Thursday, November 12, 2009

The films of Jeff Keen

Jeff Keen was born just a few miles away from where I now live, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1923. He started making films relatively late, aged 37 – the same age as I am now. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end, as Keen is now an octogenarian experimental film-maker who this year had a bfi boxed-set released of his forty-odd short films. They're an extraordinary experience: seeing them all at once (570 minutes of mayhem!) would be rather akin to being Malcolm McDowell in a Clockwork Orange with his eyelids pinned open, eyeballs bulging, being forced to watch a stream of non-stop sex and violence. Mixing mediums is his mantra: animation and live action, high- and low-art, glamour and war, double exposures and over exposures, they're like an Eduardo Paolozzi collage come to life (on speed). I can't imagine what it was like watching them in the 1950s; even today they feel fresh and imaginative (though sometimes headache inducing), especially compared to the dull drivel we sometimes call narrative cinema.

Apparently unaware of similar contemporary experimental film-makers across the Atlantic (such as Warhol, Jack Smith, Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren) in the 1950s and 60s, Keen pursued his own path, being more influenced by surrealism and abstract expressionist paintings and experiences of war than other film-makers. The Guardian called him 'our very own Kenneth Anger', a comparison of sorts, but Anger lived in Hollywood and had acted in films. Keen had no experience of film-making at all, until he borrowed a super-8 camera. The rest is a small slice of cinematic history.

GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by the bfi in February this year. £25 from Amazon, or even better, £15 from MovieMail. I haven't actually got the boxed-set, but Christmas is just around the corner. Anyone? We can watch a few in between the Queen's speech and Coronation Street. To get a taster of his films, visit his website or watch some on YouTube. There's a better blog than this about him here.

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