Apologies for the relative silence on the Beg Steal Borrow front.

However, we are delighted to mention various screenings that have recently taken place featuring Beg Steal Borrow movies.

Firstly, The Benefit of Doubt screened at B-Film at the University of Birmingham on 12 January, before Selfie screened on 23 February at Coventry University – where there was a large and lively audience.

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Selfie screens at Coventry University.

Then The New Hope screened on Sunday 25 February at the Countdown Theater in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the Bad Film Fest – as well as at the University of Roehampton, London, on 29 March.

Bad Film Fest

Finally, Circle/Line screened at the University of St Andrews on 11 April, while Sculptures of London will enjoy a screening at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton on 10 May.

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Circle/Line screens at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, Scotland.

Many thanks to all those who have shown and who continue to show support for our endeavours.

This is Cinema is coming along slowly but surely, and we hope that there are more similar screenings soon.

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Disappointment is a common feeling at events where filmmakers talk about their path into ‘the industry.’ For a start, no filmmakers really ever talk about luck (or, if applicable, connections) as helping them to get into ‘the industry.’

What is more, it generally strikes audiences as disappointing when the filmmaker simply says that you have simply to make films.

But even if they are not going to share their connections or admit their luck, these filmmakers are not wrong.

Indeed, filmmakers cannot explain to others how to get into ‘the industry’ (perhaps especially when they got in through luck and/or connections) because there is no set path (except perhaps via luck and/or connections, with the former appearing relatively randomly, while the latter you either have or you do not).

[To note: you can make your own luck, but you do this simply by carrying on making films, i.e. following the filmmaker’s advice. And you can create connections, but you do this simply by making films and showing them as wide a range of people as possible, i.e. by following the filmmaker’s advice.]

I would speculate that the general sense of disappointment stems, then, from a desire for people to know how to make the ‘right’ connections – which reveals the lie that they do not so much want to make films as want to have power and/or glory. Making films and having power are two different things – even if culturally we regularly conflate the two.

In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a priest recounts to Josef K the story ‘Before the Law,’ in which a man from the country seeks to gain access to the law. He is told to wait outside the door of the law until called. He is never called, in spite of trying to bribe the doorman – who of course takes his money and does nothing.

In a recent class, it struck me when a student was talking about wanting to get their project ‘green lit’ about how waiting for the green light (therefore about how waiting at a red light) is basically akin to the country bumpkin in Kafka’s story: if you sit around waiting for the light to turn green, it won’t. If you sit around waiting for permission to enter the law, you won’t get it.

You simply have to start doing it, and whatever happens after that does not matter. You are a filmmaker. You do have power. And the last person to tell you that you do not and/or that your films are not ‘real films’ is yourself – because there’ll be lots of others doing that for you as they seek to impose power over you by making you feel that somehow your own work somehow is not legitimate.

Don’t get me wrong; I have had many people say such things to me, and I am prone to believing it at times… and then I remember that I do not want to make films, which strikes me as a relatively banal and modest ambition at best. What I want to achieve is to change the very institution of cinema. And it is through the very illegitimate (‘bastard’) nature of my work, that cinema’s bloodline can change – because it certainly won’t via the nepotistic circles and/or via the processes of cinemas of conformity (people who make films that like pre-existing films, rather than people who make films that do not look like pre-existing films – even if my own films engage very consciously with their relationship to other films, e.g. by consistently having references to the work of people like Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Vigo, the Lumière brothers and the like – or what I might consider at times to be a lineage of bastard filmmakers whose work I want not simply to recreate but to take from behind).

Nonetheless, my relationship to film sound is at best ambivalent.

I may be completely wrong, but I suspect that my films would have reached far wider audiences if they had better sound. And I am torn consistently between wanting to reach and to please wider audiences than I do (since not to reach wider audiences gives one a sense of illegitimacy – and I have numerous tales of failed, fucked up and disappointing screenings that only reinforce this, even if bloody mindedly I will not stop making films).

And so if I am to reach wider audiences – if I am to appease my vanity rather than await the era when people want simply to listen to the sound of traffic and/or wind instead of dialogue – I feel compelled to strive for ‘better’ sound.

This, then, is my dilemma: should I strive for ‘better’ sound, or should I keep going as I am, with my films not just wearing their tiny budgets on their sleeves, but also in a different sense register having it audible for all to hear?

Hito Steyerl talks of the importance of the poor image, but she does not mention anything similar in relation to film sound. People will tolerate a movie shot an iPhone – as long as it sounds okay. But as soon as a film sounds cheap, then audiences run a mile.

Because if cinema aspires to be anything, it does not aspire to be cheap. It does not tolerate poverty, even if it pretends to by occasionally tolerating movies with ‘rough’ images – but very rarely movies with rough sound.

To rate movies by how rich or poor they appear, and in particular by how rich or poor they sound, is not to rate movies, but to rate wealth. If only the wealthy are deemed legitimate, then this is because we live in a society that elevates wealth above humanity – and wealth above cinema – such that only the wealthy are human and only the wealthy films are real films. In short, then, this is to worship money as humans believe that cinema is a god to which one can only enter when granted permission (when ‘green lit’). You do not ask permission; you storm the building, or you burn the light down, or you break the door, its lintel, you throw down the doorman, you burn the money you offered him, and you realise that there is no law.

I gave a talk recently in Abu Dhabi to a group of ‘young Arab media leaders.’ The talk was on propaganda and how media create a sense of power.

