ANTI-CLOCK (Jane Arden/ Jack Bond; UK; 1979)
As any hardened cinephile will know, despite accumulating a broad global/ historical map of cinema and developing triple-arm-length long mental and/or physical lists of films to devour, there can still be out-of-the-blue chance encounters with a film that can have the same resonance as those regular discoveries and epiphanies of one's early years of burgeoning cinema obsession. For the regular film-obsessive, browsing for the next film to watch can often involve sifting through a mental catalogue of 'known' films, a kind of 'must see' or 'to do' list that involves mentally crossing off films in order to make space for more cinematic adventures. (And although this may sound mundane, I believe a great deal of pleasure is to be had in playing around with these 'to do' film lists).
But occasionally you come across something that has never been a part of your cinema knowledge, and you intuitively decide to view it and find yourself agog that once again there are parts of the cinema map that you've never heard of, never even ventured close to till now.
I came across Anti-Clock by pure chance – when recently browsing the shelves at the local university library, I shifted the DVD-case of a film I can't remember and the case for this film dropped to the floor. Upon picking it up and reading the blurb, I quizzically felt compelled to take it home and watch it immediately.
The film is unlike any other I've seen in a long time. At it's most basic description, it is about a man, Joseph Sapha, who is undergoing some kind of radical memory/identity rehabilitation experiment designed by a scientist, Professor Zanov (both protagonist and scientist were played by the same actor, Sebastian Saville, Jane Arden's son). Although it is never clear as to which images are based on Sapha's actual memories (if this is ever the case) or which are outright fantasy, it seems that a previous relationship with a woman provides the need to undergo this “anxiety survival broadcast,” although it's never clear why he is undergoing this mental re-programming. Like Tarkovsky's Stalker (made in the same year) or Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is a science fiction based on inner space, not outer space. But Anti-Clock goes much deeper into this inner space than these other films, entering an extreme limbo-realm where all we experience for the entire length of the film is a surreal loop of video-hazed images and echoing voices, as if Sapha's re-programming has become a mediated template that we also have to undergo.
The film starts with over five minutes of archival footage, a collision of mediated events that begins to run amok, as the soundtrack begins to defy the actual images on the screen. Then we hear a conversation between Professor Zanov and Joseph Sapha, over a painfully-slowed image of Sapha in a hotel room with a waiter coming to serve him breakfast. Sapha is asked “why are you in this room?”, which seems to be an interrogation not of the motives or reasons for being in the room, but of the very existence of the image-memory. This constant questioning of the nature and existence of Sapha's memories occurs throughout the entire film, as we move through various images of Sapha with the woman, video-bleached footage of Sapha walking along London streets, the recollection of a backroom poker game and regular visits to a cabaret venue, where Sapha acts as a magician and mind-reader. The visual register moves from cheap and choppy black-and-white video, to colour, to an incredible negativized burnt-out effect, redolent of video technology pushed to extremes. (In fact, co-director Jack Bond created these bleached and burnt effects by using intentionally-burnt-out video camera tubes which would blow up after 45 minutes of use.) These changes in visual register do not help us to grasp a difference between one world and another – they all end up being different palettes to describe a multitude of limbo-states that Sapha might or might not be undergoing. Memory is re-viewed, re-collected, re-mediated, but is no longer categorization, crisp, lucid, or understandable. The visual texture of video, either as choppy CCTV footage or as a polarised burnt-out image, seems to represent the blurriness of memory, and the striking use of echoing and repeating character's lines, letting them fade in and out in a repeated loop, seems to imbue the film with the eerie sheen of being inside someone's else's mind, reading their thoughts. As Sapha says near the end of the film, “my brain is recreating a negative repeat pattern,” which seems to sum up the total experience of being immersed in this unusually wonderful film.
Having gotten curious about the creators of this film, I did a modicum of research. It seems that writer and co-director Jane Arden was an actor-turned-director, who throughout the course of the 60's became increasingly influenced by feminism and Laingian anti-psychiatry. She directed only one other feature-length film, The Other Side of Underneath, in 1976, and a short film Vibration, co-directed with Jack Bond. She wrote a book in 1978 titled You Don't Know What You Want, Do You?, which is purportedly a kind of de-programming manifesto that may have contributed to the shape and flow of Anti-Clock.
Jack Bond's filmography is also remarkably sparse, having only co-directed Anti-Clock and Vibration with his partner Arden, as well as directing Separation, which was written by Arden, in 1968. Jane Arden committed suicide at the age of 55 in 1982, compelling Bond to suppress any further screenings of Anti-Clock and to make the decision to never make films again, concentrating instead on television documentaries and music videos (most notably for the Pet Shop Boys. Hmm). The history of cinema is strewn with plenty of 'might-have-been's and 'what-if's, and the idea of more Arden/Bond collaborations beyond the inspired experimental vision of Anti-Clock is yet another 'what-if' to add to the pile.