PODCAST — Episode 7, recorded
Luke Fowler in conversation with BFMAF programmer Ana David about the film ‘Patrick’.→
Luke Fowler (1978) is an artist, filmmaker and musician based in Glasgow. His work explores the limits and conventions of biographical and documentary filmmaking, and has often been compared to the British Free Cinema of the 1950s. Working with archival footage, photography and sound, Fowler’s filmic montages create portraits of intriguing, counter cultural figures, including Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing and English composer Cornelius Cardew. He received the inaugural Jarman Award in 2008 and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2012. Fowler’s films have been presented widely, with screenings at ICA London, Glasgow Film Festival, Berlinale and Anthology Film Archives (New York), among others. His works have also been exhibited at Harvard Film Archive (Cambridge), Whitechapel (London), Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo), Barbican Art Gallery (London) and Tate Modern (London).
Ana David is a film programmer based in Berlin working between Germany, Portugal and the UK. She is a member of the shorts selection committee and industry manager at IndieLisboa, a member of the advisory board of the Berlinale Panorama, and associate programmer at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. In 2018 she programmed at the BFI London Film Festival with a special focus on documentaries. In the past she has held positions at Portugal Film – Portuguese Film Agency, Lisbon Docs – International Financing and Co-production Forum, Festival Scope, and Queer Lisboa (2010-2015), the latter as co-director and programmer.
Hi. I’m Ana David, associate programmer at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival 2020. We’ll be listening to an interview with artist, filmmaker, and musician, Luke Fowler, director of Patrick. Patrick is Fowler’s latest short which is having its very first festival screening at The New Cinema Competition at Berwick. The film is one of the 12 shorts. The festival as well has commissioned a short film to Luke called Enceindre, which screened in our 2018 edition. We’re thrilled for the chance to screen your new work. Luke joined us from Glasgow.
Hi, Luke. Thank you for joining us. Congratulations on the premiere of Patrick. It will be an honor to be able to screen the film at Berwick. We’ve had a long path with you throughout the years and you’ve shown your work twice before. And now with the premiere of Patrick at the festival, we’d love to understand a bit more about how it was made and your path to coming in contact with the legacy of Patrick Cowley. It’s not the first time that you craft a short, or a feature-length, or file of a counter-cultural figure, or at least a less known cultural figure. Can you tell us a bit, how the decision to focus on the life and work of Patrick Cowley came to be?
Sure. I was doing a residency in Headlands, about three years ago now and I had a very short amount of time. I think it was about a month. And I wanted to make a film while I was there. So, I kind of really had this idea before I went out to Headlands in San Francisco, that I was going to try to do some research into Patrick Cowley and this stemmed largely from the love of Patrick’s music and his … and the recent music that had been uncovered by the San Francisco record label, Dark Entries. Who had discovered all of these lost reels of porn music that Patrick had made in the 80s for Fox studios in LA and that really showed this other side to Patrick’s music that a lot of people hadn’t known about previously. I associated him with disco Donna Summers. You know his remix of I feel love, or with Menergy, with Sylvester and Mighty Real. And with some of his solo works, Megatron Man and Mind Warp. This was really an exciting discovery to find this music.
And so I just went into San Francisco and met Josh and tried to meet as many people as possible that were associated with Patrick. But that proved a bit difficult with the time that I had. So really, I ended up doing quite a lot of filming around Marin County and visited the LGBTQ archives in San Francisco a couple of times and looked at what they had on the disco scene there. Typically, people like Marty Blecman that had set up Megatone Records with Patrick and with some of these party promoters in San Francisco. And so that … really the only interview that I managed to do was with Maurice Tani. Maurice was one of Patrick’s long time musical collaborators. They worked and met together at City College in San Francisco and worked together, making music. Maurice had played on some of the tracks that … and had also contributed some of the reels that Josh included on his compilations, as there were compilations School Daze and Muscle Up. So yeah, I made this interview with Maurice and went to the City College where Patrick worked in the Electronic Music Department, in the early days, and then just walked around the Castro and SoMa and visited some of these clubs that Patrick had played at or frequented.
That’s beautiful that you were still able to find … I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, but still, you were able to find people who worked, or were collaborators close to Patrick and that there’s still material that you could get your hands into. And we see a bit of that in the film too, technical instruments and little gadgets. When you did your research, were you looking … besides meeting people that came in contact with Patrick and maybe going to the places that he inhabited … were you looking for specific materials or stories, places, or people that could add into the film? To the kind of film you maybe had an idea of what you wanted or was more that you let yourself be very open to whatever you found?
