Monday, 24 October 2011

Usherette on Duty

When a vintage motorbike with sidecar pulls up outside the venue calling itself Kirkland’s New Empire Bioscope you know it will be no ordinary trip to the cinema.

The Bioscope is an ongoing cinematic project between artists Elena Cassidy-Smith, Ruth Swallow and cinema buff John Bates. I was visiting on the last night of this four week project as my own film Trolley Happenings was being shown on their silver screen.

We climbed the stairs into the atmospheric cinema interior. With plenty of red, luxurious velvet and gold painted detailing there was immediately an air of theatricality and excitement.

I love all this kind of thing and so was especially delighted to be one of the artists whose film had been selected to shown on the screen in the Bioscope.

From left to right: Elena Cassidy-Smith, Kirsty E Smith and Ruth Swallow.

And not just any screen but one with a unique handmade proscenium.

I love the fact that the pelmet fringing above the screen was made from hair bobbles!

This really appeals to my interest in the provenance of materials used by artists. I am fascinated by the creative use of everyday items.

Not surprisingly during the evening I found my eyes wandering to the fringing on more than one occasion. I felt that it was even better than the lovely rich red fringing that I had used to trim my film booth when I presented Trolley Happenings as part of my show in the 2010 Liverpool Biennial.

Elena and I also have some common passions; tea trolleys being one of them.

Elena serves refreshments from her trolley during the interval on the final evening of Kirkland's New Empire Bioscope.

At one point in the evening I found myself launching into a description of one of my favourite Magic Roundabout episodes; the one where Ermintrude fancies her chances as a TV presenter. She swishes her tail and rolls a daisy in her mouth as she reaches her head through the cut-out screen of cardboard television and says, “Drink more milk darlings”.

It is at this point that I can get strange looks. I will have made one of my frequent tangental links in my head but instead of keeping it there I have spoken it out loud. The result is that people wonder why I seem to have changed the subject completely.

The explanation in simple!
The drama within this lovely little cinema was gentle and fun and not at all po-faced. It was playful while at the same time being respectful of a bygone era.

So back to Ermintrude... I love the original Magic Roundabout (with Eric Thompson doing the voiceover). It was fun and magical too; the link in my mind was that same happy feeling and a sense of childlike adventure.

Elena had made a beautiful mini-cinema (modeled on The Scala cinema, one of Wolverhampton’s old cinemas- built 1913, demolished 2006). She made this model especially to present her exceedingly old copy of a home made Alice in Wonderland film.

The story that she told me about this film made it even more intriguing. The filmmaker used his wife and children as the actors (his wife as the March Hare) and much of it was filmed in a public garden.

Her piece made me think of both dolls’ houses and imaginary miniature worlds.

In my short film Trolley Happenings, almost all of the action takes place within a hostess trolley. And most of the performers/characters that feature are little things that usually live on my mantle piece. Before dashing off to the Forkbeard Fantasy Summer School (where the film was made) the last things that I threw into the car happened to be these few vital mantel piece 'friends'.

To summarise some of the most interesting connections:
Hostess trolleys - Elena’s refreshments trolley and the one I used as a setting in Trolley Happenings
Evocative red velvet curtains - that one is obvious
Vintage projectors - I have used one as the central object within my film, and John asked me straight away about it, most people don’t realise that this machine with interesting knobs is in fact a vintage film projector.

So as I happily watched Trolley Happenings in the theatrical setting of this unique recreation of a 1930's cinema, I smiled to myself when my little one eyed waxed sponge monster did what I have always called his ‘Dougal Move’. The stop-motion animation process resulted in it appearing to swizzle about just like Dougal (coincidentally another character from The Magic Roundabout)!

But how do you explain a chain of all those thoughts in a clear and concise manner?

In conversation this is extremely difficult and we all know it's hard not to sound like someone who is jumping around subjects!

It’s interesting how one person’s ‘normal’ can be another person’s ‘a bit too weird’. When it comes to surreal I love it but to others it can be disturbing and strange, sometimes even in an uncomfortable way.

I wonder, if surreal is served up with a dash of humour does that make it easier to cope with?

I am asking this because descriptions of Trolley Happenings range from strange and weird to surreal and Jan Svankmajer-esque. So a bit too bizarre for some and quite understandable for others. However no matter which end of the spectrum viewers are on they all laugh at the very same comedy moment, so at least there is no doubt about that element of the film!

A still showing the comedy moment.

In another Magic Roundabout episode, called 'Watch the Birdie', Dougal uses an old fashioned camera with a dark cloth to cover his head and keep out the light.

As soon as I spotted this camera (see above) in The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford earlier this year I immediately thought not only of Dougal and that Magic Roundabout episode but also of this....

A prop from a Forkbeard Fantasy production which I saw behind the scenes on the film making course - another reminder of my very visual memory and the connections I often make.

So everything makes complete sense... at least to me!

I have been an avid follower of Forkbeard Fantasy for 13 years now. They intersperse live action on stage with film and projection. They have a completely off-the-wall sense of humour (quite normal in my eyes) and their productions are exceedingly surreal. To make a final cinematic link I must mention one of their shows 'The Fall of the House of Usherettes' (first staged in 1995 and set in an old cinema). To find out more about Forkbeard Fantasy don’t miss their residency at The Southbank Centre, London. 2nd Dec 2011- 8th Jan 2012.


Marjojo said...

What an interesting and fun project to be involved in! I must admit I have no idea what The Magic Roundabout is about, don't think we had it in Germany, must look it up. Saw you at Core Gallery too, but had to leave early as my energy ran out fast. Would be nice to meet you some day though and catch up, so do let me know when you're back in London.

Helen said...

Definitely worth seeing Forkbeard at the Southbank. the final Colour of Nonsense starts on 19 Dec!