Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday Night in Pop-Up Portobello

Last night I braved the tortuous Saturday night Underground system with all its weekend cancellations to go to the pop-up cinema at Portobello Road.
Don Letts was showing films, as a tribute to Ari. I went with Gina, her partner Mike and their two children.
Christine Robertson, a film-maker who managed The Slits for some time, had been invited to show her film of the Slits on holiday. She was a very interesting person to talk to for the book and it was lovely to see her again. And I also met Desmond Coy for the first time, though very briefly- he is Don Letts's brother, and I am reading the manuscript of his book at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it: it's one of those books that conjures up pictures in your head.
The first film was a sort of fan-homage to Don and his son, who Don told us are rebuilding their relationship after he left the family when his son was three. His son makes Dubstep music and the film followed the setting up and running of a gig in East London. I thought his music was great- I have never really listened to much dubstep- or not consciously- and thought it was worth listening to more. There was snippets of fascinating stuff: Don recording a programme for Radio 4 called The Story of the Bass; the bits about Don's father, who ran a sound system in the basement of the church after the morning service where people came with bibles under their arms (there was a photograph of his father standing next to his painted speakers, Duke Letts with his Superstonic Sound). And there were some baby Slits, Palmolive and Viv fascinated and concentrating intently as Chrissie Hynde showed them some chords. Then Don talked about the riot at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival. I can see how that acted as a catalyst for punk.
Next, there was some awful footage of Ari at a fashion show, displaying 'pum-pum power' as Don (and she) called it. Since she died I have heard stuff that made this seem all the worse.
Nuff about that.
Christine's film was delicate and very moving: in black and white, Ari, Viv and Tessa rolled in the sand on a faraway beach, and waded into the sea one by one, splashing and playing in the waves and walking back on to dry land hand in hand. I know they all fell out (and later in again) with each other, but this showed three girls who were friends, young, unadorned and free, free, free. In colour, they had dressed up and were fooling around, shuffling in slippers on the rocks in shrouded headgear and decorating a huge cactus with hats, scarves and socks. It was so different to the tough punky time they had in England and it was oddly sweet and innocent. Last of all, Viv introduced a series of short films that Don had made of the group to go with tracks from the Cut album. There was footage of them at a dub club, just about the only females and definitely the only white people there, the sheer front of the activity rendering them perfectly safe amongst the clouds of ganja. My friend Kim used to do this too: the love of the music took her to places where it should have been dangerous to be a white girl, but everyone left her alone as she danced the night away. My favourite of these films was the one shot at the bandstand (where weeks later an IRA bomb blew up a young guardsman on his horse). Grinning frantically, Budgie slicks and clips away at the drums; Ari swoops about like a large bird, Tessa plays bass in her own private bass-world and Viv hits her guitar chords with sharp precision. Each girl wears a red item of clothing and the moving patterns of thes jump across the screen. A nun quietly settles on the grass to watch them.
There had been nothing like this at all in the world before, and there has been nothing like it since.


Monty said...

Who was sitting next to you in the cinema? A Kissing Couple, a Tramp, a Dirty Old Man, or a Child! Sorry for any Hurt, Pain, or Despair Re. Previous mails!

Monty said...

And did you buy any Popcorn/Ice-Creams etc. During the Intermission!

Helen McCookerybook said...

Ginger tea!