Jerome Hill & Kate Tempest Storm Bestival

Jerome Hill has been DJing since 1990 and is now notorious for his furiously quirky sound. Blending influences from hiphop and electro via Chicago house and skewed techno, he tore the roof off the Temple Island stage on Friday night.

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Kate Tempest, with her lyricism, insight and effortless positivity in her stage presence is probably the freshest talent out there at the moment…

Here’s a few pics of her & band performing tracks from her inspired latest album Everybody Down on The Invaders of the Future stage._MG_3157_MG_3135_MG_3165_MG_3146

Federico García Cabezón — The Still Movie

In the late 1990s the Galician photographer collaborated with Tim Behrens to make a film which never came to light — In the end they felt they didn’t have the resources or knowledge to turn the reams of video footage they shot in rural Galicia and A Coruña into a viable piece of moving imagery. Instead they took freeze-frames from the work and combined them with poems in a book, La Película Estática which was published in 2001. The poems, by Tim Behrens are in Spanish and are hence unincluded here, but the images constitute a snapshot of a wild and already forgotten Galicia which barely seems to resemble what many of us associate with Western Europe today. Although only the relatively recent past, the melancholic imagery of the tiny village fiestas here feels super-distant from contemporary, urban Spain.

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What is the Nigerian Video Aesthetic and How does it Relate to Piracy?

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The Nigerian video industry began in 1992, when Lagos-based businessman Kenneth Nnebue was lumbered with a huge consignment of blank VHS tapes from Taiwan which he found impossible to sell. He decided to make a film, with no experience, using only domestic equipment. The resulting film, Living in Bondage — a story of witchcraft and retribution — went on to sell 200,000 copies domestically. The industry has grown to become the third largest in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. Unlike the latter two industries, however, it has no large-scale studio system, rather ‘a multitude of small artisans-bricoleurs’ (Barrot, P. 2008) who operate on a purely commercial basis. The industry ‘evolved without any government or even private sector intervention such as the banking sector. It just appeared in a very informal, almost accidental way that wasn’t at all structured.’ (Obaseki, D.P. 2005). Figures vary wildly, but according to Pierre Barrot 1,500 films were made in 2006 with over 200,000 people employed by the industry. Zina Saro-Wiwa (2009) puts the annual turnover at $320 Million.

The films are made in three languages: Yoruba, Hausa and English. The English-language films are by far the most profitable domestically and abroad as they are primarily made in Lagos and exported to Kenya, South Africa and the diaspora, while the Hausa films travel to neighbouring Hausaphone regions which includes parts of Benin, Ghana, Chad, Cameroon and the Sudan. In 2006 Yoruba films accounted for 28% of the market and cater mostly for the south-western region of Nigeria as well as neighbouring Benin — but are also exported.

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English-language (or “Nollywood”) films generally fall into three categories: “Juju” — with themes of witchcraft, where often a male character sells his (or his wife’s) soul to a demon in exchange for wealth (Tears of the Billionaires), Political corruption (a common theme being a reflection of a common occurrence in Nigeria’s universities, where gangs will extort the college authorities in return for good grades — such as Son’s of Satan) and adultery or love triangles (Glamour Girls 2).

In terms of form, the films have less in common with cinema (they are seldom projected beyond the small screen) and more with the telenovelas of Latin American soap (plentiful close-up head shots, abundant dialogue and a lack of wide shots) — but while these are chained to big corporations (such as Azteca in Mexico or Globo in Brazil) the Nigerian industry is completely independent and artist-led.  The reasons for this are twofold. One is that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) clashed with the producer of it’s three biggest soap operas Ripples, Checkmate and Mega Fortune in a row over their sponsors — Lever Brothers and Paterson Zochonis, leaving it’s actors and crew out of work and a demand for the genre amongst the public. The other is that, due to the curfews imposed by the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida, people were unable to venture out of their homes at night, so there were no official cinemas; audiences had to watch films on the small screen. In fact, in 2004 the Silver Bird multiplex opened in Lagos, but to see a film cost $16 a ticket — an impossible expense for most Nigerians — and even there Nigerian videos are rarely screened because they don’t make the cinematic grade.

It can be suggested that these circumstances have led to the televisual aesthetic of the way that the films are framed and the nature of the actors performances.