At the start of the talk, I refused to use a microphone, even though I have a relatively quiet voice and even though I was speaking in a large room in front of 100 or so people. For me, if you want to hear me talk, then don’t sit at the back of the room. And if you want to hear me talk, then listen.

The point is not about people expecting things to come to them (here, my voice) rather than making the effort themselves to come to me.

Rather, I did this gesture of refusing the microphone because the microphone gives the impression not that my voice comes from my body, but because of the surround sound speakers that my voice comes from everywhere.

In effect, the microphone disembodies my voice. And as soon as my voice does not have a body, it becomes less human and more divine (it is a voice that comes from nowhere – like the voice of God).

In effect, then, the microphone empowers me – and in conferring to me a sense of power, it induces in others a sense of deference, and as a result it functions through its form – amplified and as if from nowhere – as the structural basis upon which propagandistic contents can then be spread.

In short, propaganda relies as much on the seeming authority with which it is spread than it relies upon the actual messages that are conveyed. Propaganda begins by making you believe that what you are going to be told are the words of someone with power and thus someone to be believed – long before they actually tell you what it is that you are supposed to believe.

My practical exercise in some senses fell flat on its face. I was heckled to use the microphone because indeed some people at the back could not be bothered to sit in any of the fifty or so chairs that were empty next to the stage.

In other senses, though, the call for me to use the microphone proved my point. My point being not that some people want/need amplified and disembodied voices in order to listen – i.e. some people want propaganda, they want their own subjugation, they want to be at the red light. Rather, my point being when a voice is embodied – i.e. when it comes not from a god but from a mere human being – people generally are not interested.

I often feel this in my everyday life. It is a semi-regular experience that when I achieve anything of note, someone will come along and express disbelief that I could have done it. It is not simply that in the flesh I am a deeply unimpressive human being – even if this is the case for many people. It is also because these people know me in the flesh, i.e. as having a body, that – be I impressive or otherwise – they cannot take me for a god.

In other words, when we physically know someone, it is harder to confer on to that person any great power; when we do not personally know them, they are a disembodied image and/or voice, and thus we are prone to defer to them as being powerful. As a result, the disembodied person/voice can be granted god-like status, while we knock and disrespect the embodied person, even if they in fact are equal.

Now, my narcissistic tendencies towards megalomania do in some senses want to convince others that I am a god of sorts. But at the same time, I want to explode the entire structure of god-making through disembodied media.

You do not need money to make films. I am a human with a body. And my films do pick up random street sounds, buzzes, hums and other things as record sound live in real locations.

However, so much does ‘bad’ sound (noise) make films seem embodied and/or as taking place in the real world (as opposed to the amplified and disembodied nature of ‘good’ film sound, which contains little to no noise, and which thus take place in a fantasy realm – even if all films are mediations and thus fantasies to some extent), that I do feel at times as though I am coming up against a brick wall. Films that do not sound like god do not get listened to, since sound is god in cinema.

I recently did some additional dialogue recording (ADR) for my film, The Benefit of Doubt, even though I am trying – and very slowly succeeding – to edit This is Cinema (which is not to mention that I am also hoping to re-record the voice over for Sculptures of London).

But in doing this ADR, in some senses I felt as though I was betraying my aim to destroy the hierarchies of cinema – even if that aim is quixotic, easy to laugh at, definitely the work of an embodied human being, and likely to end repeatedly in failure – and perhaps definitively so as my work is simply forgotten, ignored and eventually corrupted by time, rather than seen and heard by people as in some senses I of course want it to be.

My dilemma, then, is whether I continue to use this new sound, and perhaps even record more. Or whether I embrace poverty and the derision that the poor of cinema face in the same way that the poor of the earth are derided, too. Perhaps to want audiences and respect is hubristic – and we must instead embrace failure. But if no one will listen, maybe one does have to amplify one’s voice into a technologised shout.

Any thoughts on the topic are welcome.

Beg Steal Borrow’s William Brown was delighted to attend the World Premiere of Letters to Ariadne at the Validate Yourself Film Festival in New York on 2 September 2017.

The film was warmly received at Hotel RL by Red Lion in Brooklyn by a dedicated crowd that included regular Beg Steal Borrow collaborator and screenwriter, Alex Chevasco (who has a small part in the forthcoming This is Cinema.)

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Ariadne prepares for Hallowe’en in Letters to Ariadne at RL Hotel by Red Lion in Brooklyn, New York, on 2 September 2017.

In other news, William is for the autumn of 2017 a Visiting Associate Professor of Film at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), where he is teaching a wonderful creative set of students who are making their final-year graduation (‘Captstone’) films – as well as teaching a course on Concepts in Film and New Media.

And Beg Steal Borrow is delighted to announce that there will be a preview screening of both Sculptures of London and The Benefit of Doubt at NYUAD before William leaves Abu Dhabi at around Christmas-time. More details will follow shortly!

Meanwhile, our short film, St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies made the First Selection of the International Short Film Festival Kalmthout Belgium – although the film alas will not enjoy a screening there.

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St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies made the First Selection of the International Short Film Festival Kalmthout Belgium.

And Circle/Line was selected by both the Stockholm Independent Film Festival and the UK Monthly Film Festival – although again these selections have not seemingly led to any actual screenings (the rise of ‘fake’ film festivals is a topic to discuss on another occasion).

And otherwise William continues to work on a series of films, including #randomaccessmemoryThis is Cinema and Vladimir and William, a series of letter-films that he is developing with Macedonian filmmaker Vladimir Najkdovski.

Letters to Ariadne will enjoy its world premiere at the Validate Yourself Film Festival in New York on 2 September 2017.