Well, in a way, I didn’t think that I had enough material for a film. When I left San Francisco, I felt like I really only had the kind of starting … a kind of taster, of what I would go on to do. I thought this film was going to be much larger, more ambitious and cover perhaps interviews with more people and more archival material. It was pretty speculative, the filming I’d done, that I’d shot in San Francisco was really like my daily life and traveling around in the Headlands. And Looking for some texture or objective correlative for some of the themes in Patrick’s music. But I suppose, one of the problems for me, that I came up against in making the film, was this rob of … Or this sort of disconnect between Patrick’s lifestyle and my lifestyle. Was it completely incommensurate? This gap in my knowledge of queer life in San Francisco in the 70s and any way, so much of that had changed. You know? So even to be kind of a young gay man in San Francisco now, is completely different from what it was like in Patrick’s time. Patrick was one of the first wave of young men to die from AIDS, before they really knew what it was in 1982. So, there was a lot of questions. I was asking myself and a lot of doubts I had about whether I had the right to make this film. Whether, I was the right person to make the film. So I went away with a lot of those doubts unresolved. So then we skip forward two years and I still was sitting on this material. In between, I had some really nice exchanges with Matt Wolf and with William E. Jones, and Ed Halter. And also with Josh, from Dark Entries and via him, Jorge Soccares, who was one of Patrick’s collaborators. They collaborated on this album called Catholic.
And I think a lot of those people enthused about me making the film and said that it doesn’t really matter … Where I was coming from didn’t really matter. I suppose it was more about the approach that I would take and my experience in making films. And yeah, I think a lot of those people showed faith in me making the film. That they gave me some enthusiasm and permission to make it. And then I think during the lockdown, I just longed to be in San Francisco or to be elsewhere after being very restricted in my movements and not being able to get outside of Glasgow. And so I looked longingly at this footage of San Francisco at this time. And I just started playing around with the order of the footage and using Maurice’s texts. And most importantly Patrick’s music as the guide for the footage that I had shot. And it just fell into place and this vignette formed that I was happy with and happy to present to the world.
We’re definitely grateful and very happy that you did craft this portrait and told his story. Your path as a filmmaker promised that you handled this material and this story with much care. And I guess, also the fact that you’ve known his music and were a fan of his music already from before. You’re a musician yourself, so I can imagine that you’ve had some sort of relation with Patrick’s music from before. It feels like it’s already two very good reasons to get a green light, to be one of the persons telling this story.
I think all of my films have emphasised this idea of community and of micro-histories, that they’re all pretty speculative and contingent in the way that they don’t present … I refuse to present a definitive history. And I’m in no way kind of claiming that this film is a definitive history. I mean, it’s an impression. It’s an impressionistic portrait of Patrick through what has been left behind, through places and people that were touched by Patrick. And really looks at San Francisco now as well, the gentrification of San Francisco and the Castro and for the Folsom area. And the SoFa market area and how radically it has changed. Yet, perhaps there are still things that linger and that can’t be eradicated.
In that specific journey, you were stating that you went through to find these places, it feels like indeed we can sense a quite sensorial and sonic journey through … And of course that came afterwards with the post, with your editing at home. But that was something that we also quite appreciated at the festival. You approach the landscape first, and that leads the way to then telling the story of the person, but not with this kind of Wikipedia approach, more of a … there is these details here and there. And then there’s a bit of the portrait of the gay San Francisco scene to get archival material. As in, materials that might have belonged to Patrick and then his legacy through the very gentle testimonies of Maurice Tani. And then you distance yourself away, towards the end of the film, again, it goes back into nature into this landscape and this again, very sensorial journey.
Yeah. The footage is shot in different locations in the heart of San Francisco itself at the south of the market area, where a lot of the bathhouses and leather clubs used to be. And then there’s footage of some of the different locations where Patrick lived, the Berkeley Botanic Gardens, which is close to where Maurice lives. Now he lives up in Berkeley. Then there was just footage around Marin County, where Headlands was based. So yeah, there’s probably … I don’t know … maybe, an hour of footage that I shot. I think one of the things that interest me about editing is that I take a different approach for each project, but there’s this filmmaker called Warren Sonbert, from San Francisco. And he was a student of Gregory Markopoulos and he coined this idea of polyvalence editing and that is an approach of using very heterogeneous material that he would shoot from around the world.
