Home Movies and Super 8 Films
The gaze inward shows images of interiors, everyday objects of personal value, beloved friends and a beloved place. These are private living and working spaces, the open and affectionate atmosphere of a studio, people, images, paintings or photographs that have a story of their own, that tell their own story.
The outward gaze shows the bridges of the Thames, ships, the unchanging flow of the water under the bridges and the anonymous stream of people and traffic. Abandoned sites of decay, tall old warehouses made of brick and low harbour buildings, remains of a Gothic church that has long since ceased to exist, views through shattered window panes, views into the uncertain – this is the Bankside district, captured one last time before its destruction.
STUDIO BANKSIDE – Private Images of Inner Life and the Outside World
These are the grainy, mostly static and tranquil images of STUDIO BANKSIDE: Jarman’s first, short Super 8 film would simultaneously become the beginning of an intensive occupation with the medium of film in general and with the Super 8 format in particular. Nonetheless, according to his own account, this first film was largely the result of a coincidence: Marc Balet, an architecture student from the US and later the art director of Andy Warhol’s magazine Interview, had a Super 8 camera with him when he visited London in 1970. Jarman borrowed it and made this three-minute recording of his studio, located in a former warehouse in the old harbour district of Bankside.
In the previous year Jarman had already moved into a studio in a vacant corset factory in Upper Ground. This was the first of that series of old factory and warehouse buildings situated in the middle of London, in the former harbour district on the right bank of the Thames, which would serve as the centre of his life and work during the next ten years. However, after only one year at Upper Ground, the factory was torn down and Jarman – together with several other artists, including Michael Ginsberg, Peter Logan and Jean Marc – moved into that warehouse in Bankside, where he occupied the top floor and was able to remain until it was destroyed in the autumn of 1972. His studio in Butler’s Wharf, not far from Bankside, then became the third and also the longest station during the period he spent in the warehouses. Gradually, however, most of the old harbour buildings in this area were torn down or burned down – the latter occurring at Butler’s Wharf in 1979. The redevelopment of the area along the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and Tower Bridge in the years that followed was so thorough that the paths of its streets and its architectural substance seem entirely different and are now scarcely recognisable.
To be precise, STUDIO BANKSIDE consists of two parts which were recorded at different times and that differ not insubstantially both in terms of their film material and the structure of their sequences of images. Jarman combined both parts – underlaid with music by the British composer Edward Elgar – and he presented them to the public and commented upon them in this form during his retrospective at London’s ICA in 1984.164 The first three minutes of the film actually consist of those first recordings made in 1970.
They were shot in colour and primarily show the above-mentioned life within the warehouse’s studio spaces. Although the film was not edited after being shot and the projected sequence of the scenes thus corresponds to the sequence of their filming, this first part of STUDIO BANKSIDE displays both a rhythmically strictly structured progression as well as a simple, pre-planned and structured concept in terms of the choice of motifs. Jarman films individual photographs of the studio and in between, as though he were tracking down traces, he rerecords on film one of the motifs (objects) depicted in the photographs within the ‘real space’ of the studio.
At the same time, the rhythm of the sequence of images is defined by repeatedly recurring, split-second cuts to a close-up of the filament of a light bulb and its warm, reddish-orange light. The images of the second part, the remaining three minutes of STUDIO BANKSIDE, were recorded only much later – namely, in 1972, two weeks before the warehouse’s demolition. They were filmed using black-and-white film and as a series of brief shots; however, these do not possess the rhythm created by the intervening shots of the first part. Here Jarman has ventured the step from the inside to the outside and shows the surrounding area of Bankside – the old, defunct Docklands along the Thames, left to their destruction and demolition.
The calm and static images of STUDIO BANKSIDE communicate impressions of this newly won space of freedom and this creative environment – but simultaneously also the threat of losing the studio. (…) In that part of STUDIO BANKSIDE created in 1970 several different chronological layers become visible: by filming objects which were present in the space and had already been recorded – ‘eternalised’ – in photographs, Jarman momentarily transferred these out of the pose of the past and back into the present. For the duration of their filming, he fills them with new ‘life’ in order to then interweave them as filmed photographic images and filmed real objects within the film.
As in many of his other home movies, the images in STUDIO BANKSIDE show the passing and the past: they deal with the memory of ambiences, moments and encounters which are to be rid of their transience in their recording on film. (…)
If we expand the concept of family by transferring it to Jarman’s circle of friends, then the images of his home movies certainly record private ‘family life’, in this wider sense:
• friends (e.g. in STUDIO BANKSIDE and SLOANE SQUARE, 1975/76),
private celebrations and birthday parties (e.g. ULLA’S FETE, 1975, and PICNIC AT RAE’S, 1975/76)
• excursions to the countryside (JOURNEY TO AVEBURY, 1972, and GERALD’S FILM, 1976)
• journeys (FIRE ISLAND, 1974; THE FOUNTAIN, 1978; THE PANTHEON, 1978, and PONTORMO AND PUNKS AT SANTA CROCE, 1982)
All of these films have in common that they were not originally shot with the intention of later being publicly presented, and some of them additionally reject consciously established scenic arrangements and staging: ‘There was no intention ever with the early Super-8’s to really show them to audiences. They were actually shown to the people who are in them.’168 They are genuinely an extension of the traditional home movie, which primarily seeks to capture and document private events in its typically spontaneously realised recordings. (…)
Originally 16 mm film was the only available ‘amateur format’, however, it remained the luxury plaything of a small privileged class on account of the high costs of the equipment and material. It was true that Kodak brought out a new double 8 mm format – a 16 mm film divided down the middle and run through the camera twice in opposite directions – and thus launched an attempt to offer a less expensive film format for leisure and amateur use. Nonetheless, the double 8 mm format was unable to establish itself as a film medium for everyday use. In the thirties, 8 mm film was placed on the market as an inexpensive and easy-to-use medium that was accessible to and affordable for the general public. Finally, in 1964/65, the Super 8 format was introduced. The new cameras, which were even easier to use, and Super 8 film cartridges displaced the 8 mm format that had been standard until that time and made Super 8 – alongside photography – the most popular and enjoyed medium for recording private events until into the eighties.
Not only did the development of home movies take place parallel to the international economic upswing, the so-called ‘economic miracle’ of the post-war years: it also documented this situation. It was, after all, first in this ‘age of the home movie’ that the opportunity was opened to everyone to capture private occasions of all kinds in the form of moving images on film. The film material and the technical equipment became cheaper and cheaper and the cameras easier and easier to operate.
Still, from today’s perspective – compared with the video systems that entered the market several years later – filming with 8 mm film was an activity that had to be carried out rationally and sparingly: the film cartridge’s relatively short length of approximately three minutes defined the length of the recording and a restriction was also posed by its cost, which was several times higher than the price of a 240-minute VHS cassette. This economy of filming repeatedly becomes apparent in numerous home movies in the staged nature of individual scenes that seek to convey a sense of spontaneity, but only seem to have been casually recorded.
The images of private home movies suggest a sense of remembering what is now in the past, even when the motifs’ creation and their contexts are unknown to the viewer. Entirely in the sense of Barthes’s ‘micro-version of death’, 8 mm images also conjure up sensations of the loss of a seemingly intact, secure world, whose scope was limited to the staged framing of the image. (…)
© Martin Frey: Derek Jarman – Moving Pictures of a Painter. p. 117 – 121.