FILM PANIC Q&A: ADRIAN MARTIN

L'Enfant Secret (1979, Philippe Garrel)

As a way of introducing you to some amazing people working in the fields of artist moving image, experimental film and alternative cinema, we have concocted a short questionnaire. Today we speak to writer, video-essayist and film critic Adrian Martin. 

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I am Adrian Martin, and I’m a writer, film critic, and co-maker, with my life-partner Cristina Álvarez López, of audiovisual essays. We’ve done about 80 of those since the start of 2013! I’ve also written two books, over the past 5 years, that sum up a lot of the diverse work I’ve done on cinema since the late 1970s: Mise en scène and Film Style (author’s original title: Mise en scène and Beyond) in 2014, and Mysteries of Cinema (originally The Artificial Night) in 2018. I used to teach film/screen studies full-time at university, and also spent about 18 years co-editing various cinema journals, mainly online; for now, at least, I’ve re-gathered my energies and reconfigured my time to mainly work on personal projects “at home” – Bringing It All Back Home!

2. What was the first film you remember seeing as a child?

I think it was Henry Levin’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, made the year of my birth, 1959. First seen in a cinema, and then later repeatedly on TV in Australia – black and white TV throughout the ‘60s, but the red lava of that original screening had burned into my memory. The film terrified me! And still makes me shiver when I recall it.

3. What was the last film you watched and what did you think of it?

I watched the Netflix feature production The Highwaymen (2019) by John Lee Hancock – it’s the Bonnie & Clyde story told from the unglamorous reverse-angle of the two ageing cops who tracked and killed them. It’s quite a good film, in the Clint Eastwood tradition (Hancock wrote one of his best films, A Perfect World [1993], which like The Highwaymen stars Kevin Costner).

4. How did you become interested in working with cinema/moving image?

For a long time, as a critic, I have dreamed of ways – and sometimes dabbled in implementing them – ways of combining poetic-analytical text with images, graphics, design, sound-and-image clips (in a lecture-performance situation), and so on. But, especially in the early years, I never quite “got on top” of the challenge of that. I finally got my chance to fuse and realise these dreams – for hardly any money outlay at all! – by experimenting in the digital audiovisual essay format with Cristina. I love it!

5. Tell us about a film that has had a profound effect on you?

Philippe Garrel’s L’enfant secret (The Secret Child, 1982), viewed in a Dublin cinema in 2001, had a life-changing impact on me. As well as everything else it does, this film gave me the sense of reaching right into a “cinematic unconscious”, palpitating right there on the screen. I just recently acquired the DVD restoration, which makes it possibly an even more vivid experience – if such a thing is possible!

6. Favourite books about cinema/moving-image/filmmaking?

Today I will nominate Gilberto Perez’s The Material Ghost; On Cinema by Glauber Rocha; and The Scorsese Connection by Lesley Stern.

7. What would be your dream double-bill, two films you’d love to see together on the big screen?

Love Streams (1984) by John Cassavetes and the incredibly underrated Brainstorm (1983) by Douglas Trumbull. More gushing flows from the cinematic unconscious mind!

8. Which filmmaker/artist are you most obsessed with, the one whose work you return to again and again?

Since 2009, I have been possessed by the films, TV plays, songs and general media apparitions of Carmelo Bene (1937-2002). “My films are a new life, beyond signification” – he said something like that, somewhere. Pure intensity at all levels: performance, sound, montage. Bene, Raúl Ruiz, Garrel and Chantal Akerman are among my all-time obsessions. Among writers-thinkers. Vilém Flusser is someone who continues to possess me! Cristina and I are working on a “Flusserian series” of video pieces at the moment that we hope might one day be shown in an artworld context; Series of Dreams Interwoven by Ringing Bells (2018) at https://vimeo.com/272547287 is the first volley of it.

9. What are you currently working on/what projects do you have coming up?

My personal constant project since mid 2017 has been my website, www.filmcritic.com.au. It was literally 20 years in preparation before its online launch! It covers over 40 years of my writing, and it includes every kind and type of literature I’ve ever produced in public or in private: notes, text-collages, diary entries, reviews, articles, lectures, catalogue essays, reminiscences, experiments. The important Australian filmmaker and film-activist Bill Mousoulis has been the webmaster on it from the very start, bless his soul. It’s given me a way to approach my own amassed archive (I’ve written a lot!) as not something dead and buried, but permanently revivifiable and ongoing. Of course, I am also adding totally new pieces exclusive to it all the time – on new movies, old movies, anything and everything. It’s also a artisanal way for me to help support myself (modestly!) financially, through a Patreon campaign at www.patreon.com/adrianmartin. I try to lead an unalienated life (as far as that is possible!), writing what I want the way I want it, and collaborating with Cristina. It works for me!

Adrian Martin