Letters to Ariadne

The screening will take place at 2pm at the Hotel RL by Red Lion, Brooklyn Bed-Stuy,
1080 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11221.

The film is comprised of a series of video-letters from director William Brown to his niece Ariadne as he travels around the world.

To this end, Letters to Ariadne features letters from places as diverse as England and Scotland, Canada and the USA, Italy, France, Mexico, Sweden, Macedonia and China.

The film is partly indebted to a Brown Fellowship that William won from the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, to spend a month at the house of the late artist and photographer, Dora Maar, in Ménerbes, France.

VYFF

The screening follows a busy summer for Beg Steal Borrow. Not only have they shot both Sculptures of London and This is Cinema, while also continuing to work on The Benefit of Doubt#randomaccessmemory and Vladimir and William, but there have also been screenings of Circle/Line (at the East End Film Festival) and The New HopeRoehampton Guerrillas (2011-2016)Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux and Selfie (at the Straight-Jacket Guerrilla Filmmaking Festival).

The Validate Yourself Film Festival is an annual festival run by filmmaker Antoine Allen, whose Life is Too Short was completed in 2015.

 

The Straight Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival is this week showing four – yes, four! – Beg Steal Borrow films as part of its programme.

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The Straight Jacket Guerrilla Film Festival.

The online festival, which specialises in underground, cult and experimental cinema, runs for a week, with a Beg Steal Borrow film playing on each of the festival’s first four days.

The running order sees our punk Don Quixote meets Star Wars film The New Hope playing on Tuesday 15 August.

A manifesto for the film can be read here: The New Hope – A Manifesto.

The New Hope is followed on Wednesday 16 August by Roehampton Guerrillas (2011-2016), a compilation of short films made by the titular group of guerrilla filmmakers and curated by William Brown.

Then our art house zombie homage to the Lumière brothers, Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux, plays on Thursday 17 August.

And finally on Friday 18 August, the festival is showing Selfie, an essay-film about selfie culture comprised uniquely of moving-image selfies featuring William Brown.

We are completely delighted to be featuring so prominently as part of the festival, which is run by guerrilla filmmakers extraordinaire Fabrizio Federico and Laura Grace Robles.

The festival will culminate on Saturday 21 August with an awards ceremony at the Alamo Street Eat Bar in San Antonio,Texas. The ceremony runs from 9pm to midnight, with the Beg Steal Borrow films competing for Most Creative Feature Film. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Tune in to the Straight Jacket website in order to watch the films.

And click here to read an interview with William Brown about guerrilla filmmaking.

The Straight Jacket screenings come ahead of the World Premiere of Letters to Ariadne at the Validate Yourself Film Festival in New York on Saturday 2 September – and follow hot on the heels of the World Premiere of Circle/Line at London’s East End Film Festival in June.

In the meantime, we have also enjoyed preview screenings of The Benefit of Doubt at the Roxy Bar & Grill in London on 17 June and of Sculptures of London at the Film-Philosophy Conference at the University of Lancaster on 4 July.

We have also very nearly finished all filming for This is Cinema, the principle shoot of which lasted between 10 and 23 July.

So… all in all a busy summer for Beg Steal Borrow. Let us hope that we have more screenings in the near future. But in the meantime… please support our work by checking out our films!

The odd-numbered streets of Espinho run down a gentle slope and to where the Atlantic laps Europe. When the sun sets on the town, rays of light burst horizontally through clouds and the sky turns the colour of dreams. It feels like it is the end of the world.

Looking at Espinho’s beach and at the ocean itself, one’s eye is cast in two directions: to the distant past and to the far future. The scene as a whole takes one back to an epoch when those too afeared to be explorers looked at the horizon and believed that there was nothing more – that this was verily the end of the Earth. Looking specifically at the waves of the Atlantic, however, one realises that this water has beaten this shore since before the explorers and during years that stretch back inconceivably further than the moment when footprints were invented. It will do so long after footprints have disappeared. What is more, the sand upon which this water beats also heralds another twin future, since it represents the coming desert as the water sings without rest about the coming flood. The face that Espinho presents to us, then, is once again the end of the world – or at least a world without men.

We can go further still. Espinho takes its name originally from the Latin word spina, meaning something like a spike, since it connotes thorns and fishbones alike. Given how the smell of grilled sardines floats through Espinho’s quiet streets, the fishbone connection is fitting. And yet spina/Espinho is also linked to the word spine – the long vertebral column that helps to keep us vertical. Espinho, then, asks us to think about backbone, standing up and desire.

This relates once again to the end of the world in an obtuse way, but one that I’d like to elaborate nonetheless. Ninety seven per cent of animal life does not have a spine; only three per cent of creatures on Earth are vertebrates. And beneath that ocean lurk creatures that have been there since long before the footprints and which have perfected their being in a way that is unfathomable to humans. That is, the invertebrates that have fathomed the ocean have had millennia more than us to achieve existential perfection, while we are mere children in relation to them.

And we are naughty, vicious children, too, having brought to our planet destruction and disequilibrium, all in the name of creating a perceived equilibrium that goes by the name of control (we want to control our planet, to enslave it rather than to exist with it), and which is recognised in concrete: the paving over of our outer and inner worlds such that they no longer grow or change or adapt, but so that they remain constant and unchanging. This is also an end of the world: the destruction of the future through bringing that future to its knees and letting it do nothing to surprise us.