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Jason Crawford writes that the “low budget and unprofessional productions reflect a lineage of the resourcefulness model of the Nigerian repair economy where filmmakers turn to unprofessional cast and crew and utilise whatever pragmatism that could work in the situation.” To give an idea what is meant by this we can look to Chris Abani (2009):

…You call a writer, in this case his name is Sonny, and you say “Sonny, I want a script, Alhaji (wealthy money-lender) gave me $10,000 and I need to shoot and wrap to VCD/DVD in a week.” Then Sonny will say “What kind of script?” And I say “You are the expert, all I need is car crash, a coffin and a vampire or ghost — these I will need for suspense and action — the rest is up to you. But I need it in two days, I can give you 500… Then I will call someone like Bond Emuruwa who has good cameras, Sony, and I will say Bond we need to shoot between the 23rd and 26th, can I use your cameras?? No crew, maybe one cameraman because my brother John is good on camera and my DP, Ola can operate lights. Next I will call an actress and see if she is free on a certain day. On the day we were filming the car crash, the police came and chased us. We all helped to carry equipment and run from 3rd mainland bridge, even the actors. Then later that day, my DP and I were fortunate enough to witness a Molue bus crashing on the bridge, falling over the side. By the grace of God we had a camera and captured it on film. This is the life of a Nollywood director, careful planning and luck.

This use of the domestic digital video camera as the means of shooting combined with a schedule of just three days (although some bigger productions have shoots as long as 20 days) means that production quality is typically poor. Jerky zooms are employed by the cheap cameras, and scenes are often dragged out to fill the running time quota of the film in a short production.

Sound is usually recorded using a boom microphone — but the cheap synthesiser music added in post production regularly means that the audio is drowned out in the process. It has been said that the films’ domestic popularity is not affected by these quality concerns — indeed anthropologist Philip Larkin suggests that there is an awareness amongst filmmakers that the public will not pay more to watch these films.

To look at possible reasons for this lack of interest in a high quality aesthetic, we can look to the history of imported films and how they have appeared in Nigeria. For the majority of urban Nigerians growing up in the 1970s,

Hollywood, Bollywood and the Hong Kong Martial Arts industry ruled the cinema, although the word “cinema” refers to the genre rather than any movie theatres as these were few and far between. Open parks and half-torn bed sheets, or the walls of tall buildings next to open lots — a crude variation of drive-ins — were the main venues… When we watched Westerns as kids… most of them came without soundtracks, and a guy on a megaphone, often very drunk, would provide the narrative. (Abani, C. 2009)

In 1981, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) suspended all trade with Nigeria following the seizing of MPAA assets by the government in an attempt to make a nationalised film industry. This attempt failed, owing to the trade bloc removing the valuable financial and technical equipment support needed for Westernized film production. The Bollywood studios followed suit, so suddenly there was no legitimate way to view the output of these film industries in Nigeria, so the market was opened up to the pirates. One film would be smuggled into the country on VHS and then duplicated until the original tape broke. One can assume that third generation tapes would also be made from the copies once the original had been snapped. Indeed this is confirmed by Larkin who writes that:

Watching Hollywood or Indian films on VCRs in Nigeria, where there is no official distribution of nonpirate media, means necessarily watching a dub of a dub of a dub… Pirated images have a hallucinogenic quality. Detail is destroyed as realist representation fades into pulsating, pure light. Facial features are smoothed away, colours are broken down into constituent tones, and bodies fade into one another… Reproduction takes its toll, degrading the image by injecting dropouts and bursts of fuzzy noise, breaking down the dialogue into muddy, often inaudible sound….electricity blackouts, snowy television images, difficulties getting international phone lines and distorted loudspeakers on cassette players all create a technological veil of semiotic distortion for Nigerians.

When the Nollywood boom began in 1992, it was within a visual climate of this “semiotic distortion” within all available media. The available video film distributors were all in the business of duplicating pirate media, so when the need arose to distribute nonpirate, locally produced product, it was the pirate distributors who were employed, which in turn applied the “aesthetic of piracy” onto this legitimate media. We can look again to Larkin, who spent time researching the business operations of the Kano Cassette Sellers Recording and Co-Operative Society Ltd. By 2002 Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city in the heart of the Islamic Hausaphone north of the country had become an important distribution hub owing to the popularity of the Hausa films which could sell up to 100,000 copies.

He does not implicate the company as a distributor of Hollywood or Indian pirate material prior to becoming a Hausa film distributor, but it is implied when he states that “the shift in businesses like this is indicative that, in the north, Hausa video films have fed off the networks of piracy as much as piracy fed off networks of official media.”

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The method of reproduction, at the time of writing in 2004, was that the film producer would bring a master tape of the film to the distributor, along with several hundred copies of the video sleeve. The intellectual property rights were vested in the video sleeve rather than the cassette itself, duplication of which was the responsibility of the distributor. So the film would be sold for N250 (About £1.80) while the sleeves would sell wholesale for N50 (approx £0.33) each. (Larkin, P. 2004 pp 300-303) Piracy is rampant within the distribution of local product as well, and it was through the designs of these sleeves that producers would seek to identify legitimate media: “We also try to change the colours and the logos on the video-cassettes to try to thwart the pirates,” stated Samuel Kwesi Brude, director-general of Palma Video Distribution.

