“There is a special form of denial, which with such accessory defensive paraphernalia as repression, isolation and displacement, becomes so strengthened that it forms a wall, illusory, yet built as though for permanence“ – Psychoanalyst, Phyllis Greenacre.
Many things separate us humans from animals. Wrist watches, microwave ovens, breast implants and circumcision are just a few. A favourite of mine is our ability to come up with various means of entertaining ourselves whilst awaiting the slow decline of our bodies, our mental deterioration and our inevitable deaths.
As part of my personal gloom distraction and choice of entertainment, I accidentally made the decision to create a short film. I chose to point a second hand battered metallic box at people, with reluctant dark brown tape whirling around and abouts and with a vindictive autofocus to mutter curses at. I chose to have women undress and become embodiments of those little images inside my head, I chose to project all sorts of nonsense upon them in some ill conceived stab at artistic endeavour…
To further this, I bought a cheap old camcorder on Ebay (which I have described alternately as “full of character” and “a fucking disaster”) and arranged a quick shoot with one of my regular models, just to see if I could transpose the visual aesthetics of my still work onto the moving image. The answer was “Yes” – using the same lighting equipment that I employed with my still photography I managed to shoot some satisfying scenes that night, some of which made it into the final cut of this troubled little film of mine.
“A Special Form of Denial”
Various ideas began to occur and I slowly began to take the notion of being a film maker more seriously. Well, I say more seriously, what I actually mean is that whilst waiting for my mother at a noodle bar near Victoria station, I wrote out brief scenarios in the borders around an unpaid phone bill and began pairing the scenes up with models I had previously shot whom I thought would suit the visuals.
Conversations were had, shoots booked in and almost by mistake I realised that I had a proper film project on my hands. The seemingly random ideas I had all began to make sense and fit neatly beside each other. I grew playful and began steeling angles and styles from films I enjoyed (for this I owe Wong Kar-Wai a drink or two…).
It might be desirable here to discuss what the film is about, although it’s all too easy to fall back on the usual “my work speaks for itself” nonsense. I do see it as some kind of cakewalk through my sexual sub-consciousness and as a general introduction to my artistic outlook as a whole, a stand alone “Beginners guide to Disappointed Virginity” perhaps?
If any of the content makes you feel uncomfortable then do spare a thought for me, as I have to live with that shit in my head on a daily basis.
Anyway, various mishaps occurred during these initial shoots. I drank too much vodka one night, which is very typical of me, fell over and split my lip wide open. This lead to the pregnancy scenes being shot with a shapeless and scabbed lower mouth and a thank you meal for two of the performers being wasted on me, as I could barely eat through the discomfort. I still bear the scar, a pea-sized lump on the right hand side of my bottom lip.
The deep throat chessboard scenes nearly never happened as the talented Dominick Destruction found one of the dildos to be toxic and ended up with an unpleasant burning at the back of her throat. The fake cum I was using was causing burning rashes and proving more painful than the real thing if it got into the eyes. An octopus was decapitated before I could interject, a Hello Kitty umbrella was lost, never to be seen again…various whimsical setbacks such as these came along, and on the whole made the process all the more enjoyable.
Well for me at least, not that I have a sadistic bone in my body.
I began a relationship with one of the models who appears in the film (no, I’m not talking about the inflatable doll…) and one day she sat down at the piano which had been conveniently placed within the current flat I was renting and began playing the refrain that went on to be heard in the film. Her fine playing matched the violin (or fiddle as the model insisted on calling it) I had previously recorded for one scene and by virtue of these random accidents the tone of the soundtrack was set.
The chime sound that accompanies the appearance of the “disappointed doll” (who also pops up in the majority of my other films in small cameo roles) was originally from the 1964 Japanese film Kwaidan, but due to the age of the movie I wasn’t happy with the pops and crackles on the sample and ended up recreating the sound using various bells and a Tibetan singing bowl.
The rest of the score follows my usual musical work under the name of These Papercuts, a solo experimental audio venture I have been pursuing for a number of years, along with my other bands Sleeping Pictures and Lark Blames.
