The Portobello Film Festival is probably unique in that not only does it screen every single film that's submitted, all the screenings are free. There are a lot of short films and some of these are dull and you can start to feel like you've been trapped on the sofa and somebody has taken the remote control away. Independent film makers seem to have some time expansion magic that can make a 10 minute "comedy drama" seem like an hour of back aching labour.
Still, every year I like to go down for a couple of sessions to show my support. And sometimes, like with Saturday night's Boyle Family Films, it's actually worthwhile.
The Boyle Family are a group of artists who are these days probably best known for their ongoing sculpture series "Journeys To The Surface of The Earth" wherein they document and perfectly replicate a rectangular section of the earth chosen at random. They've been doing it since the 1960s and in its way its one of the most perfect examples of the collision of artistic chaos and scientific order.
This capturing of a chance frame of earth reflects the experimental film work they were doing in the mid 1960s when they projected slides of squirming insects, sperm, zinc in acid, and, most famously, ink and oil mixing. These liquid colour experiments were projected at the legendary UFO psychedelic club in London whilst bands like the Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix played. They were the first psychedelic light shows and they were rapidly duplicated all over the globe.
The films on show at the Boyle Family film night included a number of these early experiments and included never before shown 1967 footage of Soft Machine performing a poem for the just drug-busted John "Hoppy" Hopkins.
Then there was the film "Dig" from 1966. Art meets archaeology with the likes of art-destructives Gustav Metzger and John Latham and a crowd of inappropriately smart-suited hipsters digging through a burned down garden ornaments factory and then mounting an exhibition of the broken frogs and recumbent lions uncovered in the charred debris.
The Boyle Family had a lasting influence on the look and feel of rock'n'roll which still resonates today, though we are so accustomed to the oil-slide-light-show as psychedelic shorthand that we barely even notice it anymore. Outside of the clinical, archival frame of the cinema screenings a series of simultaneous multi-screen light projections were showing in the bar area and they barely registered. Maybe today's UFO needs powering by CGI not oil and water.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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