And the way that he combined footage was in this really wild, irreverent and energetic way, that was sometimes connected through the content in the shot. Sometimes it’s connected through color. Sometimes it’s connected through movement, but it’s very anti montage in the sense of a guideline to color montage. Of Soviet-style of creating meanings through two images colliding to create a third meaning or a new meaning through synthesis. So, that is something that really informed me and then I suppose also I’d been thinking about Peter Hutton, who’s someone that’s very close to me and I’ve worked with him before. And he again is a filmmaker that had lived in San Francisco and also makes these films that are very atmospheric. But again, refuse narrative or montage as a guiding principle in the filmmaking. All of his films are silent and a lot of them use black space, black leader between the images to really refuse the viewer to make connections between them. I think he said that he wanted each shot to be like a painting, that has its own aura and its own duration.
That does remind me of that feeling when watching your film. Is that its shots could have been a photograph. And sometimes I would pay a lot of attention to see if there was a tiny, tiny leaf moving with the movement of the wind and through the shadows, et cetera. So, speaking of editing, to understand a bit more on the crafting side of things. You’ve been faithfully shooting in 16mm for quite a while, and this was no exception. It was always the case. There was going to be 16mm, it’s I guess also the camera that you feel closer to emotionally at this point. And do you want to tell us a bit about the crafting side of things? And also the sound recordings. Of course, you will obviously tell separately.
As you say, I’ve worked with the Bolex since 2006, since the film Bogman Palmjaguar and it became more and more an extension of my filmmaking. And the last film that I premiered at Berwick, Enceindre, was shot on an Ariflex. That was also a very old camera. It was one of the first portable 16mm cameras, an Ari S from the 60s. And Peter Hutton had used this camera to good effect. And I experimented with using a different camera that could shoot with a motor and longer shots and for 400ft magazines. And yeah. It was nice, but there’s something incredibly portable about the Bolex and you can just chuck it in a suitcase and in a bag. And take it with you and you don’t need to worry about battery chargers and running out of power, or magazines, or bulky boxes of film. And so the Bolex, I just took it with me and quite naturally just shot around. I was telling you about those locations, I was telling you about speculatively. And then I had all the rushes telecined and edited them digitally.
But, very much like they were guided by the music, Patrick’s music. I mean, that was one of the things that really, for me, was the thing that kept the motor behind the project, was just to listen to so much of his music again and look at how the music transformed the rhythm of the images. In a way, the film is one of the first films that I’ve used rhythmic music to accompany images. And I think that was one of the challenges for me as well was … because the film edits have a rhythm of their own. The images when you put them together have a very specific internal rhythm. So, to then add a very obvious musical rhythm to that can sometimes feel like the images are then just in surface of this, or subservient to this musical rhythm. And that musical rhythm really takes over and dominates. And so, in a way I wanted to use these different tracks of Patrick’s, that aren’t always full-on, floor to the floor, disco tracks. So that there are some that are more slow or atmospheric, almost ambient pieces, but not.
I think it’s quite beautiful. What, what happened, it feels like neither of these elements cancels each other. It really did feel like they were walking hand in hand and creating something else. A third thing, which is of course, what we might call a film. And I think the sound work is quite … textures. As much as the images textures, because we have the soundtrack, the ambience music that you’re talking. But you also have Maurice’s testimony is being given. I think we’re coming to the end of our conversation. I think you’ve also already mentioned, but just out of curiosity now. There was not a lot of material left out. Is that right? Because you do now also have a lot of time to think, to shoot.
No, no. I mean, Maurice was the only person I interviewed and maybe thought that it might have been a film a bit like the Scratch Orchestra film, where I interviewed a whole load of people that had known. Cornelius, who’d been in the Scratch Orchestra. But in the end I went home with this one interview, but I suppose Maurice’s interview is so perfect. Just so informative and rich and full, I think, in itself. I realised that Maurice had written the sleeve notes for some of the real issues of Patrick’s porn music and had also written a blog for Dark Entries, about Patrick too. So he was really already engaging with Patrick and with Patrick’s legacy and thinking about Patrick’s music and his life. And I could articulate really well and opine about Patrick and their life together. And so in a way the film felt a bit like sleeves notes or something. This idea of having just one voice, I stopped really caring about or longing for it to have a multiplicity of voices when I realised that I didn’t know when I was going to get back to San Francisco. So I felt I was at more peace with using this one text.
That’s quite beautiful that you let go of this very ambitious, all-encompassing portrait and you’ve ended up crafting something that was really quite special.
In a way it kind of echoes Patrick’s life which was cut short very young. This will … actually on the 19th of October will be Patrick’s 70th birthday. And I wanted to get the film mode as soon as I could really, to mark that.
Let’s throw a party on the 19th of October and …
We’ll have Sir Russell and Patrick Cowley’s music on the dance floor.
Well, lovely talking to you, Ana.
Lovely talking to you too, Luke. Thank you so much, for this time.