Somewhere in London something stirs. In the heart of the ancient city, near the art-deco splendour of the University of London’s Senate House, near that bastion to imperialist decadence The British Museum and near the frontier of your mind’s eye, a storm cloud brews.
Around a corner and then down the last street. A dark light emanates from a red-bricked 18th Century shell. Looking up, you wonder what good can become of this.
The Horse Hospital. It shakes its wispy, silvery hair and reaches out with open arms; pock marked and scarred face branded and punctuated by haunted, blazing eyes. The thing takes you by the hand with gnarled fingers and welcomes you inside its tomblike interior. Inside itself.
Inside; small beings of decay hanging off the walls claw and tap you on the shoulder. ‘Those that Live, Live off the Dead’, they whisper. The maddening giggles follow doggedly as you hurry quickly into the main part of the building. Here, a vast roar of sound greets your highly tuned ears. Electronic drones and syncopated, synthetic beats covered with an aural wash of ever-changing colour assaults and then massages your mind. A ’77 punk riff starts up and the sheer force blows you across the oceans to far-flung places; to the old American desert, to glacial Greenland, and then, far-out, into Outer Space.
Voices, as they always do, bring you down. Voices of knowledge and humour talking with love and respect for their Art. Voices and pictures. Pictures everywhere. You watch amazed as light, art, and moving pictures combine to make one single living Reality. The Reality of the Festival speaks to you and then... you know. The game, as they say, is afoot....
Running December 4 to 10, the London Underground Film Festival is primarily a celebration of genre-less and genre-defying film. Featuring an eclectic programme of provocative screenings, talks and live performance the focus is firmly on the unconventional and individual expressionism.
As befits such a wide ranging festival, there is a huge variety of cinematic styles on show. Introduced by academic and human geographer Dr Sarah de Nardi, Around the Compass Rose: Human Geographies on Film is one example of this. Featuring three documentaries -set in America, Europe and Greenland – all focusing on the idea of ‘home’ but interpreted in vastly different ways it serves as a fascinating opening to the Festival’s week long activities.
More film offerings are served up in the form of Wave Function Collapse, four shorts tied in by the journey to outer, inner and alternative space. A retrospective of a true hero of the London underground film scene, the notorious and surreal Arthur Lager also features. Short films on show also include James Kipling’s beautiful fairy tale Sewn, Eddie Diermenjian’s darkly comic Direct To Your Door and Morgan Beringer’s abstract The Attempt To Escape Noise. With welcome selections from The Sydney Underground Film Festival there is a wealth of film in store.
A whole Sunday guest-curated by beat documentarian and writer Jack Sergeant sees screenings of the controversial Australian feature Nude Study as well as the Sundance hit Anywhere USA. An affecting portrait of beat-literatures man in grey, Words of Advice – William Burroughs on the Road, follows the author through his last years. Kevin Barkers’ The Family Jams closes the Sunday.
The inaugural Greenaway lecture will be given by academic, author and film expert Dr Patricia McCormack on the subject of Necrosexuality A screening of Margeriti’s 1973 masterpiece Flesh for Frankenstein follows the lecture. Artists Paul Kindersley and Jose Macabra also add their fascinating work to the Festival’s busy schedule.
Two long music documentaries and a look at the role of music video as a form of protest with director Dario Vigorito form an important part of the Festival’s schedule and dedication to the relationship between film and music. She’s A Punk Rocker UK tells the story of the British punk explosion from a female perspective and includes a Q and A session with Polly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gaye Advert (The Adverts) and director Zillah Minx. In Search of Sound: Excursions From The Global Underground explores electronic music with contributions from over 50 artists, including Xeno & Oaklander, Mouse on Mars and Led Er Est. It is the first feature length documentary on 21st Century electronic music culture.
With a whole week of such diverse but unified events scheduled in the eccentric environs of London’s Horse Hospital the Festival has the time and the freedom to do things in its own mercurial way.
As James Lowry, director of the London Underground Film Festival explains: “I wanted to put together a large programme that would allow room for exploring various aspects of underground film. I try to understand things in their historical contexts, and I wanted to be able to explore the development of a genre, the work of an auteur and bring in film theory too. It seems like the many London film festivals happening at the moment are either too mainstream or too niche to allow for that kind of exploration. I think I just wanted to put together a film festival I'd want to go to.”