And so when the planet comes back to destroy humans through the twin forces of the flood and the desert, this apocalypse is often pictured as being the return of tentacled, spineless monsters: the return from the depths of a species far more evolved than ours, and which will bring to us a kind of ecstasy as we free ourselves from our concrete prisons and begin to move again. Vampyroteuthis infernalis. Cthulhu. Arrival. Leviathan is capital, but Leviathan is capital as it logically crumbles into dust when the Earth rebels against the damage that capital causes to it. And so we may fear Cthulhu, but Cthulhu really is us.

And yet there is another force that can help us to break the concrete and to lose control, smashing through the walls that we have put up in order to control space and the rhythms of chronometry that we have used to control time. And this force is called art.

Sunlight with its attendant photogénie and the glamour associated with holidays as opposed to work are the perceived reasons for why numerous film festivals take place at beach resorts. And yet the fact that beaches are liminal spaces that take us away from the concrete and allow us to get wet – physically, emotionally and erotically – is perhaps also one of the major attractions: here where the water and the sand copulate, we have creation, creativity and the birth of new life, new lifeforms – evolution and change itself in progress, not brought under control.

In this way, art is what frees us from the concrete and without it Cthulhu would only return to destroy us, bringing to us a definitive end of our world via extinction. But one thing that art can also do for us is to remind us that there is no extinction if there is no control; there is only change and becoming, and thus everything is dying as much as it is living. And so we come to this truth: Cthulhu is not out there, rising slowly from the ocean to evacuate our souls; instead, we all carry Cthulhu within us, and art is what allows this destroyer to come forth, to function as an outlet to save us from the bloodbath that would take place were art never to have been invented, and which will take place if art is not allowed to continue.

In a patriarchal society, liking art is sometimes even directly considered to be ‘wet’ – as if that could be an insult. A world that values only dryness is a world that will bring forth the desert. We seem at times to be willing this dry world into existence – sobersides and rational, it leads only to the apocalypse of Cthulhu. Drunk with love, the sops and the soppy artist save the dryness and the concrete from itself.

It is useful, then, to be both wet and dry, to have backbone to stand up to the concrete, but a backbone that is always kept moist and limber, and not brittle and crumbling. The Atlantic is traditionally thought to mean The Bearer (of the Heavens), since as a word it has its roots in the copulative prefix a- and then the stem of tlenai, meaning to bear, from the ProtoIndoEuropean root tele-, meaning to lift, to support, to weigh.

As the Atlantic takes the weight of the heavens, then, so might the Fest Film Festival at Espinho carry the burden of a different heaven – the heaven that is our dreams, our ability to dream, with dream being the expression of Cthulhu in our sleep, as our wetware lets little Cthulhus out and every night we dream the end of the world.

Significantly, Fest is also a festival that is not really about watching films. For what makes it unique is the way in which it brings together hundreds of filmmakers – some with films showing and others with films in their heads but not yet on a screen – who together dream, and who together encourage each other – give each other the heart/cœur – to dream.

This is not the second hand dreaming of passive observation, though. This is the first hand dreaming of not consuming cinema/consuming someone else’s dream – but of creating and having one’s own dreams, one’s dream of reinventing dreams, thereby giving dreaming itself a future.

In a world of dry, corporate cinema, Fest becomes a beacon of independence. Like the huntress Atalanta, who in Greek mythology retained her independence resolutely by refusing to enter into the patriarchal business of marriage, Fest also embraces diversity and that which takes us away from patriarchy, away from business, away from cinema as busy-ness and towards a slower, wetter, dreamier form of cinema. Like Meleager with Atalanta, men and women here come together in their otherwise independent hunt for dreams.

The Portuguese setting of Espinho becomes a key ingredient, then, to this festival. For, there is in Espinho a lack of business and busy-ness and a whole-hearted emphasis on art that truly is the festival’s brilliance. It can be seen in the architecture: slightly crumbling, the weeds here are allowed grow back through the concrete as cats run wild through the streets.

Developed as a grid city in the style of New York, Espinho nonetheless resists the control of the metropolis in spite of its even- and odd-numbered streets. Emblematic of the country’s own tussle with dictatorship under António de Oliveira Salazar, Espinho is instead quietly shambolic and unfussed in its pacing. These are not flaws; what Fest Film Festival tells us is that these things enable a better life, a better way of living, a better way of dreaming. For it is not a festival defined by fear, but by a constant reminder that art itself is to run the risk of perceived failure, that it involves putting everything on the line, confronting and growing through fear, and working with poverty in order to get not to lies but to truth. Fest gives us courage and heart because the festival is itself courageous and hearty – especially in its welcome.

In this way, it is perhaps inevitable that Antonio Tabbucchi writes this about Espinho in his novel, Pereira Maintains:

and there was also Espinho, a classy beach with a swimming-pool and casino, I often used to have a swim there and then a game of billiards, there was a first-rate billiard room, and that’s where I and my fiancée whom I later married used to go… that was a wonderful time in my life, and maybe I dream about it because it gives me pleasure to dream about it.

For, Pereira is himself a slightly shambolic man who, like Meleager with Atalanta, falls in love from afar with the girlfriend of a young man whom he helps out with a job at the dawn of Salazar’s fascist regime – in the process coming to a political awakening that allows him to use art to oppose authoritarianism and control. He was happy in Espinho, and he associates it with dreams, even as the world comes to a fascist end.

Right next to the arc-like Centro Multimeios that is Fest’s hub there is a house that is falling apart – referred to by a Dutch couple at the event as a pigeon hotel and figured prominently in a film made and screened at the festival by Guy Farber – as a response to a challenge set by me to those assembled at my guerrilla filmmaking workshop at Fest to make a silent film that is about the relationship between Espinho and the festival.

