ERC cordially invites you on a journey to the remote psychic corners of wyrd, spellbound England, ancient and modern, real and imagined. Please join us for a very special seasonal event featuring the Super 8 film works of Adam Scovell, presented here for the first time in the US in digital projections. Adam is a London-based filmmaker, scholar, critic, blogger and author whose work explores the distinctly British realms of folk horror, hauntology and psychogeography. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Adam via Skype.
“There is a grain to certain representations of landscape that I believe truly has the ability to capture their essence. This essence is difficult to describe, partly because it is effectively ineffable but also because it highlights a boundary between the analogue capture of an image and the digital capture of an image. I shoot films on super-8 film, often with stock that is barely much younger than I am. There are a multitude of differences in the change of practice – from a seemingly endless amount of crisp footage produced by a DSLR to an incredibly battered, finite collection of images on celluloid – but, for me, the key change is what the texture of a film conveys through such landscapes. When the light enters a digital camera and bounces off a mirror, it provides an almost exact representation of what it sees. Yet expressions of landscape in all arts has never been about exact representation very much because our presence in various landscapes taps into more than representation but feeling, even perhaps something closer to phenomenology.
“And like the phenomenological approach to perception, this comes with a human imperfection; it’s what makes phenomenological writing on landscape work so well, whether it be Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (1977) or W.G. Sebald’s The Rings Of Saturn (1995). The imperfection, through the shifting concentration of aesthetics is essential to conveying all landscapes and so digital images will always in some way be in opposition to these aims, simply in a technological sense. I choose landscapes, both urban and rural, in order to tap into this meandering focus; a contradiction of aims if ever there was one. When the light enters into the super-8 camera, on the other hand, something else is captured. The shake of my hand and angle at which the camera sits on the land effects everything from the movement to the colour of the images. In a more simplistic sense, the film is more in tune with its surroundings, more at the mercy of its environment very much because I am.
“I first came across such a revelatory close-to-the-ground filmmaking in the work of Derek Jarman. His short film Journey To Avebury (1971) played a huge part in convincing that such an image – landscapes emptied of people to create unnerving tension and unseen character – was viable and worthwhile as a form of filmmaking in itself. This is besides the fact that Jarman found much use for the technique in his more fragmented of feature films such as The Last Of England (1987) and The Garden (1990). Perhaps it is even worth stating that there is something inherently English in this practice. Not that it has the sole monopoly on national interest in landscape but there is a rich tradition of finding such eeriness, such strangeness in the seemingly ordinary, perhaps even quaint rural zones in particular.
“M.R. James, the English ghost writer and antiquarian, was the master of translating and coaxing this spirit from the lands, especially that of East Anglia in the east of England. His stories and writing have provided the most influence for the more ghostly films to be screened, especially The Coastal Path which is an earnestly loose adaptation of his short story, A View From A Hill (1925). However, perhaps belying my belief in the occult power of the analogue film-camera, I have switched his alchemically altered set of binoculars for the very camera that I’ve used to film all of the super-8 images being screened tonight. His presence is equally detectable in Salthouse Marshes, a reed-bed ode to Oh, Whistle And I’ll Come To You My Lad (1904), and No Diggin’ Here, a homage to a 1972 BBC adaptation of his short story, A Warning To the Curious (1925).
“In all of his great works, there is a landscape that hides something, that occults some object under the soil, placing it in wait to be found by those foolishly curious enough to pry. In this sense, I feel it describes my own filmmaking practice, wandering out into eerie, unpeopled vistas in search of something unnameable; the ghost or the spirit of place. Perhaps most of all, the super-8 camera allows the filmmaker to get as close as is possible to this spirit of place, sometimes referred to as genii loci. It haunts the work, especially as the celluloid crackles and hints towards disintegration. When first experimenting with film, I was reading the work of French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. His idea of the time-image – the image of cinema that dominated after the Second World War – was initially what I wanted to construct. But then, it became clear that I was after the teleology of his desired extenuation of time, but not the aesthetics commonly associated with creating such a teleology. There are, therefore, overlaps, layers and palimpsests in the films which go in the opposite direction aesthetically to Deleuze’s ideal but earnestly wish to go full circle with a similar sense of affect. It is in these layers, these landscapes of grain and scratches, where the ghosts of such places hide patiently, waiting.”
Adam Scovell is a writer and filmmaker from The Wirral now based in London. He is studying for a PhD in film music and transcendental aesthetics at Goldsmiths and has had work featured in The Times, BFI, Sight & Sound and The Guardian. He runs the arts essay website, Celluloid Wicker Man, and has had super-8 film work screened at a variety of festivals and events. In 2015, he worked with Robert Macfarlane on an adaptation of his Sunday Times best-seller, Holloway. His first book, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, was published by Auteur in 2017.
The Museum of Human Achievement: Corner of Lyons/Springdale, ATX