2.5 Colour Poems (1974)

Colour Poems (1974)

Can 40: Colour master positive, Comopt, 16mm, 408ft, 1974.

Can 41: Colour positive print, Comopt, 16mm, 408ft, 1974.

Can 42: Colour positive print, Comopt, 16mm, 408ft, 1974.

Can 43: Positive optical soundtrack, 16mm, 396ft, 1974.

Can 44: Original hand-coloured master negative, 16mm, 396ft, 1974.

Can 45: Hand-coloured workprint, 16mm, 391ft, 1974.

Can 46: A&B roll Sepmag sound tracks, 16mm, 409ft, 1974.

Summary of Film Elements and Condition

Can 40 The master positive printed from #44 is in fair condition. The Technical Records note that scratches and splices on the original negative have printed through. The film is a mixture of live action and selections from Numen of The Boughs. Much of this is in the first ‘poem’: 28 seconds of Numen, followed by a short sequence of live action which then returns to Numen until 65ft. The latter part of the poem (65-81ft) is live action. The next animated sequence is in the fifth poem, ‘Incense’ (196ft) and again, similar scratched drawings are interspersed with live action. There is a short colour, painted sequence until 229ft. In all, there are six sequences of hand-drawn/painted material totalling 82ft. There appears to be no fungus.

Can 41 The SFTVA have determined this to be the best print of Colour Poems. It is a direct print from the negative #44.

Can 42 A print from the negative #44. The film appears to have shrunk and the sound is poor compared to #40 and #41. No fungus apparent.

Can 43 Original positive optical soundtrack with fungus.

Can 44 The original hand-painted colour negative. Tait has hand-coloured over negative sections from Numen most often with red and green and obviously the opposite colours were achieved in the positive prints #40, #41, #42 (red appearing as green and green appearing as pink). Section 19-65ft is without colour but dye can be seen under the tape splices which suggests that Tait changed her mind while painting the film and removed the dye from the negative. Two short title sequences are on black and white stock. The film has shrunk and the numerous tape splices are sticky. As can be seen in the prints, there are scratches and some tramlines throughout. The film has fungus and the emulsion is cracking. The Numen sections may have been printed from the dupe-positives #50. Finally, a label on the can reads: ‘DO NOT WET CLEAN OR PUT ON WET GATE PRINTER’.

Can 45 Although this is a workprint, there are hand-painted sections unique to it. Some of the dyes have been applied to the base side of the film and are particularly fragile and vulnerable. There are also white Chinagraph markings with technical instructions. There is fungus and the emulsion is cracking. The can is heavily rusted both inside and out and the label identifies the film as a ‘CUTTING PRINT/DUBBING PRINT’.

Can 46 Two magnetic sound tracks. There are tape joins which are sticky though no fungus is apparent. A hand-drawn dubbing sheet is included in the can and the label identifies the can’s contents as ‘TRACK A TRACK B 16MM MAGENTIC EDGE TRACKS’.

Notes For The Preservation of Colour Poems

Both the label on can #44 stating that the film should not be cleaned nor wet-gate printed and the remains of dye under tape splices suggests that Tait continued to use the water-soluble ‘medical dyes’ she had used for her previous films. I would therefore recommend the same tests for the elements of Colour Poems as for previous films. Tape joins on #46 could be replaced and a new optical soundtrack should be struck. The dubbing chart and Chinagraph marks on the magnetic tracks would assist in a reliable restoration of the sound. Caution should be taken not to ‘clean up’ the sound beyond what it originally was. Tait worked with simple equipment and the sound is generally quite poor by today’s standards.

2.1 Notes On Research Methods

My research began in earnest during a work placement at the Scottish Film And Television Archive during April and May 2002. Prior to this, in November 2002, I had been to the British Artist’s Film & Video Collection (BAFVC) at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to go through their Margaret Tait files. With a better idea of how this paper would be written, I returned to Saint Martins again in June 2002. The BAFVC holds several of Tait’s films on video and has a unique collection of paper documents, largely consisting of correspondence between David Curtis and Tait since the early 1980s.

