and that's what Tait's kino-eye attempts to reveal. quite often successfully. The type of cinema championed by the Scottish director shows that when the moving image strays from the service to story-telling, it can take the viewer to unexpectedly novel places."

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