70x70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films
Published 23 October 2014
Hardback book - 166 pages.
Also available on Kindle
On turning 70 years old on 11th June 2013, Iain Sinclair – writer, filmmaker, poet, walker, perpetual seeker of the perimeter and reluctant magus of the media school of psycho-geography – found it hard to resist the offer of the opportunity to make his choice of 70 films that related to, and are oft interwoven across his entire writing career. This was a chance to have these films shown in a variety of venues and resonant locations across London – a city Sinclair has made his own, a city he has (re)defined.
This book features both Sinclair’s explanation of the films chosen and their relationship to his novels and his life along with the resultant forensic documentation of this epic curatorial journey – film as mirrors, film as portals, film mutated through radio waves – additions to the teeming city ghost voices, film as a journey to no fixed abode.
Sinclair spoke at many of the events, a constant updating and realigning, placing his choices in the here and now and soon to come. Predicting, proposing, provoking. He was aided and abetted by old friends, fellow writer Alan Moore, film-making co-conspiriators Andrew Kötting (Swandown) and Chris Petit (London Orbital), along with film academics Colin MacCabe and Gareth Evans and other manifestations from his fictional/factional role call. All seventy of the events were documented and these words and images now form an impressionistic memento of Iain Sinclair’s 70x70 year, a defining corollary to this writer’s extraordinary life.
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Hackney Citizen, December 2014
Something about lain Sinclair's latest book screams of a serious author having some serious fun. 70x70 - Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films is a deliciously poetic documentation of a sprawling curation project that does exactly what it says on the tin, and then some. In celebration of his 70th birthday - and in response to a suggestion made by King Mob's Paul Smith the Hackney wordsmith rummaged through his own back catalogue in search of traces of works he s hunted, happened upon, made and admired. From it, he pulled a film for every year to date, weaving together a rich sort of cultural autobiography. Over the next 12 months, Sinclair screened all 70 films in a series of special events across the city, trekking out to obscure parts of town to talk about everything from Douglas Sirk' s wonderful Tarnished Angels to Patricio Guzman's jaw-dropping Nostalgia for the Light. With the mammoth undertaking done and dusted, Unlicensed Preaching represents something of a project journal. The book is split into two main parts: the first a collection ofshort passages offering nutritious insight into each of the films concerned, and the second a record of the events held, comprising Sinclair's intros, transcripts ofconversations, and contributions from friends and collaborators, such as Alan Moore, Chris Petit and Andrew Kotting. The essays in the first section are sure to delight anyone with a modicum of interest in film. Whether or not you ve seen the material is of minor significance. Reading about Kiefer Sutherland making a pass at that cryogenic Burroughs voice ofworld weary cynicism opposite Courtney Love's emboldened Joan Vollmer in Beat - and what it is about this bizarre feature that works - is fascinating, regardless of prior knowledge. Reading about directors you are more likely to have preconceptions of - like Godard, Sirk, Welles and Hitchcock - is an education, but perhaps most interesting are the commentaries on Sinclair's own work and that of his friends. An extended piece on his collaboration with Petit and Susan Stenger on Marine Court Rendezvous - where the silenced dead catch up with their fugitive souls - is simply marvellous. And the same goes for his thoughts on Kotting's stunning This Our Still Life. The second section expands on the reasoning behind his choices and furthers the intrigue. We learn about things like the collaging and bricblage of sounds, the spillage as projects leak into each other, and much more. He loosely situates each film within both a personal and wider cultural landscape, with key figures and ideas popping up over and again. This unclassifiable book knits a complex tapestry of history, memory, documentary and fiction in a way that those familiar with Sinclair s writing will surely recognise. His sentences are often dense and always thrilling to roll your tongue around. But his ideas on the past, present and future ofcinema are what remain, steadfast and long after reading.
Sight & Sound
Blame it in on the quick-step, concussive prose that led James Wood to call him "a demented magus of the sentence", or his background as an antiquarian bookseller trading in and talking up literary recessives, to say nothing of his role at Albion Village Press publishing off-piste poets - but it's often forgotten that lain Sinclair is a movie man. He was making films back in the early 1960s, studied at London's School of Film Technique (now called the London Film School), writes in a style that owes as much to Godard as to the poet Charles Olson, and even contributed a volume on David Cronenberg's Crash (1996) to the BFI Modem Classics series.
