Margaret Tait (1918-1999) stands out as one of Scotland’s most innovative and stridently independent filmmakers. Although her work was relatively unknown during her lifetime, recent years have heralded a more widespread acknowledgement of her significance across several areas of the arts in Scotland — film, art, and poetry. Marking the centenary of Tait’s birth, this program showcases part of the body of work she referred to as her “film poems.” Made in Edinburgh and Orkney, the two places she lived and worked for most of her life, the films, shot on 16mm, capture the people and places she was most familiar with. Celebrations of the everyday, they approach their subjects with great intimacy, unravelling the mystery of the commonplace through details often overlooked.
Three Portrait Sketches | 1951. 10 min.
A Portrait of Ga | 1952, 5 min.
Where I am Is Here | 1964. 35 min.
Aerial | 1974. 4 min.
Colour Poems | 1974. 12 min.
Tailpiece | 1976. 10 min.
Programmed by Sarah Neely and Matt Lloyd
Screening format: 16mm film converted to DCP
"A unique and underrated filmmaker, nobody like her. Born of the Italian neo-realists, formed of her own Scottish pragmatism, optimism, generosity and experimental spirit, and a clear forerunner of the English experimental directors of the late 20th century. A clear example of, and pioneer of, the poetic tradition, the experimental tradition, the democratic tradition, in the best of risk-taking Scottish cinema." Novelist Ali Smith on Margaret Tait. Full text here.
Now: a poem by Margaret Tait
I used to lie in wait to see the clover open
But never saw it.
I was too impatient,
Or the movement is too subtle,
And more than momentary.
My five-year-old self would tire of waiting
And when I looked again
– All closed for the night!
I missed it
I have registered the opening of escholtzia
On an early summer morning.
It gave me a sharp awareness of time passing,
Of exact qualities and values in the light,
But I didn’t see the movement
I didn’t with my own direct perception see the petals
Later, on the film, they seemed to open swiftly,
But, at the time,
Although I stared
And felt time not so much moving as being moved in
A unity of time and place with other times and places
I didn’t see the petals moving.
I didn’t see them opening.
They were closed,
And later they were open,
And in between I noted many phases,
But I didn’t see them moving open.
My timing and my rhythm could not observe the
rhythm of their opening.
The thing about poetry is you have to keep doing it.
People have to keep making it.
The old stuff is no use
Once it’s old.
It comes out of the instant
And lasts for an instant.
Take it now
Tomorrow they’ll be something else.
From origins and elements, 1959
Image courtesy of LUX, London