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Between Categories

The Films of Margaret Tait: Portraits, Poetry, Sound and Place


Sarah Neely

Margaret Tait – filmmaker, photographer, poet, painter, essayist and short story writer – is one of the UK’s most unique and remarkable filmmakers. She was the first female filmmaker to create a feature-length film in Scotland (Blue Black Permanent, 1992). Although for most of her career Tait remained focused on the goal of making a feature-length film, her most notable and groundbreaking work was arguably as a producer of short films. The originality of her work, and its refusal to accept perceived barriers of genre, media and form, continues to inspire new generations of filmmakers.

This book aims to address the lack of sustained attention given to Tait’s large body of work, offering a contextualisation of Tait’s films within a general consideration of Scottish cinema and artists’ moving image. Furthermore, the book’s grounding in detailed archival research offers new insights into Scotland (and Britain) in the twentieth century, relating to a diverse range of subjects and key figures, such as John Grierson, Forsyth Hardy, Hugh MacDiarmid, Lindsay Anderson and Michael Powell.

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Chapter 2: Poetry


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I think that film is essentially a poetic medium, and although it can be put to all sorts of other – creditable and discreditable – uses, these are secondary.

— MARGARET TAIT, ‘Film-poem or poem-film’ (1997/2012, p. 167)

It could be said that all of Tait’s films, by the very nature of the medium itself, are poetry. Although it would be impossible to make a clear distinction between thematic categories such as portraiture and poetry, this chapter will consider a number of films Tait referred to herself as film poems. This will include, in chronological order, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo (1955), Tait’s cinematic interpretation of the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem by the same name; Palindrome (1964), a filmic palindrome that builds to a centre point before reversing back to where it began; Where I Am Is Here (1964), an elegiac film shot in Edinburgh and built on its own internal and often visually rhyming structures; Aerial (1974), a short, lyrical film invoking all things elemental; Colour Poems (1974), a complex film utilising a range of poetic devices and drawing in part from a poem by Sorley MacLean; and finally, Tailpiece (1976), Tait’s coda film to A Place of Work (1976) that is also inspired by the work of a poet often cited by Tait, Lorca. Attention will be given to the relationship between written poetry (both her own and others) and her films. This...

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