"My discovery of London was the business of making journeys to find cinemas," he writes in 70X70. It's a remarkable book, produced to mark a remarkable season staged to celebrate Sinclair's 70th birthday, in which the writer was asked to choose 70 films connected to his long and often centrifugal writing career. Generously illustrated (often with atmospheric autumnal imagery) and printed in landscape format (apt for this poet of topography), the volume brings together Sinclair's essays about each film, edited transcripts of the introductions, on-stage discussions and Q&As, as well as a passionately lyrical reflection by curator Gareth Evans about the relationship between place and cinephilia.
Indeed place is one of the key motifs throughout. Many of the film venues were unusual: Godard's British Sounds (aka See You at Mao, 1969) at a TV repair shop off Brick Lane; Jarman's The Last of England (1987) at King's College Anatomy Lecture Theatre. Others - such as The Wapping Project, Riverside Studios and The Horse Hospital - face the threat of, or are victims of, the capital's increasingly punitive property market. The book joins recent works - Tacita Dean's FILM, Stephen Barber's Abandoned Images: Film and Film's End - that chart the disappearance of a particular era of filmgoing culture.
There's at least as much mirth as melancholia here. The story is told of Waldemar Januszczak, then commissioning editor at Channel 4, coming into the editing suite where Chris Petit was finishing up The Cardinal and the Corpse, and saying, "I am probably the most intelligent man in Europe and I can't understand a word of this." At that stage he'd only seen the credits. Elsewhere, Paul Tickell, whose Vessels of Wrath was based on Sinclair's novel Downriver, recalls it being transmitted live on BBC2's The Late Show. "Is this an April Fools' joke?" asked the BBC Two controller Alan Yentob.
If it's a Festschrift, 70X70 is free of sentimentality and backslapping. One of the screenings - In aLonely Place (1950) at the worker-unfriendly Curzon Soho -was canned because it fell during Living Wage Week. Others attracted barely any audiences. One transcript is only two paragraphs long because the recording battery ran out. The likes of Herzog and Fassbinder emerge as pivotal figures for their success at operating on the fly and for their ethos of ceaseless production. Sharp-witted, cussed and writhing with insights, 70X70 is a tribute that breathes fire.
No More Workhorse
Labelled by its author as a “novel of delicious fragments” and a “cubist self-portrait assembled from unreliable evidence”, Iain Sinclair’s 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 Films might be more prosaically described as the accompanying book for a season of 70 films programmed by Sinclair to mark his 70th birthday. Sinclair being a product of the British avant garde and – perhaps along with Peter Ackroyd – the preeminent “psychogeographer” of London, 70×70 was no ordinary film season, and it is no more conventional in book form. In addition to cataloguing the 70 programmed films, the book records the screening events themselves, held in a variety of venues and special locations across London, presenting transcripts of Sinclair’s introductions, as well as collaborative contributions from Alan Moore, Chris Petit, Colin MacCabe, Barrie Keeffe, Gareth Evans and Andrew Kötting.
Sinclair’s lucid and revealing commentary provides a fascinating perspective on his selected films, all of which relate, in some way, to his own writing career. Familiar films are re-framed in intriguing ways, while more obscure pieces are given equal weighting. For many – particularly those who did not have an opportunity to attend any of the screenings – the most exciting aspect of 70×70 will be the programme itself, which takes up a little under a third of the book. Plenty of familiar titles dot the pages, from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) to Douglas Sirk’s fantastically florid Written on the Wind (1956) – always a welcome addition to any programme.
