Academic journal article Framework

I Dream Therefore I Am. I Doubt Therefore I Film, Guardian, 2002

Academic journal article Framework

I Dream Therefore I Am. I Doubt Therefore I Film, Guardian, 2002

Article excerpt

The following is the full, unedited text of an article by Peter Whitehead that appeared in the Guardian on November 22, 2002. It was published on the occasion of a series of screenings focused on Whitehead's work held at the Other Cinema in London, called Peter Whitehead: The Complete Retrospective 1964- 1969. While operating as a useful introduction to the Whitehead oeuvre for an audience circa 2002, it is at the same time working in retrospective collaboration with the Films and Filming interview from 1969. As the echoing titles suggest, Whitehead is repeating, developing, and advancing the ideas of the earlier statement in this recent piece.

April 1968. New York. The barricade was in place. Metal filing cabinets piled on top of the university president's mahogany desk, to which heavy chairs were tied with rope, locking the barricade against the ornate oak doors. The first blow of the axe split the centre door panel, the second gouged a hole big enough for a cop's hand to appear, wearing a white protective glove. It turned in the air the way Fonteyn's hand turned in the air when she was Ondine, emerging for the first time from the water, the way our hands turn when we dip them into a bath to test its temperature.1 The hand withdrew (during the Civil War it would have been hacked off) and further savage blows of the axe completed its work. Of liberation. The seven day student rebellion and occupation of Columbia university was about to be "bust."

I ran upstairs to the top floor and took the film out of my cine- camera, put it into a tin and sealed it with tape before dropping it from a window into the bushes below, unseen by the ranks of armed police waiting to free the university from the pagan forces of anarchy. Soon I was walking through the splintered wooden doors with the other students, to be arrested. Eagerly the cops opened my camera (I had been warned) to expose the incriminating film to the light. No film. I collected it the following day. A week later I was flying back to En gland with twenty hours of film which would later become The Fall, and be shown for the first time at the Edinburgh Festival, the last film I would make about the so- called Swinging Sixties; TIME magazine having given the era its belittling name.

Everyone knows the joke (is it a joke?)- that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there. So where does that place me? I can't remember really being there- true enough- but I can assure myself, remind myself I was there simply by looking at my films. My camera was certainly there! So are my films "the truth"? More and more, inadvertently, they have inevitably become some kind of "undeniable truth." But I was never fooled by the French for lens: objectif. I know my films were made by someone hovering outside of events, not yet painfully aware that the camera was not attaching him/me to the outside world, but preventing it. The plight of the man with the camera making so- called documentary films, is always to be the voyeur.

Sixties devotees who watch my films- the real thing man! -are mostly too young to have been there, they are a new type of audience for whom film has become the "only truth," a new g-g- g-g- generation at college imbibing Media studies, convinced they can "know," souls saturated with the seminal music of the times: pop music, the era's true soul, digitally enhanced but "true to the spirit of those epic times," they will say- who am I disagree with such a verdict on the satanic mini- symphonies of the Stones (still my favourites) born in the heat of the night of those stuttering, timeless times?

So the author of this clutch of documentary films is now an authority, as if at the time I was heading out to capture history, my place in history (to make it sound worse) not just filming what seemed to be going on- seemed to concern me. You don't just go out and make the films you want; they happen to you, fomented by a communal opportunism, people on the make, careless offers of money, equally careless girls you can only "pull" by filming them. …

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