I named the work so far A Special Form of Denial, a quote from psychoanalyst Phyllis Greenacre, which I have referenced at the head of this text, which I had read in Sue Taylor’s study of the work of Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that Bellmer’s art had remained largely unknown to me up until that point and I found myself reeling at the similarities I found, not only between my images and his but also in our lives and upbringing. I was also taking a perverse pleasure in knowing that he had died five days after my birth, which helped counter the horror I feel at sharing a birthday with the waste of blood referred to as Paris Hilton.
As is also very typical of me, I soon went from complete obsession to total apathy towards the project and would shrug it off when people would ask how the film was coming along (whilst secretly wanting to poke them in the ribs). I edited and re-edited, but would always find fault in the work and became frustrated that the ease and entertainment I had originally experienced had turned into nothing but an annoying chore.
I would find myself tinkering with it from time to time, but by now had moved in with my then girlfriend, the piano playing Gestalta, as mentioned above. Two more scenes were shot during this period and edited into what was by now a 23 minute 23 second film, but I increasingly found myself in a different mindset. The more I had changed things, the more the soundtrack needed to be edited, with each small cut or addition leading to the need for drastic re-composition. Slapping sounds, saws, cracking eggs and creaking beds would crawl out of sync; the loop I had lovingly borrowed from The Beasts of Bourbons anthemic song “Hard for you” would be all out of time with itself. Having spent so long with the whole thing in my head (probably about two years by now) I got sick of the very thought of it.
Those involved would sometimes ask after the project and I burnt off DVDs of the “so far” in return, asking them not to distribute and promising to get a final version across to them eventually. I wanted to be done with it, have it out of my hair, throw the elephant out the room and hope that the prodigal son would just fuck off and leave me the fuck alone. The fucking fucker.
It was with great relief then that I suffered a 500 GB hard drive failure and lost the majority of the work. What could have been considered a disaster felt more like a great weight being lifted and I felt free to work on new projects. I did still have a compressed poor quality render, which I would sometimes show people with a “Oh, it’s too bad I’ll never finish it now” lament, uttered with fingers crossed behind my back.
I began working on other films, each one a self contained piece of around five minutes containing a narrative and a single performer as opposed to the multi-participant stream of consciousness of A Special Form of Denial. I viewed the original film as my apprenticeship and the skills and experience gained from its creation meant that I could shoot and edit films and then compose a soundtrack with relative ease – Comfort Eating, for example was fully complete within 24 hours of the first scene being shot.
On that note, Comfort Eating somehow ended up being shown at an art event held by a Christian collective. The organisers billed the film as “tackling the issues of eating disorders amongst the young”, though a few astute observers sidled up to me on the opening night (where fruit juice replaced the usual cheap cava) and told me that its actual meaning was pretty obvious to them…
In the space of the following eighteen months I made eight new films. Screenings at festivals ensued, projections at galleries and interest from art house cinemas and small TV channels around the World led to the further propagation of my little flicks.
All was looking good, until Christmas 2010 came around. I now found myself without anyone to carve poultry with and whilst trying to decide how best to spend my festive period, I came across the low-res rip of Denial. Having not considered it for almost a year, it now seemed vital, it said things to me and told me it wanted to be out there having fun with all my other films, of which it was the spiritual predecessor. What had once bored me became interesting once more and I regretted not having the means to continue work on it…until I remembered the DVD quality copies I had given out to a few people.
Phone calls were made, texts and emails sent and I managed to track a scratched but salvageable DVD down. From this I got myself a high quality version, ripe for a festive Yuletide re-edit. I searched through old DV tapes for extra footage, most of which I had recorded over with home videos the details of which I shall not divulge here, but using the reclaimed snippets and the DVDr I cut and re-edited until I had a new version of the film. It was now twelve minutes long, rather than the twenty three minutes I had stubbornly clung to, for reasons that may or may not be apparent to the reader.
Using parts of the old soundtrack spliced in where need be and some new compositions, the shorter version had a different, more intense energy about it and after years of work/disinterest, it was finally ready to be released. And oh boy, was I pleased with myself!