Again, then, decay is never far from Fest; it carries the end of the world with it, an apocalyptic unveiling (apo-/un- + kaluptein/to cover) that allows us more clearly to see, as all art thus involves death and rebirth, the flood and the desert, the blurring of boundaries and the breaking of the concrete.

A festival that of course shows films, it is a festival that is not about business and busy-ness, but which is about heart, humans, relationships, sharing and encouraging. In some senses, the festival thus replaces cinema, providing to its participants the intensity of experience that cinema itself perhaps once gave to us, but which all too often these days it does not. The film festival is thus better than cinema, a realisation of something that cinema can but only seldom does achieve: a world of courage and the bid to participate in the creation of heaven, in heaven as creation. And so we must now as filmmakers go away from Fest and improve cinema, create a different and new cinema, to destroy and to recreate cinema, and thus to give to others this solidarity, this courage, this intensity.

Some think of the festival as being a structural support for business: in providing a welcome break from business, the festival means that we can return to business and accept it for another year.

And yet Fest teaches us that the festival can be more than this. Fest is not escape from an otherwise humdrum existence; Fest shows us a better world that we must now all work hard to realise. We all feel a sense of what the Portuguese might call saudade as we leave Fest – a melancholic longing for someone that one loves, perhaps like Meleager’s feelings for Atalanta when she refused his love, and certainly like Pereira’s thoughts about Espinho. Saudade is not negative, though. For it also is a marker of necessary change and difference and independence, and so we must keep this saudade with us at all times and not let it wear off; we must not leave Fest so much as at all times carry it in our hearts as it holds us in its; we must embrace and not fear death, we must love loss and difference and realise that we are dying a little all the time; for it is only through working with rather than against these things that we can create art.

And in this way art can and will save the world. And it might help to bring about a better world, a world of dream and art. Dreaming the end of the world in Espinho at the Fest Film Festival, then, encourages us for the burden of heaven, the weight on our backs that is the ceaseless struggle to explore beyond the horizon and to reach new worlds. It is to realise heaven on Earth.

Just a brief blog post to round off the shoot for our Sculptures of London project, which now moves into post-production.

Tom Maine and I spent Thursday 15 June meandering across the centre of London to film our final 35 or so sculptures for the film.

Many were figural, but there seemed to be a clear elephant theme – with various other animals appearing, too. Perhaps the thick skin of the pachyderm reflects the thick skin that one needs at times to live in a city like London.

However, we did also get to see a penguin and a lion.

Neal French’s Three Figures, which features Terence Donovan photographing Twiggy in Bourdon Street, also was a highlight of the day: sculpture as theatre (while retaining a sense of the male gaze and the objectification of woman as Donovan hides behind his camera).

We also Charlie Chaplin (who features in The New Hope) and Agatha Christie.

Before seeing a selection of sculptures climbing up the outside of buildings – as per the lion above.

Work starts imminently on the post-production. We’ll let you know how we get along!

Shooting over 60 sculptures in a day for our Sculptures of London project is exhausting work – as both Tom Maine and I can testify. And yet this is what we achieved on Sunday 11 June 2017 – before immediately heading on to rehearsals for our forthcoming fiction film, This is Cinema.

In some senses, the day constitutes a sort of miniature version of the story told by the sculptures of London in general: it was defined by a large number of statues of figures, many monuments associated with war, and yet it also involved a series of abstract sculptures, and many of which invite interaction from passers-by.

Two works by John Maine perhaps summed up both of these strands of London sculpture: his ring-like war memorial on Islington Green and his Arena on the South Bank.

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Islington Memorial by John Maine

The war memorial suggests war, but not in a celebratory or heroic way – with a phallic statue. Instead, the ring that is the memorial’s centrepiece suggests something much more subtle, its twists suggesting pain as it resembles a wreath, while at the same time having a weight and beauty of its own. What is more, the way in which the ring becomes something like a Möbius strip also suggests the infinity, perhaps, of memory.

But where the Islington Memorial remains a monument that one looks at, Arena, on the other hand, is a piece that invites people to walk and to climb, maybe even to skateboard over. Set outside the National Theatre, it is a key feature of London’s South Bank, and it presents the kind of democratic and equalising vision of the city that we might think is fitting in the venue of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

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Arena by John Maine

Rather than being a ‘monumental’ sculpture, then, Arena perhaps even stops being a sculpture at all. Maybe it is better considered to be landscape design or just masonry. But even in challenging the border of sculpture, Arena reaffirms what art can do best, which is precisely to challenge borders, and to get us to rethink space and how we act in and with it in a city that otherwise is often defined by barriers and fences.

In some senses, then, London is on the one hand defined by statues, most often of men, whose lives are associated with a history of nation-building and/or national defence, i.e. war, and which stand on plinths that assert power and which do not let us touch or even approach the figure. And on the other hand, London has very approachable sculptures with which we can even interact.

Indeed, they ask us to touch them, as signalled in Lorenzo Quinn’s Hands, found on Millbank opposite the MI6 building and near Tate Britain.

If the statues are typically of men, it is also true that they are predominantly of white men. There are exceptions: in Parliament Square in Westminster there are statues of both Mohandas K. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – but here, too, it is perhaps significant that these two men, known for their democratic values and their bid to create a society of equals, are much closer to the ground than the men who surround them, including Robert Peel (the founder of the police), Benjamin Disraeli and former South African leader Jan Smuts.

These latter figures enjoy much grander plinths than Mandela and Gandhi – with the contrast between Mandela and Smuts (who endorsed racial segregation in South Africa, even if apartheid only came into being after his term) being perhaps especially telling.