It has been noted that scenes in many Nigerian films often last for extraordinarily unneccessary amounts of time. A scene in Tears of the Billionaires, where the lead character laments the death of his wife, lasts for 2 minutes and 58 seconds while he weeps into his whiskey. It has also been suggested that the films are drawn out in length to fit on multiple VCDs in order to justify a higher price. With piracy being responsible for driving down revenue for the filmmakers, could it be argued that this trope of overlong scenes is a symptom of piracy? So as well as the glitches inherent to the media, the content also changes, and in a narrative sense suffers as a result of the pirates? It is difficult to be certain of this, but it is certainly possible.

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Today the technology has shifted from the VHS duplication that Larkin writes about to a predominately VCD output and a new, emerging DVD output, as well as distribution on the internet via Iroko TV — a web streaming service which charges users a monthly subscription to view Nigerian videos online, whilst also streaming free content. While the blurring of colours and the fuzzy dropouts are no longer a part of the aesthetic thanks to digital reproduction techniques, the visual quality remains predominately low (with the exception of some of the DVD releases such as June 14th) with bleached colours and blocky, low resolution digital imagery.

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“This artisanal, or amateurish, production system is matched by low-quality transmission. If the film is only destined to be seen on a small screen, and played through a video-player, then certain technological constraints can be discarded. Broadcast “norms” as imposed by the television industries of developed countries do not apply to most Nigerian films. Such standards are crucial for quality television broadcast: the audio and visual signals have to be sent right through to the television viewer by means of transmitters, relay stations and satellites. A low-grade signal will not survive all these obstacles. It will, however, pass from a video player to a family television without any problem. Nigerian film producers for the most part are content with poor technical standards, because they do not anticipate that their film will be shown either on television or via video-projection onto large screens.

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Essentially, with Lagos rapidly growing and with technology constantly improving, the source material is improving in quality just as it has in the West — and the aesthetic of piracy is bound to blend into the aesthetic of Western legitimate media. How long this will take remains uncertain since there appears to be a lack of demand for improvement amongst the audience — and a lack of interest within the authorities to prevent the cogs of piracy from turning — which in itself is difficult to differentiate — at an organisational level — from the networks of legitimate media.

References

Articles/Books

Barrot, P. 2008 Selling Like Hot Cake
In: Barrot, P. Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria
(Woodbridge & Rochester NY: James Currey)

Barrot, P. 2008 Informal Sector or Video “Industry”?
In: Barrot, P. Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria
(Woodbridge & Rochester NY: James Currey)

Obaseki, D.P. 2008 Nigerian Video as “The Child of Television”
In: Barrot, P. Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria
(Woodbridge & Rochester NY: James Currey)

Abani, C. 2009 Omar Sharif Comes to Nollywood:
A Storyboard in 10 Frames

In: Hugo, P. Nollywood
(Munich, London & New York: Prestel)

Saro-Wiwa. Z. 2009 No Going Back
In: Hugo, P. Nollywood
(Munich, London & New York: Prestel)

Oladunjoye, T. 2008 Jumping on the Bandwagon
In: Barrot, P. Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria
(Woodbridge & Rochester NY: James Currey)

Diawara, M. 2010 African Film
(Munich, London & New York: Prestel)

E-Journals

Larkin, B. (2004) Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian Video and the Infrastructure of Piracy. Public Culture [Internet]. vol.16 (2) Spring 2004
pp.289-314

Web Articles

Bellos A. (2008) Telenovelas: the story so far.

Crawford, J. (2009) Revolution Bootlegged: Pirate Resistance in
Nigeria’s Broken Infrastructure
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Kermeliotis, T. (2012) http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/04/business/jason-njoku-iroko-nigeria

Purefoy, C. (2011) ‘Nollywood Love’: Nigerian blockbusters for
the internet generation

Films

Rituals (1999) Directed by Kenneth Nnebue
Nek Film Production [Video: VHS]

Hearts on Fire (1999) Directed by Ebere Onwu
Ossy Affason Ind. Ltd [Video: VHS]

Welcome to Nollywood (2006) Directed by Jamie Meltzer
Outpost Studios [Video: DVD]

Glamour Girls 2 (1996) Directed by Kenneth Nnebue
Nek Film Production [Video: VHS]

Kirakita Eda (2010) Directed by Musibau Abisogun.
Success Films Ltd [Video: VCD]

Tears of the Billionaires (2012) Directed by Bob Manuel Anosike
Global Update Movies Ltd [Video: VCD]

