Each of the following films explore different approaches to light and time, and are part of an ongoing series.
Solstice Sol Invictus (winter solstice)
When I talked to Lucy English about making films for The Book of Hours I was immediately interested in how to convey the winter and summer solstices, as I wanted to develop a project on time and light. In terms of winter solstice, I read quite a bit about its historic significance. I wanted to focus on the ritual power of the sun, as the ancient ceremony of ‘Sol Invictus’ which I wanted as the title. I also knew I wanted to experiment with vertical movement, creating a rising and falling, perhaps quite abstractly, with something like the sun – a ball maybe – and tried to do this at first through filming a yellow ball. I also liked the idea of the shadows created on the ball to show it turning. I made footage of this, in bright sun on holiday, but this didn’t really go anywhere.
I then found the glitch video tape visuals, which included orbic Christmas decoration shapes, and also give a sense of the vibration of light, and decided that these could be edited to work with seasonal change. The choice of this old footage was partly influenced, I see now, by my interest in early surrealist images of nature. Black Sun1927–8 by German artist Max Ernst (1891–1976), is one that stands out, or Ambassador of Autumn(1922) by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee (1879–1940).I also wanted to write part of the text myself. I wrote the first verse which I then gave to Lucy who wrote the second part. Helmie Stil, Lucy and myself recorded ourselves saying the poem, with my intention of combining three voices that would suit the changing seasons; but ultimately, I became a chorus for their atmospheric voices.
I had in mind music that would evoke the sombre, stillness of winter, but also the slow and weighty majesty of the sun coming back to life; becoming magnificent again through the seasons. I also wanted to try to convey how ancient people might have felt about the darkness of winter, with its mystery and portentousness, and the jubilation of intensely brilliant summer. I was also fortunate to have been given a collection of sublime choral music, and had already earmarked this particularly moving and atmospheric ‘Song for Athene’ as the perfect anthem for the regeneration of the solar year.
Ernst, M., Black Sun, 1927–8. Oil on board, 53 67 cm. Collection Lady Norton, London.
In A Concise History of Modern Painting, Read, H., London: Arts Book Society and Thames and Hudson, 1975.
Klee, P., Ambassador of Autumn, 1922. Watercolour, 13 10 in. New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery (gift of Collection Société Anonyme). In The Story of Modern Art, Lynton, N., Oxford: Phaidon, 1980.
Having made Solstice Sol Invictus for winter solstice, which was in many ways a restrained, objective and quite architecturally controlled film, it seemed natural to create a looser, personal and more open Summer Solstice.
'A solar celebration through colour and sound: nostalgic footage of surf and sun-worshipping freedom with Californian vibes.'
Lucy and I discussed the idea of hippy festivals, Stonehenge etc. but in the end, she came up with a poem by the sea. I wanted to include her in the images and also wanted a feeling of retro hippy innocence (though also contemporary), and the overpowering alchemy between coastal sunlight and waves. When I found vintage footage of the Californian ocean, with all its flaws, flares and lavender colour saturation, it provided the perfect material, as well as location in time and place. Using a large green screen, (at Bath Spa University), I directed Lucy as if she were running joyously across sand, wearing a beach robe; and I wanted music that had a flower-power feel, with strings and a sitar, but it also had to have one foot in life today. I also included what turned out to be a pretty cosmic(!) ‘time-stretched breath’ that undercut the sitar to create tension. I later realised that this ‘breath’, in its way, stood in for Lucy’s voice, as the poem is purely yellow ticker-tape text.
For some time, I had wanted to make a film with a feeling of American experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie’s (b: 1931) work, such as Tung(1966), and Lucy’s poem provided the perfect opportunity. When I discovered the vintage Californian footage, without realising it, this expanded on the connection; and so, in a way this is a small salute to him, particularly as a filmmaker but also as a pioneer promoter of experimental cinema. The use of ticker tape text is entirely influenced by the sublime early (mid-1980s) videopoems of foremost Canadian artist Valerie LeBlanc.
As a painter of landscapes, I have always been fascinated by series paintings (e.g. Claude Monet’s (1840–1926) Water Lilies (first exhibited in 1900)) where the same subject is painted at different times in the day. In Mr Sky, (2018), www.sarahtremlett.commy third film for The Book of Hours I had been stunned by the bright orange colouration of the early morning winter sky and decided I wanted to capture its changing colours, at brief intervals from dawn to dusk; and spent a day doing so. Lucy then mentioned she had a new poem – Mr Sky – which was one of those wonderful coincidences. I like to work from nature or live footage where possible. I also wanted to create a vertical patterning, and had had in mind for some time the idea of using a one-armed bandit effect, signifying a metaphor for form of emotional lottery, visualised through the way the sky or light changes through the day. At the very end, I realised that we could include ‘Mr Sky’ in the clouds, and Jamie, the editor, created a hidden face for viewers to find. Some people have actually found more than one face!
A conversation on a night bus in the UK. Set against the dawn sky, a refugee attempts to forget the memories that he has left behind, and value love and the relative safety of his new life. He tries to forget the missile attacks that are often targetted for just before sunrise, creating a false 'white' light of evil, a very different dawn. The fourth in the series of poetry films on light and time, with Mr Sky, Solstice Sol Invictus and Summer Solstice.
Night Bus was premiered at the windswept, inspiring and unforgettable North Cornwall Book Festival (centred around the ancient church of St Endellion which apparently, according to poet Sir John Betjeman CBE, keeps praying when the congregation have left). It was part of the Uprooted screening – which features films on the refugee crisis: set in war zones, in transition and building a new life in a strange country. Many thanks to the festival creator, talented novelist craftsman Patrick Gale for having the vision to host the screening. Uprooted has also since been shown at Bath Spa University Empathy Conference and at Bristol Poetry Festival in March 2019.