Jane Arden & Jack Bond - Anti-Clock LP
What do you think of when you think of British film? Probably not the 1979 ‘puzzle picture’ that is Anti-Clock. And yet, for anyone who has seen this extraordinary film, it would be unlikely that they could forget it. Its sounds and images burn into the brain. It’s an infuriating and invigorating experience. It’s like entering a dream state only to find that one’s unconscious mind has been hijacked by somebody else’s skewed (il)logic.
And the trance-inducing static of its opening sequence, the burnt-out surveillance monitors, the super-saturated filmed sequences, bewildering performances and labyrinthine ‘plot’ are only half the story; there’s that soundtrack, too. It’s not unusual for a film to have one, of course, but this one fits like a glove. Arden sings the songs ('Sleepwalking' and 'Who Are Those Figures In White?'), and it’s as if Val Denham had been secretly recorded during a session with R D Laing. Its feels warm and comforting, but it’s unsettling too. More than anything, though, behind its apparent calm, it’s angry at us for our complacency, our willingness to consume and to consent to a life within ‘the system’. It’s a lullaby which aims to wound.
Arden and Bond’s collaborative career gave Britain some of the most extraordinary films it ever produced. No one else stuck their necks out even half as far as they did. Their filmography is woefully short – Separation (1966, Arden: screenplay/actress, Bond: dir); The Other Side of the Underneath (1972, Bond: prod, Arden: dir); Vibration (1975, co-dirs); Anti-Clock (1979, co-dirs) – but it’s full to the brim of incredible, daring ideas and completely unfettered imagination. It’s packed, too, with pain and a disconcerting honesty about the human condition; challenging commonly-held ideas about madness and positing ideas which are far less easy to categorise or control.
Arden and Bond’s desire to destroy order and to do things differently was made clear from the very start: the first image in Separation is of a clock being smashed in reverse. But Separation, for all its radical ideas and unconventional moments, self-consciously presented the veneer of something familiar – it looks like it employs a film language which we understand, but it consistently undermines expectations – only to leave the viewer ever more perplexed and unsettled.
The Other Side of the Underneath, on the other hand, was an all-out assault. Revelling in its lack of restraint, it presented hysteria, extreme distress, masturbation, brutality, menstruation, sacrilege and unfiltered ‘otherness’ in an attempt to show all that society deems unshowable. But if Underneath’s extremity is akin to the act of shitting out (or on to) a history of repression and pain, and of turning the order of things on its head, then Anti-Clock was the attempt to consider what is left in its wake. It’s a complex, contemplative piece, and Arden’s apparently comforting delivery of her self-penned songs and the see-saw flow of Mihai Dragutescu’s delicate instrumentation act only as a means to lure us in; to begin the de-programming.
Anti-Clock shares with Separation a disdain for order and blind obedience. In her book You Don’t Know What You Want, Do You? –the basis for the network of ideas at play in Anti-Clock – the motif of the rat is used as a metaphor for the rational mind. The lyrics to ‘Sleepwalking’ (living in a daze, wandering in a maze) also conjure up images of lab rats, of unthinking beings adhering to rules and systems, never questioning what is beyond what they think they know to be true. At the close of Anti-Clock, the central character, Sapha, simply says, ‘It has been my whole life's will to decode this puzzle, as though inside the answer to this equation was the insurance of that peace of mind that had eluded me. But there is no puzzle. And the mind is never peaceful. And dawn’s already here as the stars appear.’
In December 1982, Arden took her own life. Bond reacted with anger and frustration: he removed Anti-Clock from circulation, vowing that the world would never see it again. Thankfully, after almost three decades, he granted the film a second life. And now, with Arden and Dragutescu’s beautifully unsettling sound work getting the attention it deserves, listening to this exquisite soundtrack provides as good a way as any to begin a relationship with a film that is as daring, brilliant and profoundly personal as British cinema gets.
- Sam Dunn, October 2014