(My aim here is not to belittle Smuts unnecessarily; his achievements are numerous, and he might be considered a great liberal, even if he also had disagreements with Gandhi.)

If there is a seeming correspondence between plinth size and race, then there seemed to be a tendency on this day of filming to find it hard to film sculptures of women. We did find and shoot the sculptures of Emmeline Pankhurst in Victoria Tower Gardens and Edith Cavell at 10 St Martin’s Place, a fiery Boudica, as well as the bust of SOE officer Violette Szabo on Lambeth Palace Road.

But we also found that we could not film statues of Elizabeth I (because Little Dean’s Yard is in Westminster School and thus private), Mary Seacole (because one cannot film on the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital without a permit), and Anna Pavlova (because the Victoria Palace Theatre upon which she lives was under scaffold).

Beyond that, the Women in World War II Memorial on Whitehall, together with the Suffragette Memorial in Christchurch Gardens do not actually feature any women, but instead seem to reference them through their absence.

There were plenty of sculptures, however, of animals, including men riding horses, lions at the feet of men, sphinxes at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle, a lioness hunting a lesser kudu, and a heron in a pond in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

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Jonathan Kenworthy’s Lioness and Lesser Kudu

(Queen Victoria herself looms large in London, but while there are various statues of her, significantly more things are named after her: Victoria Tower, Victoria Embankment, and so on.)

Finally, Oscar Wilde does not stand, nor even sit, but lies, almost as if in a coffin, by Charing Cross on Adelaide Street. It seems ironic that in contrast to the phallic Nelson whose column stands around the corner in Trafalgar Square, here we have a queer icon not pushing himself upwards, but lying in the gutter, looking at the stars.

Somewhere between monument and abstraction, Maggi Hambling’s sculpture also seems to embody the tension between the city’s imposition of hierarchies of power and its democratic impulses; it is a working embodiment of the story that is told us by the sculptures of London.

With one day left for filming, and half a day required to do the film’s voice over with brilliant actress Lissa Schwerm, sculptures of London is shaping up nicely. We shall wrap up with our final diary entry in the next few days…

Tom and I went out on 8 June 2017 – the day of the UK General Election – in order to do our fifth day of shooting sculptures.

Perhaps appropriately, we started at Highgate Cemetery, where we took a portrait of Karl Marx, which also made an appearance in our film, The New Hope.

We then headed over to Golders Hill Park to see Patricia Finch’s Golders Hill Girl, and on to the Swiss Cottage area to see Sigmund Freud.

After finding a sculpture the name of which we do not know by Swiss Cottage Library, we took a quick bus over to Camden Stables, where we found the Amy Winehouse statue, before walking to the Regent’s Park, where we took shots of the Matilda fountain and two works by Albert Hodge, The Lost Bow and A Mighty Hunter, which both feature cherubs attacking birds.

 

We also found an eagle near the Island Rock Garden, although alas could not afford the entry fee to shoot Henri Teixeira de Mattos’ Stealing the Cubs.

Over to Rossmore Street we wandered to see Charles Hadcock’s Echo, before then finding Barbara Hepworth’s Heron on the side of Heron House on George Street and some of the more traditional statues on Portland Place.

 

Naomi Blake’s View – which lives in Fitzroy Square Garden – was perhaps my favourite sculpture of the day: a beautiful piece in and of itself, it is not dissimilar to Hepworth’s Single Form in Battersea Park, which we shot on day three. Nonetheless, View seems to invite both touch through its smoothness as well as interaction as one not only looks at it, but also through it and to what lies beyond.

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Naomi Blake’s View

Inside St Pancras, we then filmed Martin Benning’s statue of Sir John Betjeman (who features in St Mary Magdalen’s Home Movies) and Paul Day’s The Meeting Place, well known to Eurostar travellers as the two lovers who greet people as they arrive in London.

 

Over the British Library, where we took in Eduardo Paolozzi’s Newton, before we then stumbled across some massive sculptures – from what we could tell unnamed – in front of the St Pancras Parish Church. These figures with melded and buried heads really were surprising: monsters merging with each other and with Earth, like fallen gods wandering lost in the land of the humans.

 

We then wandered down to Tavistock Square and Gordon Square, where respectively we filmed statues of Mohandas K Gandhi and Virginia Woolf, and Rabindranath Tagore and Noor Inayat Khan.

 

By the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), we filmed the Armillary Sphere sundial in Torrington Square and the Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. Supposedly restored in 2016, this latter statue nonetheless already seemed somewhat worn as his forehead and cheeks have suffered chips and cracks.

 

Nonetheless, I was touched by the quotation from Thiruvalluvar that features on a plaque at the foot of the statue:

You meet with joy, with pleasant thought you part;
Such is the learned scholar’s wondrous art

I cannot lay claim to realising the learnèd scholar’s wondrous art – but I endeavour to meet with joy as and when I can.

There followed a shot of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford in Russell Square – a huge monument on a large raised plinth, with Russell looming over various sculpted animals, while metal railings preventing interaction all interaction with Russell except on the part of the birds that sit and defecate upon him.

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Francis Russell with pigeon on head

The day ended with another Patricia Finch sculpture in Queen Square, this one being her Memorial to Andrew Meller, who worked with the Great Ormond Street Hospital – before we got in a quick shot of Sam the Cat, who also lives in the corner of that square.

 

Hopefully only two more days to go and then we can move on to the editing stage of the film – with actress Lissa Schwerm hopefully to deliver the film’s vocal track in the next week or so, too.

