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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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This book is the result of over a decade of research into the life and work of Margaret Tait. As a consequence, it draws from and reworks a number of chapters and articles that I have previously published, including the following: ‘Stalking the image: Margaret Tait and Intimate Filmmaking Practices’, Screen, 49/2, Summer 2008, pp. 216–21; ‘Contemporary Scottish Cinema’, in Neil Blain and David Hutchison (eds.) The Media in Scotland (Edinburgh: EUP, 2008), pp. 151–65; ‘Demons in the Machine: cinema and modernism in twentieth-century Scotland’ (co-authored with Alan Riach), in Jonathan Murray, Fidelma Farley and Rod Stoneman (eds.) Scottish Cinema Now (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), pp. 1–19; “Ploughing a lonely furrow”: Margaret Tait and “professional” filmmaking practices in 1950s Scotland’, in Ian Craven (ed.) Movies on Home Ground: Explorations in Amateur Cinema (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009), pp. 301–26. The research was supported by small grants from the Carnegie Trust, as well as an AHRC Early Career Fellowship. I’m also very grateful to the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Stirling and the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies for supporting this publication.

My research into Tait actively began in 2005 when myself, Ian Goode, and Mitch Miller and Johny Rodger from The Drouth magazine, organised a day-long event on Tait’s films that was held at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT). Since that time, the work has benefited from discussions with a great number of other friends and colleagues,...

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