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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 3: Sound


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Closing your eyes while watching a film by Margaret Tait is both a sound and a geographical experience, a journey through her landscapes marked by the wind, silence, water, music and their accompanying birds.

Oskar Alegria, director of Punto De Vista, International Documentary Film Festival, host of Tait Retrospective in 2015 (2015, p. 113)

This chapter will examine the soundtrack in Tait’s films. In particular, it will consider moments of dissonance between sound and image in her work. A number of examples of the use of a dissonant soundtrack have already been touched upon in this book. For instance, in Tailpiece (1976), the use of a complex combination of music and sounds (both diegetic and non-diegetic) was recognised. Tait’s use of upbeat music and children’s nursery rhymes serves as counterpoint to the poignancy and sadness expressed through the disparate, roving images depicting the clearance of a much loved family home.

The sophisticated soundtracks contribute a great deal to the poetry of the film, ensuring that images that might seem familiar are wrested from the conventions associated with their representation. For this reason, the first part of this chapter will offer a focused consideration on this aspect of Tait’s films. There will also be a careful consideration of voice in Tait’s films – when it is used and when it is not. Tait’s films do not always include the voices of her subjects, often, when they...

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