It was placed online and links sent around to those involved for approval before I would go public with it. I skipped around to the shops and bought myself a bottle of pink champagne to celebrate, fell asleep content and awoke the following morning to a lengthy and emotional message from one of the performers asking me to remove her scenes and destroy the footage.
It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would ask this of me, though due to the time scales involved in completion and how much people’s lives and opinions are liable to change, I could begrudgingly see her point.
And I’m not a prick.
So I agreed to remove her footage and re-shoot with someone else. How hard could it be to replace 40 seconds of film? Just shoot the same scene with a new performer, insert into the previous slot and off we go.
The scene in question depicts an act of a sexual nature. Obviously, no one is actually getting fucked here, but it looks that way…you know, like you see in movies and on the television all the time.
Because it’s a movie, “make believe”, special effects and camera angles and shit, yeah?
No one wanted to do it. I went through the list of potential replacement performers and was “denied” repeatedly. This wasn’t helped as the scene required a certain body type, which cut down my available choices somewhat.
Frustration ensued. I posted casting calls on various forums and found myself explaining to models that it wasn’t a “Boy/Girl” scene, that the sex was implied, it didn’t matter if they refused to work without a condom or would only do it with their boyfriend, because there was no actual sex, and no that didn’t mean masturbation (bless them…) and so on and so on and….
A dead end basically. The people who apply via casting calls generally couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about what they are appearing in as long as there is cash involved and I was reluctant to have someone appear in the scene who was there purely for the financial aspect…so gave up on this particularly sorry treasure hunt.
Months passed. I realised that it was holding me back again, begin wishing it would just go away. Word had got out about the new film and I was approached about potential screenings that obviously couldn’t go ahead without this reshoot or a re-cut. A re-cut which would necessitate a revised soundtrack to match. I felt like smashing things up, but then I feel that way most of the time anyway.
Late one night, I got a phone call. It was from someone I had shot with before who had been amongst my initial choices for the reshoot. Unbeknownst to me, she had moved out of London and therefore declined the opportunity to appear in my feel good, fun time family friendly feature.
A friend of hers in the sex industry had been let down by their photographer and needed someone the following morning to meet a deadline. I was offered expenses and a small fee and agreed to do this on the condition that whilst I am up there she reshot the scene with me. She accepted and to cut a long story short in 10 hours time and on a no sleep red wine hangover I travelled out of London to photograph depressed prostitutes and complete my movie.
…a very quick re-edit and now it is done and out there and off my back and released into the wild and out of my hands and left to fend for itself and beamed into those eyes and ears of an apathetic and no doubt jaded audience.
Am I happy with the final product? It’s really hard to say, as I have edited and re-edited so many times and composed all these different sound tracks…again and again… During its completion I have lived in four separate houses, resigned from three separate jobs to “be an artist”/reacquaint myself with poverty, had a tooth removed, failed to win an “erotic award”, drunk far more wine than I would like to imagine and have been able to watch the daughter of the pregnant woman in the film grow into early childhood via Facebook…
I feel like I should make some triumphant “And it was all worth it!” statement at this stage, but I’m just pretty sick of it. The film is mere shadows and light to me now, or rather pixels of varying shades of grey conforming to some intention I once held, presumably for want of something better to do. I will however begrudgingly admit that I am proud of the work and of the other films that “A Special Form of Denial” has taught me how to make.
On a final note, from the scenes that were axed from the final release, I am considering putting together “An Addendum of Denial”, being a “DVD extra” type affair of material culled from the virtual cutting room floor. This idea is being largely encouraged by models who resent being crawled over by snails or made to masturbate with cephalopods for nothing.
I should look into it.
If nothing else it will give me something to do whilst awaiting the slow decline of my body, my mental deterioration and my inevitable death.
|Marc Blackie is an English photographer, film maker and animator, working within the fields of “the erotic, the surreal and the anhedonic”.
It is not true that he lives exclusivly off of coffee and cigarettes as sometimes there is vodka involved.