European greats such as Fassbiner (Berlin Alexanderplatz), Godard (Le Mépris, King Lear), Rossellini (Stromboli), Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) and Polanski (Cul-de-sac) are all present and correct, as are pivotal American filmmakers of the later 20th century, including John Cassavetes (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie), Dennis Hopper (The Last Movie) and Sam Peckinpah, who is represented somewhat controversially by his often dismissed Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). A range of films with specific relevance to London are included, ranging from John Brahm’s Patrick Hamilton adaptation Hangover Square (1945) to John Mackenzie’s gangster classic The Long Good Friday (1980) to Derek Jarman’s uncompromising The Last of England (1987). The latter, a coruscating critique of Thatcher’s Britain, is particularly interesting in this context for its relationship to Sinclair’s Downriver (1991), one of his best known novels, which envisages the UK under the rule of a grotesque Thatcher caricature named The Widow.
All of these films, of course, are widely known. For many, the real thrill of 70×70 will be that of discovery, as Sinclair’s selection extends to less widely available pieces as diverse as Stan Brakhage’s startling 1971 experimental film The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, which calmly records autopsy procedures, to John Smith’s Hackney Marshes, a documentary commissioned by Thames Television in 1977 that captures the lives of those inhabiting the eponymous London tower blocks. Sinclair himself was involved in the making of a number of the films, including a pair of collaborations with Chris Petit, 1992’s The Cardinal and the Corpse and 1998’s The Falconer.
70×70 is not a book that cries out to be read cover to cover in a single sitting. Highly personal as well as the product of a great deal of expertise, it’s a book that rewards exploration, perhaps in the form of a series of visits and repeat visits. Following Sinclair’s thread, one can’t help but feel occasional disappointment that not all these films are easily accessible. For now, though, his fragmentary and fascinating companion volume is no small compensation.
Iain Sinclair, the writer, filmmaker, and poet celebrates his incredible 70 years with a delightful choice of 70 films. Sinclair’s choices are beautifully illustrated in his new book, with snippets unravelling his select choices; he details the relation of each film with reference to their relationship to his novels and life.
The book is rich with many titles, some known, others not so much but welcomed new found gems. As well as exhibiting Sinclair’s film list, it also details the event to showcase the 70 movies. Screenings ran from July 2013 to June 2014 with special guests that feature here, including the likes of; fellow writer Alan Moore, film-making co-conspirators Andrew Kötting and Chris Petit, and film academics Colin MacCabe and Gareth Evans. Sinclair spoke at many of the events, detailing his choices with their relevance and sparking charming discussions that provide interesting reading. All seventy of the events are documented and form a loving memento of Iain Sinclair’s 70×70 year, an exemplary trophy to the writer’s extraordinary life.
Revel within the genuine dedication for the love and appreciation of many films, it’s stand-out feature is not only its unique celebration of famed writer Sinclair, but it impressive variety of choice films that welcome film fans to some unknown treasures. Reading the short snippets of each film fills you with a spirited excitement to find these films and watch them with an enlightened appreciation.
This one is a definite must for fans of Sinclair or for those who love movies. 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films is a reference book about the 70 movies, the locations, the events and the story behind the 70×70 event. The book is tireless in its efforts to exhibit the extraordinary life and work of Sinclair in a unique and fascinating way.
East End Review
Something about Iain Sinclair’s latest book screams of a serious author having some serious fun. 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films is a deliciously poetic documentation of a sprawling curation project that does exactly what it says on the tin, and then some.
In celebration of his 70th birthday – and in response to a suggestion made by King Mob’s Paul Smith – the Hackney wordsmith rummaged through his own back catalogue in search of traces of works he’s hunted, happened upon, made and admired. From it, he pulled a film for every year to date, weaving together a rich sort of cultural autobiography.
Over the next 12 months, Sinclair screened all 70 films in a series of special events across the city, trekking out to obscure parts of town to talk about everything from Douglas Sirk’s wonderful Tarnished Angels to Patricio Guzmán’s jaw-dropping Nostalgia for the Light.
With the mammoth undertaking done and dusted, Unlicensed Preaching represents something of a project journal.
The book is split into two main parts: the first a collection of short passages offering nutritious insight into each of the films concerned, and the second a record of the events held, comprising Sinclair’s intros, transcripts of conversations, and contributions from friends and collaborators, such as Alan Moore, Chris Petit and Andrew Kötting.
