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Public Places, Private Thoughts
Nicky Hamlyn
Public Places, Private Thoughts
Margaret Tait's Colour Poems of 1974 is a set of miniatures of places in Orkney and people associated with them, about how people and places become inextricably connected in the mind.

It is also about inanimate objects that become animated, infused with the energy and character of a place, as in a short, single-shot poem entitled Old Boots. Here a pair of Wellington boots shivers gently and fitfully in a breeze blowing into the barn where they stand.

The film opens with animation of leaves drawn directly onto the film-strip. This energetic footage contrasts with the voice-over, in which Tait describes searching for changes in the faces of men returning from the Spanish Civil War. Speed Bonny Boat comprises tightly framed shots of ships' hulls, their wakes, waves, boys (sic), a dinghy. The tune of the title is whistled-over, as if encouraging the boats on their way.

Colour Poems is capricious, moving abruptly through Incense/Innocence, a whimsical portrait of a young girl, to Brave New World, which juxtaposes shots of a dumper truck with the sound of a football crowd. The pastoral beauty of the passing of the seasons is recorded in Terra Firma, with similarly-framed, exquisitely coloured shots of poppy fields taken at different times of year, while in Objects Found we see simply that: close-ups of discarded packets and wrappers, a yellow line painted on the road, sign boards and so on. The soundtrack, snatches of radio reports about terrorist attacks and North Sea Oil, serve to remind us that Orkney may seem far, yet it is also near; independent, yet subject to a difficult relationship with Westminster, and part of an already globalised and interdependent world.

The poetry of this sequence of short films comes to life through framing, as much as anything else. Carefully observed objects and small events, as in Old Boots, the bow-wave of a small boat or discarded cigarette packets, are isolated and thereby transformed into aesthetic objects whose very incongruity in such a "poem" frees them from any sentimentality or facile beauty.

Four stills from Colour Poems by Margaret Tait, 1974
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