A silver sea across the plain,
Clouds dissolve and melt away,
Close your eyes and wander backwards through the day…
A 7″ lathe-cut, strictly limited to 50 copies, of two songs by Jane Arden and Mihai Dragutescu, taken from Arden and Jack Bond’s 1979 film, Anti-Clock.
Anti-Clock, Arden and Bond’s final collaboration, has been described as an “avant-garde sci-fi”, but that billing, though not exactly inaccurate, scarcely does justice to a densely woven, dream-like narrative which explores issues of personal identity, social conformity and, at bottom, our precarious, entirely provisional understandings of time and space. Our co-directors combine pioneering video techniques and pin-sharp colour footage to startling effect, while Arden’s script exudes a deeply despairing poetry.
The film opened in 1979 but was never picked up for British distribution: its only other public screening on these shores was at the NFT in 1983, as a tribute to Arden, who had committed suicide at the end of the previous year. However, Anti-Clock was given a modest theatrical release in the US, where it received substantial critical acclaim – Newsweek applauded “a complex and fascinating experimental exploration of time and identity…a film of authentic, startling originality”, and Warhol and Chabrol both signalled their approval. Following Arden’s death, a grieving Bond suppressed further distribution/release of the film, until a 2005 restoration and DVD/theatrical release from the BFI.
Later in 2016 Blackest Ever black will issue a vinyl LP edition of the full Anti-Clock soundtrack (the first time it has been made available on any format). It demands to be heard as a whole: the dialogue and sound effects, Bond and Arden’s jagged, collagistic editing, and the hypnotic, cyclical guitar themes of the mysterious Mihai Dragutescu are all crucial and inseparable components of a complex mechanism. Two pieces, however, stand in splendid isolation from the rest, and these are the crepuscular ballads sung by the film’s writer, Jane Arden, over Dragutescu’s keening glissando: ‘Sleepwalking’, which opens the movie and perfectly prefaces its themes of temporal and existential unease, and ‘Figures In White’, which in just one and a half minutes evokes a deeper malaise for which there is no consolation, let alone cure.
The limited edition lathe-cut of these two songs will be available to purchase from 17:00 CET on Friday 26 February. The record is housed in a card wraparound and plastic sleeve. Half of the wraparounds are yellow, with image and text screen-printed in red; the other half are blue, screen-printed in black. Customers ordering the lathe-cut will be randomly assigned one of the two available colour-ways.
One of the most outspoken radical feminist icons in British theatre and cinema in the 1960s and 70s, Jane Arden has since been virtually silenced by near-invisibility: her books long out of print, her plays unperformed, and her films unscreened until the present revival [refers to the British Film Institute’s 2005 reissues of The Other Side of the Underneath, Anti-Clock and Separation].
Born Norah Patricia Morris on 29 October 1927, [Arden] grew up in Pontypool, Wales, and was educated at Newport High School for Girls. After training at RADA, she began a professional acting career in the late 1940s, appearing in supporting roles in a live BBC adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (tx. 5/10/1947) and two ‘B’ thrillers, Black Memory (d. Oswald Mitchell, 1947) and A Gunman Has Escaped (d. Richard Grey, 1948). She married the director Philip Saville and, after a short spell in New York, where she began writing, they settled in Hampstead where their two sons were born in 1953 and 1958. Saville directed her first stage plays and many of her early television scripts, including Curtains for Harry (tx. 20/10/1955) and The Thug (tx. 15/12/1959), while her domestic drama The Party (1958) presciently combined Charles Laughton’s final London stage appearance with Albert Finney’s first.
From the mid-1960s, Arden became increasingly involved in feminist politics, the dramatic watershed being the Saville-directed The Logic Game (tx. 9/1/1965), which she wrote and starred in. She also began a long creative and personal relationship with director Jack Bond, initially on his BBC documentary Dali in New York (tx. 14/4/1966). For this, she asked the veteran Surrealist painter some memorably combative questions, to the point when he nearly abandoned filming because he considered her insufficiently submissive. After playing a minor role in Saville’s controversial erotic drama Exit 19 (tx. 8/8/1966), in which Bond starred, she wrote a screen treatment called Checkmate, the basis for their debut feature Separation (1967), in which she also played the female lead.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Arden cementing her reputation as one of Britain’s leading feminist voices with such plays as the multimedia piece Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (opened February 1969), which took full advantage of the recent abolition of theatre censorship to assault its audience with deliberately shocking images, such as a gigantic projection of the title organ, through which the cast emerged to invade the audience. She then formed Holocaust, an eight-strong all-female theatre troupe, and directed A New Communion For Freaks, Prophets and Witches, a piece which opened London’s Open Space theatre on 5 May 1971, and whose script and cast would form the raw material for Arden’s only film as a solo director, The Other Side of the Underneath (1972).
The mid-1970s were dominated by lengthy trips to North Africa and India, and further collaborations with Bond on the experimental video pieces Vibration (1975) and Anti-Clock (1979), the latter their third and final feature. Both Anti-Clock and the prose-poetry collection You Don’t Know What You Want, Do You? (1978) were inspired by Arden’s increasing interest in the way natural instincts were usually sublimated by the dictatorship of the rational mind (which she mockingly labelled ‘Rat’).
On 20 December 1982, Jane Arden took her own life at the age of 55.
- Michael Brook, 2009