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Margaret Tait by Ali Smith
Ali Smith
Margaret Tait
What does it mean, the title, image after image of it overlaying itself, written in faint chalk?

A voice behind the image asks the filmmaker what the title means. It means poet of the land, the filmmaker (we presume) says. 'Some beauty!' the woman's local voice says, ironic, and the first set of images are harvest images, footage of corn being stooked and gathered. Hard work, and the colour gold, and a voice-over that's entirely local, local in the way that makes the ear remember what it is both to belong to a place and to not belong, to not be able to make out what exactly's being said. There's room for good-natured guesswork here, room for well-meaning understanding, in this film-poem about landscape's gifts and landscape's structure, the structure of the seasons and the structure of survival.

Land Makar depends on chronology - Tait knows to keep things chronological here, because time and the seasons are what make both the woman working the farm and the landscape she works. So after the harvest there are ice shards on the reeds in the pond, a drift of smoke from a chimney across a still dusk sky. Then spring and its new greens and yellows (because Tait as filmmaker is a pure eye for colour), then summer, then the wind getting up as autumn comes in, and winter, the end again before the next beginning. Within this chronology, right at its start, a woman on a tractor, and as soundtrack (rare for Tait) the real sound, the tractor engine : this film is about the work process. For once, too, the voice-over soundtrack is a dialogue, between the filmmaker, presumably, and the woman whose life the film is about, but they don't talk about film, they talk about weather, people, work, everything.

Dialogue is everything. Land Makar is dialogue with landscape, a give and take, the recording of someone farming a piece of ground which looks wild and unfarmable, but isn't, has been given its shape - a film about how things keep their fertile shape, how we can, if we put in the steady work and thought, make things give of themselves and be more than themselves. It is about the dignity of this work. Voiceover makes voice become landscape - finally that's what we hear, when we look at it, the voice that's made it what it is and the way it makes the voice. It's another of Tait's paeans to survival, and as usual she finds the image which will tell its viewer everything - a roof, patched and holding, even, as she pans along it, great spreads of grass all over it - this isn't just a film about living in a landscape, but one of being the landscape, turning into it yourself.

The haphazardness / the symmetry of a good standing dry stone wall. A momentary symmetry of several ducks all turning their heads in the same direction. The momentary haphazard symmetry is matched by Tait to the seasonal symmetry, and the steadiness of it, the hard work of it, the sparseness and richness of it, all revealed, calibrated, celebrated, in a way that frees and marks both the spirit of the woman and the spirit of the place. Dialogue of spirits! Land Makar. Some beauty!

Ali Smith
Still from Land Makar by Margaret Tait, 1981
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