The essays in the first section are sure to delight anyone with a modicum of interest in film. Whether or not you’ve seen the material is of minor significance. Reading about Kiefer Sutherland making “a pass at that cryogenic Burroughs voice of world-weary cynicism” opposite Courtney Love’s “emboldened” Joan Vollmer in Beat – and what it is about this bizarre feature that works – is fascinating, regardless of prior knowledge.
Reading about directors you are more likely to have preconceptions of – like Godard, Sirk, Welles and Hitchcock – is an education, but perhaps most interesting are the commentaries on Sinclair’s own work and that of his friends. An extended piece on his collaboration with Petit and Susan Stenger on Marine Court Rendezvous – “where the silenced dead catch up with their fugitive souls” – is simply marvellous. And the same goes for his thoughts on Kötting’s stunning This Our Still Life.
The second section expands on the reasoning behind his choices and furthers the intrigue. We learn about things like the “collaging and bricolage of sounds”, the spillage as “projects leak into each other”, and much more. He loosely situates each film within both a personal and wider cultural landscape, with key figures and ideas popping up over and again.
This unclassifiable book knits a complex tapestry of history, memory, documentary and fiction in a way that those familiar with Sinclair’s writing will surely recognise. His sentences are often dense and always thrilling to roll your tongue around. But his ideas on the past, present and future of cinema are what remain, steadfast and long after reading.
Tears In The Fence
Ian Sinclair’s selection of 70 films in celebration of his 70th birthday, based on films related to the locations and enthusiasms of his life, constitutes a kind of accidental novel in its autobiographical journey. Screened in unusual venues across London in the build up towards his birthday they include rare and less well known European art cinema and British films. There are films related to his time at Trinity College, Dublin 1960-1962, film school at Brixton, films that he has made, including those related to his books, and films connected to those parts of London, which have fuelled his obsessions. His sense of London’s geography was constructed through finding cinemas, and there are extracts from the most recent films shot outside London.
The book’s format consists of Sinclair’s introductory notes to each film, which contextualise its impact on and connections to his life and writing. Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Herzog, Fassbinder, Rosselini, Antonioni, Michael Reeves, Patrick Keiller, William Burroughs, the Beats, J.G. Ballard are well featured. There are substantial and illuminating interviews with his collaborators Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Stanley Schtinter, Andrew Kötting, as well as critic Colin MacCabe, on Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) and the writer of The Long Good Friday (1980), Barrie Keeffe. The Whitechapel Gallery film curator, Gareth Evans, director John Smith and others provide introductory notes to specific films, which with the pages of still photographs enhance the impact of the whole.
The book’s strength lies in the stories behind the films, the quirky manner in which they came to be the way they are as well as the ways the selection adds to the contextualization and interaction with Sinclair’s writing. For example, Muriel Walker, who was part of the crew that made William Dieterle’s Vulcano (1950) and became actress Anna Magnani’s secretary, provides a fascinating insight into Rosselini’s lover and the film’s production. Her photographs and diary from the shoot were featured in Sinclair’s American Smoke.Sinclair refers to Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80), based on Alfred Döblin’s novel, as the pivotal film in the curation, as it is ‘the physical object with the most mystery.’ He writes: ‘For me going to Berlin, quite late on, was an expedition made through the filter of, initially, Döblin’s book and then the film. When I wrote about the labyrinth of memory that is Berlin, in a book called Ghost Milk, it was a tribute to both those works and a way of seeing this city.’
Gareth Evans’ closes the book with an essay ‘On the Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes’ and notes that whilst the curated films map ‘the road taken with wit, idiosyncrasy, combative, collaborative flair and no end of passionate poetry’ they also offer ‘a way forward, posting a typology of possible futures – of multiple spaces, found or made, for the public gaze – for how and why film is seen’. He concludes with a line from Theodore Roethke ‘In a dark time the eye begins to see’.
There is much more to this wonderfully spirited book, not least a description of actor, Toby Jones, possessing the figure of John Clare, and I urge readers of Iain Sinclair and lovers of the possibilities of film to engage with this joyous celebration.