Last weekend saw both the completion of our crowd funding campaign for This is Cinema and the screening at the East End Film Festival of Circle/Line, our documentary investigation into whether people in London are happy.

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A poster for Circle/Line at the East End Film Festival screening.

We would like to offer our thanks to all those who helped to organise and who came to the screening (especially the team at the EEFF!) and to those who pledged money for This is Cinema via our campaign with LiveTree.

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Circle/Line screens in Old Spitalfields Market.

But this is not a moment to sit still, but a moment to carry on…

And so since Saturday 3 June, I have been doing some work on an essay-film, #randomaccessmemory, while Tom Maine and I went out on Monday 5 June to shoot more sculptures for our short essay-film, Sculptures of London.

The fourth day of our shot, Tom and I started at the Emirates Stadium, where we took some shots of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, before then heading to the site of the old Gainsborough Studios in order to capture images of the giant film reel that sits in Shoreditch Park and a curious bust of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock himself.

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Hitchcock on the site of the former Islington/Gainsborough Studios.

We then travelled down to Liverpool Street and the surrounding area, where we saw Fernando Botero’s Broadgate Venus, Xavier Corberó’s Broad Family, and one of the Kindertransport memorials created by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada. The last of these commemorates the effort of the British to take in nearly 10,000 Jewish child refugees in the build-up to the Second World War.

Richard Serra’s Fulcrum then followed, a statue that we shot in a style that rhymes with a similar shot of Bernar Venet’s Neuf lignes obliques in The Benefit of Doubt. We shot The Benefit of Doubt in Nice, France, where Venet’s sculpture lives. The film is a retelling of the myth of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos abandoned on the beach by Theseus and who then meets (in our film, two versions of) Bacchus.

Next we viewed Jacques Lipschitz’s Bellerophon Taming Pegasus. As Tom and I discussed creativity, I wondered (cheekily perhaps) that the City location of this sculpture about the mythical slayer of monsters capturing the monstrous chimera seemed somehow to symbolise the way in which the world of work also captures and hinders creativity – with creativity being the creation of monsters, in the sense that creativity brings into the world things and beings that have never before existed (maybe this is why we call children little monsters).

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Bellerophon Taming Pegasus

Looking at Antanas Brazdys’ Ritual in front of the Woolgate Exhange, I also wondered how this particular sculpture also seems very meaningful given its location and the material from which it is made.

This stainless steel piece offers distorted reflections of those who walk in and out of the building, thereby making us look again at, and perhaps question, the daily ritual that is the commute into and out of work. Why do we do this? Is there reason to doubt the ritual?

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Ritual

There followed shots of Karin Jonzen’s Gardener, John Birnie Philip’s Peace and Michael Ayrton’s Minotaur by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the Barbican.

Given the difficulty that we had in finding the Minotaur, which had moved since when we used it for a shot in En Attendant Godard in 2009, it seemed as though this minotaur really did live in a labyrinth – until a very helpful man called José helped us to locate it by leading us through the Guildhall’s staff-only area.

In En Attendant Godard, the minotaur is used to represent a bull – the form taken by Jupiter in order to rape Europa, in the film represented by Annie, who is played by Hannah Croft.

En Attendant Godard refers repeatedly to the mythical Rape of Europa – with images of François Boucher’s Rape of Europa featuring early on, before we then see Alex Chevasco’s character, Alex, being slain as a bull by a torero (Tristan Olphe-Gaillard), before Alex re-adopts bull horns and poses with Annie (who has now changed her name, although we not sure to what) by Lake Geneva.

At the time, we felt as though these images allowed us to investigate visually a link between the Rape of Europa and the concept of Europe: to be European means to be wide-eyed (from the Greek eurys/wide and ops/face or eye). In other words, it means to be open, to look others in the eye or in the face; it is a sign of respect. But perhaps Europa suffers for her wide-eyed openness as Jupiter descends to abduct her.

Further tying this myth to Beg Steal Borrow’s productions, Europa was the mother of Minos, the father of the minotaur, from which the afore-mentioned Ariadne, daughter of Minos and sister of the minotaur, saved Theseus by giving him the spool of thread that he used to make his way out of the labyrinth.

Ariadne is the name of the character that Hannah Croft again plays in The Benefit of Doubt, which is based on the myth of Ariadne, but here picking up the story from after she is abandoned by Theseus on the beach of Naxos (here, Nice) and then discovered by Bacchus (in The Benefit of Doubt represented by two characters played by Nick Marwick and Greg Rowe).

Ariadne is also a key figure in Letters to Ariadne, a film about which I shall blog shortly, and which is an attempt by me to help my niece Ariadne to make sense of the world.

Often life feels as though it is a labyrinth: a puzzle from which we can find no release, except perhaps through an act of love or kindness (as José gave to us at the Guildhall). I wonder (immodestly) that this is something that I try – in my limited way – to explore in my films (or at least to ask if to doubt, if not to know and yet to be open and wide-eyed – or in an etymological sense to be European – can benefit us).

And as in a labyrinth, where being lost we keep returning to the same places to try to make sense of them, so it is with Sculptures of London that we find ourselves returning to the same myths and themes from our other films, haunted by the same questions about what life is, and what the story is that the sculptures of London can tell us.

Indeed, as mentioned in an earlier blog, various of the sculptures that we shot in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park also feature in The New Hope, while other sculptures that we have shot and are yet to shoot for Sculptures of London also appear in Circle/Line and Common Ground, about which more later.