The SFTVA has also begun collecting documents relating to the Tait collection which includes some recent correspondence from Tait’s husband, a copy of the BFI’s database records relating to Tait, and other miscellaneous items. I did not contact Pirie during my research since the Archive had already approached him concerning the technical details of Tait’s film making and could answer any initial questions I had for him. It is the Archive’s responsibility to engage in any ‘real-world’ work on the films and I hope that this paper might provoke further questions which they will then put to Pirie.

Although I have only discussed five complete films up to now, there are twenty-five cans in the collection relating to these titles and I will address each one below. My method of working with each can was fairly systematic: Working at a winding bench, I carefully ran each element through once and noted details such as stock dates, codes, splices, and condition. At all times, I had a video camera positioned beside me at the bench in order to make an accurate record which I could review after I had left the archive. I also made written records and drawings of the film stock for a quick reference later. Having looked at each element in the can, I photocopied any documentation included and also the can label. Having done all of this, I compared my observations with the Archive’s Technical Records of which I possess a full printed set for each can.

Besides technical books and articles I have used, I contacted several professionals who are known experts in film printing, digital restoration and colour dyes and presented my observations and queries to them. I was also able to find and contact Peter Hollander in the USA who had been out of touch with Tait for many years. 1 My correspondence with him turned out to be critical to my understanding of the dyes Tait used. With that understanding, I searched for information on the appropriate dyes and eventually contacted a Histotechnologist who had created an excellent record of dyes used in medical procedures and published it on the internet. At all times, people were intrigued by the bizarre turns my research was taking and were eager to help me in my detective work.

1.5 Garden Pieces

Tait’s last effort to include hand-painted or drawn elements was a twelve minute film entitled Garden Pieces (1998). There, she adapts the technique of drawing on the film surface used in Numen of The Boughs. With this film, however, dense solid colours were added during printing to produce a very successful combination of colour shifts and line drawing interwoven into a live action film shot around her new house in Orkney. In 1994, Tait and her husband had moved to another house in Orkney which had a small quarry beside it. They saw this place as a ‘grove’, “a place for meditation and remembering.” 1 There, she shot material for Garden Pieces which was finished in the summer of 1998. In a letter to David Curtis, she stressed how much money the film was costing her and that she would need to recoup some of it through sales of prints or long-term rentals. She wrote she just couldn’t “provide prints at my own expense anymore.” 2mentioning that about £500 would be appropriate for a sale. In August 1998, she wrote again to Curtis to tell him she’d “got this little film finished at last”, writing that it was due to be screened in the South West and hopefully in London. By October, she had news for him that it would be screened in Bristol, Munich and Berlin. By this time though, her health was failing (she had previously undergone major surgery and radiotherapy in the 1980s) and she did not travel with the films.

Garden Pieces is composed of three short ‘film poems’ under one title. They are ‘Round The Garden’ (‘right round and round again’), ‘Garden Fliers’ (‘flighty cartoon and a stunner of a piano piece’) and ‘Grove’ (‘grave and sonorous’). 3 The film begins with Tait’s voice-over introducing the titles of the three sections. ‘Round The Garden’ is a series of clockwise pans from a tripod placed in their sunlit garden. ‘Garden Fliers’ is almost entirely animated ink drawings on a solid background of colour. Like Numen, the drawings ‘shiver’ yet there is also an element of ‘dance’ as in her earlier hand-painted films – butterflies, birds, flowers, circles and stars move quickly to the music of the piano. The colours shift suddenly from dense purple to vivid green, then to a rich blue, solid red, back to green and then pale blue, and so on. Often with each change in colour, a new shape appears such as leaves with green and flowers with red, though this does not appear to be a strict rule. Finally, at the end, the animation cuts back and forth to a poppy head, ending the second section before Tait’s voice introduces ‘Grove’. The third film is similar to the first yet this time the location is the quarry. The camera follows the light on trees, bushes and shrubs and the area is awash with bright, vibrant green foliage. The final shot is of a cat, moving away.