subota, 25. veljače 2012.

Hail the New Puritan - Punk balet iz 1987.

Punk kao plesna opera. 
Senzacionalno arheološko otkriće: punk je bio artificijelna, dekorativna panika.

Hail the New Puritan (1987) is a feature-length film directed by Charles Atlas. The choreography is by a very young Michael Clark, who was then still the enfant terrible of the London dance scene, famous for his post-punk ballet. (He later went on to play Caliban in Peter Greenaway’s magnificent Prospero’s Books (1991); today he’s a well-respected choreographer.) The costumes and decor are by the late Leigh Bowery. The music is by The Fall, with additional music by Bruce Gilbert (of Wire) and Glenn Branca (who was everywhere in 1987).
The movie is essentially a fake documentary about a day in the life of Michael Clark, who worked with The Fall throughout the 1980s:
The dynamic diary film, Hail the New Puritan, inspired by the Beatles’ dancing movie A Hard Days Night, documents the daily life of Britain’s bad boy of ballet Michael Clark in a pastiche of narrative, performance and fantasy. It follows his professional life as director of his anarchic dance company, and also offers a glimpse into his personal life as he lustily mingles with numerous London scenesters including bi-sexual clubgoer and original party monster Leigh Bowery. “What I was trying to do was put Michael’s work in a context where you wouldn’t need an explanation,” Atlas explains, acknowledging the ethics involved in collaborating with dancers (one must not upstage them).
Alas, the film is very hard to find. It was recently restored and screened, and screenings have been popping up here and there, so here’s hoping!). 

These days, if I want people to pay attention more attention to Hail the New Puritan (for whatever reason), then the challenge, it seems to me, is no longer physical but ideological—because access to Hail the New Puritan is now restricted in terms of knowledge. Simply put, most people find it perfectly easy to make their way about the world on the daily basis without thinking of the film, or even knowing that it exists.
Me, I couldn’t stand not knowing about it; I think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and I think about it regularly (maybe not every day, but at least once every few months.) It’s part of an aesthetic heritage that I lay claim to (“punk ballet”). It was and is a common aesthetic reference between me and some of my close friends, such as Jeremy M. Davies. And when Jeremy and I co-directed a couple of small operas a while back, we showed those VHS clips to the other participants, as a model, or a guide.
What has always surprised me about Hail the New Puritan, in terms of it not being more popular, is not that it features Michael Clark, or that it was directed by Charles Atlas, or that it was designed by Leigh Bowery—because who are all those guys? If you recognize one name in there, it’s probably Charles Atlas’s, and then probably due to the muscle-man ads he (in punk fashion) took his name from. Leigh Bowery (1961–1994) might be the most famous of the three—his influence on folks like Boy George and Alexander McQueen and Antony and the Johnsons and the Scissor Sisters (and, yes, Lady Gaga, too) was simply huge—but he’s still pretty obscure, an artist’s artist. (Charles Atlas made a fantastic documentary about him and his legacy: The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2002), which you can watch in its entirety at YouTube.) (Tim Jones-Yelvington, you have no excuse not to watch that video! And I’m still awaiting your term paper on Klaus Nomi…)
No, the reason why I’m surprised this film isn’t better known is the fact that Mark E. Smith is in it (as we saw above), and it features a lot of music by The Fall. The film’s title stems from Mark E. Smith’s cryptic interest in puritans new and old: see The Fall song “New Puritan,” on their 1980 live album Totale’s Turns, as well as 1979′s “Specter vs. Rector”—
Those flowers, take them away;
they’re only funeral decorations.
This is The Fall and this is a drudge nation.
Your decadent sins will wreak discipline.
You puritan, you shook me.
I wash every day.
—a live version of which Clark & Company dance to, in assless stretch pants. (See clip #2.)
And there’s also music by Glenn Branca, who’s less famous but also fairly well known; he helped give Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo their start, and Sonic Youth is deeply indebted to him.

And there’s also music by Bruce Gilbert of Wire! You think Pitchfork would be all over this, arranging free screenings at the Empty Bottle…
(There’s also music by one Jeffrey Hinton, a club DJ about whom I know very little. Here’s a recent interview with him:
Jeffrey has actually done a great deal and it’s simply not written down, from holidaying with the legendary author and addict William Boroughs [sic] in New York in the late 70s, to organising fashion show music recently for the late great Alexander McQueen [...].)
One way to interest people in someone or something is to connect him/her/it to people they already know and care about. …Are you more interested now in Hail the New Puritan now than you were before? There’s a reason why I led with an image of Mark E. Smith, and not Michael Clark.
 You may not have heard of (or seen) Michael Clark before now, despite his being a pretty famous dancer and choreographer (in the UK). But you might have seen him (as I first did) in Peter Greenaway’s 1991 adaptation of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books, where he played Caliban.
(You can watch a clip—guess where?.) He also had a small role in The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover (1989)—which has much more exciting IMDb plot keywords: “Male Frontal Nudity,” “Excrement Eating,” “Sex In A Kitchen,” “Clothes Torn Off,” “All Seeing Eye,” “Stabbed In The Face,” “Child In Peril,” “Eating Penis”…and “Scene Based On Painting.”
But despite Hail‘s rather prestigious pedigree, and the various connections we can make between it and better-known people and things, the film has somehow slipped through the cracks. Until a few days ago, it didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry*! Hence my desire to now help spread the word.
. . .
Had I been able to find a physical copy of the film in 2002, I would have screened it at my film club. And how many people would have seen it? The largest attendance we ever had was around 100, but usually we drew somewhere between five and fifteen. (It was downstate Illinois.)
Hundreds more than that will read this post—in which I’ve given you all the info you need—even actual links—to watch excerpts, if not the whole thing. You could watch half of it right now, the whole thing by tonight. From this point on it becomes a question of desire, of relevance, of concern, of need …
… So why have you not seen Hail the New Puritan?
* I of course made one. Before that, searching for the title returned a page on the New Puritans, a short-lived writing movement that seems to have been influenced somehow by The Fall—although looking at their manifesto, I see a connection in name only. If you’re curious about them, you might learn more in this 3:AM Magazine interviewAD Jameson

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