JEFF KEEN TRIBUTE: ARTHUR LAGER

Flik Flak (1964-65, Jeff Keen)

Jeff’s friends, fans and collaborators offer their memories and recollections of Jeff and his films. Originally published in Film Panic Magazine, issue 1, June 2013 

1983. I’d owned a cheap movie camera for a year or so, but didn’t know where to begin. Then, one evening I switched on the TV, tuning to Channel 4. The images which confronted me were like nothing I’d ever seen before. I was mesmerised. I’d stumbled upon Margaret Williams’ Jeff Keen Films documentary. During the course of the next week or so, the ICA showed a number of Jeff’s films and I attended most of the screenings, including the epic White Dust and the wondrous Mad Love, a riotous, joyous, 40 minute barrage of just about everything that makes life worth living. High-brow Surrealist pranks, low-brow vulgarity, Z-grade movie parodies, jolly jelly japes, cheap novelties, cheap laughs, gratuitous nudity and blazing Barbies, shot in lurid 16mm colour, with a wall-to-wall Lecuona Cuban Boys soundtrack. I didn’t know it ‘till I saw it, but this was the film I’d been waiting for my whole life. This was the raw essence of cinema. I’d been shown the way… (Jeff’s influence is patently apparent in my work. Call it plagiarism if you must, but nobody creates in a vacuum.)

A couple of years later, I got hold of Jeff’s phone number, called him up and more or less invited myself over. Jeff received me graciously. (I did at least have the decency to bring some booze…) Stepping into Jeff’s cramped Brighton flat was like stepping into one of his movies. Not surprising, as a lot of his scenes were shot in his home. The place was crammed full of toys, masks, novelties, props, movie equipment and Jeff’s own wonderful paintings. A partition wall had been constructed entirely out of thousands of movie magazines. I half expected to find Motler, Silverhead, Baby Jelly and Vulvana (the super-glamorous Jackie Keen) arranged around the room in various theatrical poses… We spent the afternoon discussing Z-grade monster movies, the current state of Hollywood, 30s & 40s serials, ‘Carry On’ films, the Bowery Boys and, of course, Jeff’s own work. I was still young and foolish enough to have brought one of my own efforts in the hope of Jeff’s approval. An 8mm projector was dug out from somewhere and Jeff sat patiently through my film. Jeff reserved comment. I took the hint and I didn’t ask…

I met Jeff many times over the years, most memorably at a 20th anniversary screening of Mad Love. Most of the cast were present and afterwards repaired to the Sussex Arts Club for refreshments. Someone had presented Jackie with a pair of jelly breasts, still in their mould. (Lime flavour if memory serves.) During the course of the evening, chunks of jelly ended up on the table, the chairs, the carpet and even in the replace. We were asked to leave…

10 years ago, at a short film screening in Brighton, both Jeff and myself had films showing. We were both in attendance. As my two efforts screened, I had one eye nervously on Jeff. He approached me afterwards and expressed approval… That was the last time I saw Jeff Keen. On 21st June 2012, Jeff died peacefully, his integrity intact. The world lost one of its greatest auteurs and I lost a hero.

Arthur Lager has been making cheap-thrills surrealist-sleaze short films for the past 3 decades producing a body of work that has surprised, delighted, horrified & repelled audiences in the four corners of the globe. Arthur now lives in Phnom Penh, about which he declares, ‘Life here is strange and mysterious. Life is cheap and raw. Wild and exotic. Sleazy as a ladyboy’s boudoir. And the pace never lets up. Come right down to it, it’s a bit like living inside one of my own films…’