To return to Day Four of the Sculptures shoot, though, we then shot the four feminised personifications of CommerceScienceAgriculture and Fine Art that live on Holborn Viaduct, while also taking an image of a lion covered in scaffold tarpaulin. This gave it the appearance of a sculpture modified by an artist like Christo, who is famous for covering monuments with cloth: like Ritual, the tarpaulin that hid the lion oddly also made it suddenly more visible than usual.

Wandering further around the City, we filmed images of Antony Gormley’s Resolution on Shoe Lane, the sculpture of Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, by Jon Bickley (who also made the pig sculptures we shot on our last sortie), and St George and the Dragon by Michael Sandle and Morris Singer.

While we failed to find Stephen Melton’s LIFFE Trader, we did find J Seward Johnson’s Taxi! sculpture, before then shooting various more ‘monumental’ statues of the likes of Queen Victoria (on Blackfriars Bridge), Queen Anne (outside St Paul’s Cathedral) and the Duke of Wellington and James Henry Greathead by Bank.

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Taxi!

Outside St Paul’s, we created a shot of Georg Ehrlich’s Young Lovers that echoes a shot of Dennis (Dennis Chua) walking around the cathedral in Common Ground – during a sequence that we filmed during the Occupy London movement in late 2011.

Meanwhile, in front of the Wellington statue by Francis Leggatt Chantry, we came across some pro-EU protestors singing modified versions of protest songs (e.g. Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’) in the build-up to the next General Election. They very happily let us film them, and we chatted briefly about their desire for the UK not to leave the European Union (and their desire for Theresa May not to win the election).

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Pro-EU protestors before the Duke of Wellington

There followed brief visits to The Barge Master and the Swan Master of the Vintners Company by Vivien Mallock, and The Cordwainer by Alma Boyes on Watling Street. Interestingly enough, Tom and I marvelled at how – as per the latter statue’s inscription – shoemaking only really took off as an industry in the UK as a result of leather imported from Spain, with cordwain being a corruption of Cordovan, or things from the Spanish city of Córdoba.

If this European connection were not enough, it felt apt that the statue would find itself on Watling Street, which Tom told me was both the site of Boudica’s defeat by the Romans in cAD60 and the dividing line of the Danelaw in the late 9th Century. This latter event saw Watling Street become a boundary between Wessex and Guthrum – which in effect were thus two separate countries at the time.

In other words, the shoes that we wear to cross boundaries are themselves the product of materials crossing national borders, and which are made on the site of a place that itself became a national border and which played host to a battle about national sovereignty. It would seem that today’s disputes over national borders and boundaries have long roots in our past – which we can begin to discover by looking at the public art that surrounds us both in London and elsewhere.

After a trip to Aldgate to see Keith McCarter’s Ridirich, Tom and I popped by the Tower of London to shoot the Building Worker Statue by Alan Wilson, which was created to commemorate the lives of those who have died undertaking construction work in the city.

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Tom Maine shoots Ridirich

We then visited St Katharine Dock, where we saw Wendy Taylor’s Timepiece and David Wynne’s Girl with a Dolphin, a companion piece to his Boy with a Dolphin on Cheyne Walk and which we shot on our previous day of filming (as mentioned here).

In contrast with his Boy, though, the presence in Wynne’s Girl of a fountain that sprays up on to her body, and which spray darts around in the wind, lends to this particular piece a pornographic dimension.

Crossing the river, we then discovered that Eduardo Paolozzi’s Head of Invention has been moved – although we have not yet discovered where to (but it was not in Butler’s Wharf as we were expecting), while we could not find a bust of Ernest Bevin on Tooley Street, either.

We ended, then, with Jacob the Dray Horse by Shirley Pace in the Circle on Queen Elizabeth Street, and John Keats by Stuart Williamson in the Great Maze Pond by Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge.

It is apt that we ended in a maze – another sign that we are all in a labyrinth through which we struggle to find our way.

‘Sure a poet is a sage; A Humanist, physician to all men.’ In The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream, from which these words are taken, Keats suggests that the poet is on an endless quest for knowledge, which in turn means that the poet is plagued by doubts, never reaching the point of understanding, but always seeking, open-mindedly, to understand further.

Furthermore, in the poem, Keats suggests that humans should suffer and seek the spiritual, rather than follow or create the words of false poets: not those who create (poiesis), but those who destroy.

Filming these final two sculptures of the day in London Bridge, we came across a multitude of people, including many wearing Muslim Aid-branded clothing, taking part in the vigil announced by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for those who died during the terrorist attack that took place at London Bridge on Saturday 3 June.

It would seem that such horrific incidents haunt Beg Steal Borrow’s films. On 14 July 2016, there was an attack involving a truck on the civilians of Nice, where we filmed The Benefit of Doubt, while this attack took place just hours after the screening of Circle/Line at the East End Film Festival.

Such catastrophes are hard if not impossible to comprehend. London is a city full of paradoxes, just like a circle that is supposed also to be a line.

However, if the vigil can teach us anything, it is that above and beyond the stories that are told by London’s sculptures, London is a city full of loving, open-minded, wide-eyed and welcoming humans – of innumerable races, religions and other types of category that we use to define ourselves. Of the sort who I would like to think are open to taking in refugees, perhaps especially children, and even if the current government recently scrapped the so-called Dubs scheme.

With each other’s help and support, perhaps we can come to learn the benefit of not knowing all the answers and perhaps not knowing at all. If we not only learn the benefit of doubt, but also share our doubts with each other (by writing poetry), then perhaps we can also learn to be Humanists, physicians to all humans, and to give to ourselves and to each other the thread that will help us to find our way out of this labyrinth.