Brighton always has a different rhythm for me. It’s not always a place where I make discoveries. A dull time can be had here (in spite of the faux bohemian reputation of the place) and I often feel that the often negative literary depiction of the place by any writer of worth (or without worth for that matter) who has ever lived here is merited: there’s little joy to be found in the works of Patrick Hamilton, Helen Zahavi, Colin Spencer. Also I always cherished the Samuel Johnson quote about Brighton, a place he clearly visited reluctanctly: ” it was a [place] so truly desolate , that if one had a mind to hang one’s self for desperation at being obliged to live there, it would be difficult to find a tree on which to fasten the rope.” Brighton now has the trees but the desolation is still there (the blurb on the Italian edition of Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend described Brighton as the city of British despair). Then there is that final apocalpytic passage in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (Greene reportedly and sensibly visited the town only for one day before writing his novel) as negative as the finale to Kafka’s The Trial.
However, rather than letting this be a long diatribe about Brighton, it is also a city where Art (and even film art) in some form or other occasionallly comes to visit: Monicelli shot parts of his Girl with a Gun here, Quadrophenia, as every local will forever be telling you, was shot here and apparently the district of Whitehawk (of all places!) was once designated to become the location for a British Hollywood (not that this would be a synonym of film art, mind you). In any case that dubious plan was soon dropped. Brighton (well, Hove actually) was even, as Georges Sadoul noted in his history of world cinema, the place where the principle of montage was first born. In spite of my joy when I read Owen Hatherley’s piece on Brighton in his work A New Kind of Bleak and his brother’s brilliant and succinct epithet about the town (“fucking toytown”), it was, nonetheless, I have to admit gridgingly, the town where after all I did see Buñuel’s great eye splicing moment in El Perro Andaluz when around 15 years of age. Of course turbo-charged capitalism has done its bit in closing down all the independent cinemas since that time and the once semi-courageous Duke of Yorks cinema where the extraordinary shock of Surrealist revelation assaulted my vision and stayed in my memory forever (I also once found myself sitting through an eight hour film comprised of Buddhist chants in the same cinema, though, admittedly I left after six, but did enjoy the Godard, Visconti, Buñuel and other retrospectives that the cinema once brought to its screens). Now, alas, as well as starving its staff, this Picturehouse-owned movie theatre is mainly engaged in an attempt to bludgeon the critical faculties of cinemagoers in Brighton to a bloody pulp by offering up two week-long force fed servings of Dunkirk, or the latest James Bond or, to cite one particularly galling example from a number of years ago, The March of the (Fucking) Penguins.
The Cinemateque in Middle Street once upon a time provided an even more daring offering of film delights (I remember rare early Dovzhenko’s were shown there and a host of truly unusual films) but that, too, closed down (not to mention a cinema up North Street that while famously having as many rats turning up to film screenings as humans, reportedly screened some excellent films only for the location to be then taken over by the chain Burger King a few decades ago. However, as I found out this summer by chance bumping into a Texan filmmaker in the street and whose film was showing at a venue I was ignorantly unaware of (upstairs at the Caroline of Brunswick pub) there are still unusual surprises to be found. The occasional film evenings there are designed to show you the kind of films that rarely get distributed in the amorphous and dessicated film world of today.
It was there that I managed to see two short films by Maria Galindo- one shot in Texas and entitled The Witch Hour and another shot in Brighton called Nurse Shirley Foster. These are very short films (the former just under twenty minutes and the latter less than six) and it is a difficult task to review such a short excerpt of a filmmakers work. Yet they are films which live and breathe unlike most of the trash served up for us in multiplexes. They are what Italians call examples of cinema demenziale (literally demented cinema) : parodies to the nth degree of dysfunctional worlds. The Texas of The Witch Hour, a tale of dubious oil barons and hardware stores, racoons and murderous jokers visiting revenge and chaos upon an odious and fatuously asinine family of Trump supporters. The father figure and oil baron finally dispatched to hell by the bewitched and frenzied wife who has finally and unwittingly, it seems, done something right in her inane life spurred on by the spell cast on her by the maligned shop assistant from the hardware store.
Galindo’s shorter film Nurse Shirley Foster was conceived, planned and shot in a mere month. It’s five and a half minutes, though, are a delight. And are a hymn to the monsters produced by the sleep of cinema. Starring in the film is Shirley Jaffe, the nurse from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The short film seems to be a fantasia on the nurse’s nightmares provoked by her previous role in the world of film. Accompanied by a wonderfully dissonant piece of saxophone music, this wordless piece remains in the imagination well after it has been shown. Galindo’s demential style seems to have climbed new heights in this short film. It would be a pity if this curiously infectious addenda to a cinematic classic weren’t to find a wider audience.
I have yet to watch Galindo’s feature length films. Life’s a Bitch was filmed in Barcelona and is sure to show a very different side to her film oeuvre (an account of her filming and the film itself can be found here). Rats Eat New York City seems not yet to have been finished and is apparently somewhere in post-production if I’m not mistaken. But the shorts do have merit. Last night walking home after the film screenings a thought suddenly arose in my mind: wouldn’t Maria Galindo be an excellent filmmaker to adapt that wonderfully demented forgotten classic of Twentieth Century literature, The Stereoscope of Solitary Beings by Juan Rodolfo Wilcock. In any case the presence of Maria Galindo (and existence of her films) and the discovery of filmic life in this desolate city has since brightened up my view of Brighton a little.