Chris Miszak of Cambridge Super 8 blogs about two very special events coming up at Abbeygate Picturehouse, Bury St Edmunds.
Wim Wenders and Oliver Stone have used it as a filmic device for flashback sequences. Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams cut their film-making teeth on it, the latter duo paying homage to it in the 2011 kids versus aliens blockbuster smash of the same name.
What am I babbling on about? Super 8, of course!
Launched in 1965 by Kodak as an improvement to Standard 8mm, the Super 8 quick-loading cartridge system revolutionised amateur home-movie making – quickly becoming a preferred format of choice by avant-garde film-makers and artists.
To examine its enduring cult appeal, Abbeygate Picturehouse has partnered a major international exhibition in Bury St Edmunds, Flicker: Artists and Super 8, to host a short season of programmed screenings that explore the evolution of Super 8 from its origins as an amateur film gauge to its adoption as a medium and device in contemporary art and film.
Co-curated by the Cambridge Super 8 Group and Smiths Row art gallery in Bury St Edmunds, Flicker showcases the work of artist film-makers who have worked with the small format since its invention through to today. And despite Kodak’s recent announcement to cease manufacturing Ektachrome colour reversal stock – heralding the demise of that familiar grainy, saturated colour aesthetic – Flicker signifies how some of today’s digital image makers are harking back to low tech analogue in search of memory, dreams and a pure cinema authenticity that apps and filters can’t quite match.
A key presence in the exhibition is the work of radical film-maker Derek Jarman whose Super 8 short Jordan’s Dance (1977) features in the gallery showreel.
Artist, painter, queer activist, diarist, stage designer and gardener, Jarman’s prolific creative output during his career blurred the boundaries between art and life, though he will forever remain known as one of the most radical figures in postwar 20th Century British cinema.
Jarman first picked up a Super 8 camera in 1970; around the time he was working as set designer for Ken Russell’s film The Devils (1971). He immediately began making short Super 8 films and would continue to do so for most of his career; some would remain personal diaries and film paintings, whilst others would evolve into feature films like The Angelic Conversation (1985), or become significant elements of his feature films. Jordan’s Dance (1977) is one example of a Super 8 short that would later be re-edited into a key sequence in Jarman’s dystopian punk feature Jubilee (1978).
Cheap, portable and easy to use, Super 8 allowed Jarman to shoot film relatively free of financial constraint. His camera became an extension of his artist’s paintbrush and diarist’s pen. With small gestures and gentle flourishes he evoked the alchemical nature of Super 8 to create time-based paintings and visual mythologies. For Jarman, there was no distinction between Super 8 and 35mm. They were both equally worthy of the big screen.
Derek Jarman – A Life in Super 8 aims to offer an intimate glimpse into the world of the acclaimed director through the eye of his cine camera.
For this special event, Jarman’s close friend and collaborator, James Mackay will present a rare screening of Glitterbug (1994) on the only 35mm copy in existence. Released posthumously, the film is a compilation of Super-8 footage shot between 1972 and 1986. Selected by Jarman before his death and produced by James Mackay, the film is set to an original music score by Brian Eno.
This will be followed by a surprise treat for all fans of The Smiths – the full version of Jarman’s Super 8 pop promo for The Queen Is Dead (1986) – also in glorious 35mm.
Mackay had met Jarman in 1980 and went on to work with him until his death in 1994, producing some of his most avant-garde features: The Angelic Conversation (1985), The Last of England (1987), The Garden (1989) and Blue (1993). By the time of his death in 1994 of HIV-related illness, Jarman had amassed an archive of over 70 Super 8 films. As custodian of this oeuvre, Mackay has recently undertaken a major archival project with the LUMA Foundation in France. Each of Jarman’s films has been digitally transferred via a high resolution 2K frame scanning process.
To discuss this project and attempt to glean further insight into Jarman’s Super 8 world, James Mackay will join Tony Clarke from the Cambridge Super 8 Group for a conversation and Q&A.
Jordan’s Dance (1977) is on view at Flicker: Artists & Super 8 at Smiths Row, in Bury St Edmunds. The exhibition continues until Saturday 23rd March.