June 4th The Judgemewnt Day (2012) Directed by Ahmed Banda
Nana Kwamwe Productions [Video: DVD]

Labe Orun (2001) Directed by Tokundo Awoga
Lion Base Intl. Ltd [Video: VHS]

Forgiveness of Blood (2012) Directed by Iyke Odife.
1st Prince Creations Ltd [Video: VCD]

Virginity 2 (2011) Directed by Pascal Amanfo.
Noble Films [Video: VCD]

Derek Jarman’s The Last of England: A Formal Dissection of a Sequence within the Film

 

Derek Jarman’s 1987 film The Last of England laments the death of society in a bleakly futuristic vision of post-Thatcherite Britain. With no dialogue except for the occasional news soundbite and the impressionistic narration of Nigel Terry, the film is dreamlike and arresting.

Marshall McLuhan claims, in his own terminology, that the cinema is a “Hot” medum —  one which “extends one single sense in high definition,” and one which “does not leave much to be completed by the audience.”

Conversely he describes television as a “cool” medium because the NTSC television image to which he referred was “visually low in data”. Aesthetically images were fuzzy and low in contrast, and the nature of the media it delivered — such as live news broadcasts — meant that there was room for the audience to interpret meaning, instead of being the passive receptors of a manipulative cinematic form.

The Last of England is a cinematic anomaly. The film was shot on Super-8, the lowest of low-definition film formats. It was then converted to U-Matic video, which is PAL broadcast standard. While not the same as the NTSC signal that McLuhan spoke of, it is very similar. It has a slightly lower frame rate (25 compared to 29.97) and a slightly better handling of colours but it remains, like Super-8, a low definition, inherently “cool” medium. Then came the transfer up to 35mm for cinema, which brings two levels of grain (the super 8 and the 35mm) as well as the fuzz and softness that comes with PAL. Add to this the extremities of the colourgrading in the film — “night blues, mauves and a burning orange reminiscent of London as painted by Turner” (O ‘Pray, 1996, pp156) — and we are looking at a work which is aesthetically, very much, “cool” media, despite being created for a “hot” environment. That I viewed it on a laptop, one would might assume, extends this — a”light-through” rather than “light-on” medium.

Jarman said of the film: “There’s no narrative, though there is a love story: it’s silent. There are no words in a movie camera. Someone put them there in the ’20s. The “cinema” was straight-jacketed, it took a nosedive.” (Jarman 1987, pp166) McLuhan would suggest that Jarman had similar feelings to Pudovkin and Eisenstein, who “denounced the sound film but considered that if sound were used symbolically and contrapuntally, rather than realistically, there would result less harm to the visual image.” (McLuhan 1964, pp 287)

In fact the film is far from silent — it has very detailed and intense sound design by Simon Turner, who came up with loose ideas during the edit and then executed the formal task after picture-lock.

I have chosen a particular sequence (top of post) for it’s rhythm and juxtapositions of motion. It is a short sequence, running at two minutes and thirty-eight seconds, but it comprises of twelve different “scenes” which are intercut. According to production designer Christopher Hobbs, Jarman has said that “a film is constructed in sequences, and you need 32 sequences to make a film — but these sequences are largely interchangeable.” Indeed, parts of these scenes also appear in other parts of the film as well as within this sequence.

Here is a formal separation of the twelve “scenes” so that they can be viewed uniquely, as loops. Why, you ask? I have no fucking idea, but I’m doing an MA so I have to think of something…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Accomplice Production Stills

My Accomplice is a will-they/won’t-they drama with funny bits in it about two people falling in love who are scared. Frank is scared because he’s never let himself fall in love before, and Ilse is scared because she has. But they both have a sense that falling in love is the part that’s easy – it’s what comes afterwards that’s hard. The idiots’ dance of love they perform, although choreographed to their own uniquely mal-coordinated steps, should therefore still be resonant to anyone who’s ever met someone they like and proceeded unerringly, albeit in a bewildered crab-like fashion, towards whatever intimate form of disaster fate has devised for them.

It’s also a film about life in Brighton – a happy-go-lucky seaside city that hides it’s insecurities via an enforced devotion to its abundance of pubs – featuring songs and live performances from local bands Transformer, Bob Wants His Head Back and The Mountain Firework Company, an ill-starred search for the village of Wivelsfield, the personal politics of perestroika in the wider context of David Hasselhoff, apricot flapjacks, abruptly unpredictable weather, accumulating evidence of a seagull conspiracy, and a small cast of everyday eccentrics that usually don’t make it into films: Bulgarians, adults with learning disabilities, very tall women and elective mutes. In a city of this many vulnerable adults, Frank and Ilse might never have met . . .

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