Paul Bush from the National Film and Television School arrived at the Escuala Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in Cuba on Monday to show some of his films and talk about his practice. He’s of the Damien Hirst generation that studied Fine Art at Goldsmith College he says, but was always more interested in conceptual art than painting and somehow drifted onto film (I was amused by the translator, who was excellent with all the difficult terms and technical language, not knowing who Damien Hirst is, as was evidenced by the many different gos she had at the name).
He puts a picture of a cow onscreen, not showing the film but indicating how that was from his first film, entitled The Cow’s Drama (1984), the result of following a cow in a field in Wales for two days, and how it took him over a decade to make the first film he was paid for, His Comedy (1994), a stop-motion rendering of Dante’s Inferno, using Gustave Doré engravings as a model through which to cut right into the celluloid. The cutting into the colour film was a surprise, as he found himself also scratching into layers of colours, thus creating a series of striking colour effects, at first unintended, then worked through and consciously deployed.
It’s a very beautiful work and led to his being able to make a living making short films, a considerable achievement. He says he was of course aided by the founding of Channel Four in those years which had as its remit a provision of minority programming, which aside from works for the disabled, people of colour, gay communities etc, also included a remit for experimental cinema, a term he says he dislikes due to its connotations of seriousness and dullness. He says he likes movies, shown in a theatre and that there’s room for frivolity and fun in seriousness.
Bush also showed his latest work, The Five Minute Museum (2015), beginning with stop-motion images of stone, then swords, porcelain, chairs, clocks, all giving the impression of being constantly in flux. The most striking of these was a montage of the drawings on Greek pottery, through which he created the striking sensation of the history of the world being all about love, sex, art and war all in communication with each other and all exploding together before ending in a museum behind glass.
His work is intriguingly conceptual; in Furniture Poetry (1999), he takes Wittgenstein’s question of ‘Is a chair a chair when we’re not looking at it? Does it become one only in response to our gaze?’ a starting point to show us tables changing before our eyes, then green apples turn red, apples turn into pears and so on, converting before our eyes, 24 x a second. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2001), Bush uses the same set-ups that Victor Fleming deployed in the 1941 MGM version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but condensed in stop-motion and accompanied by dream-like excerpts from the original soundtrack to create an effect similar to human schizophrenia by subtly changing every single frame but leaving the narrative superficially intact. It’s marvellous.
Bush offers the usual advice to students — ‘keep your collaborators with you as long as you can even though there will be fights’ – but what I remember most is his example of the concept of ‘tree’; how when we read the word ‘tree’ in a book we all share in the imaging of a tree but the tree which each of us actually imagines is different, and thus the role of the filmmaker is to create that ideogram, that image which each member of the audience can share but also take hold of, create something with it they can treasure, that is also uniquely theirs. Lovely thought from a stimulating talk by a charming man.
José Arroyo, EICTV, April