The Animal Drums
A film by Joshua Alexander and SJ Fowler
Running time : 76 minutes / 2019
First screened at Whitechapel Gallery December 2018
Written by Steven J Fowler. Edited by Joshua Alexander
Featuring Steven J Fowler, Stewart Home, Iain Sinclair, Lotje Sodderland, Simon Christian, Edie Deffebach, Andrew Breaks, Stuart Westerby
The Animal Drums is an attempt to create the a distinctly poetic film, in feature length, that explores the sad, macabre, abstract threat of a contemporary London in the grips of constant and nefarious growth. The film charts the the particular, baffled and morbid character of English attitudes to mortality, along with the specific influence of place and conformity on the quintessentially English deferral of emotion and melodrama. It captures the ambiguous menace of an often accidentally humorous resolve, manner, apology and understatement so prevalent in the English character within a city that is proudly unEnglish, and it dwells upon the unfortunate consequence of blind development.
Recalling the tableu film-making of Peter Greenaway and the lyrical disjunction of Harold Pinters writing, Gareth Evans suggested The Animals Drums as the first significant feature length filmpoem of the 21st century, in the tradition of Andrew Kötting and Patrick Keillor. Featuring a fusion of documentary technique, montage and theatrical set pieces, and featuring appearances from authors like Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home, alongside actors and non-actors, The Animal Drums is unique representation of modern London in old England.
The film was shot from 2014 to 2018. It was made with constant revisions around its method, deliberately aiming to fuse poetry, improvised speech and the language arts with film grammar and the possibilities of film editing. Multiple new texts were written to drive the film, many of them distinctly poems. They have yet to be published on the page and I have resisted this precisely because they were designed to experienced with moving images, most specifically around Joshua Alexander’s remarkable cinematic visions.
At the film’s premiere, Iain Sinclair read a new text responding to the film, a kind of poetic documentation. This was published in Hotel Magazine issue 5, and on the Hotel Tyrant Podcast, as audio, from the event itself. To be found https://soundcloud.com/user-335832545/tyrant-3-mother-pig-opposing-disneyland
David Spittle has written a critical response to the film, published by Partisan Hotel magazine https://partisanhotel.co.uk/After-Animal-Drums
”The glitching pulp of red that begins the film keeps flashing across in other sequences, a blinked glimpse of the plague doctor and occasionally a peaceful but disintegrating shot of a forest. These images become like obsessive thoughts or the rupturing of flashbacks…it is half way through the film that we realise the incoherent red glitch is a distortion of a figure about to read, a performance. Steve Fowler has often looked at ways to unsettle, include or challenge audiences in order to resurrect the polite coma of most poetry readings into an unpredictable exchange between people. But it is that space, the reading—and more significantly, the performance—that seems to encapsulate a locus of anxiety for the film: a moment where the personal and persona of what might constitute Steve Fowler is allowed to blur and seem vulnerable. He mutters into the microphone, ‘It’s funny, people have all these thoughts in their mind and you speak to them…’ he trails off, repeats and trails back, as if lost and even afraid. This is followed by the admission, ‘I have a problem with impulse control’, which is then repeated around four times before descending into an apologetic mantra: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…’For the film, it is unclear whether this is the protagonist (that both is and isn’t Steve Fowler) staging his own breakdown, or whether it is in fact a traumatic collapse in front of an audience. Again, like the city it takes place in, the reading seems a movement between performed image and lived reality, coaxing one into the other until each are prickled with the other’s shadow.
‘Manichean visions revive disputed and despoiled London ground. Poetry in light and stone‘ – Iain Sinclair
On the premiere of the film at Whitechapel Gallery Cinema
January 18, 2019
It’s been a month since my first feature length film, made with (owed to) Joshua Alexander, premiered at Whitechapel Gallery Cinema. It was a strange night, satisfying, undoubtedly, but strange for me to experience sat the rear of the cinema, watching myself, my own film, on a huge screen. It was wonderful so many friends and people I don’t know came out, and the introduction by Iain Sinclair, where he firmly placed Josh and I in the tradition of Patrick Keillor et al, was pretty wonderful, as a moment of recognition. So the experience, as a night, was brilliant. And I feel the achievement of finishing a film is a thing to be left alone, to be enjoyed. However it was all uncanny because in watching the film in this way, the first time removed from Josh and I and editing, in a sense, I saw what it was really about, as a piece of work. And this was different than what I thought it was about. It was a little disturbing, but perhaps that’s best. And really we owe this night, and the momentum it’s given the film, entirely to Gareth Evans, a constant hero of the often hidden work that needs working in London. He was so helpful to us and continues to be.
I’m happy to say the film will go to some festivals in 2019 and Hotel Magazine will soon run a feature on it, with a new poem about the film by Iain Sinclair and a really generous critical article by David Spittle.