The Last Biscuit

Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Paul Hallam

The Last Biscuit

2009, 20’40”

27 February – 9 March 2015

 

The Last Biscuit (Paul Hallam and Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2009, 20:40 min.) is a film essay on theatre, memory and desire and the ‘theatre’ of the city.  It formed part of a changing/developing performance piece Dirty Linen: an Evening with Paul Hallam, staged at various venues, including The Cochrane Theatre, London in 2006.

 

 

An accompanying text by Paul Hallam

I wanted to look at the “theatre” of the city, the city as a set. It would partly draw on my book, The Book of Sodom, with Nottingham as my featured city, the nearest city to where I was born, the mining town, Mansfield. It would look back, from my then London flat (2005) to my adolescence in Nottinghamshire in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

I did not and do not want to “direct” anything about my life; I prefer to keep a certain distance and hand it over to others. On this occasion, by chance, I found the perfect collaborator in college – the filmmaker, Andrea Luka Zimmerman. Together we decided that I would open up my archive of the times. I am, perhaps sadly, a hoarder. I have kept almost every scrap of paper handed to me, down to the flatmate notes on “remember to get a pint of milk.”

We would just open up some of the old cases and files of papers and magazines and photographs. I would talk. Andrea would go back to Mansfield with me to film. I might be asked for an idea for the film or an opinion on the footage, but essentially I would be a passive participant in the film-making process. As we filmed, over just one weekend, I found myself relaxed and wondering how we might incorporate my mother’s letters from the time. Would I read from then? We hoped my sister Christine might agree to read from them instead. With only a minor show of resistance Chris, entirely unprepared, agreed. It helped that she and Andrea got on so well. And this is one of the ways I hope the film achieves a kind of spontaneity.

It was, and is still, a film about theatre. But it is also a film about the blurred borders of autobiography and biography, about memory, collecting and death.  It is in part a reflection on adolescent sexuality, formed through a filter of “culture”. The ways in which watching and reading the works of others helps affirm a sexual identity.

I am not sure why we put my name first in the “A Film By …” credit, though it works alphabetically.  Such a credit always causes headaches for compilers of databases. I know that from the long experience of Nighthawks, a film by Ron Peck and Paul Hallam. It is a great pleasure for me that this film now appears on that film’s thirtieth anniversary DVD release by the British Film Institute.  Andrea photographed the film and edited it. I don’t think either of us much expected it to be released; it was a kind of notebook. When the DVD possibility, the possibility of its being an “extra” came up, Andrea re-edited it for this, its final version.

The making and proposed screening of The Last Biscuit coincided with a difficult time for me, a mystery illness, what was labeled “a neurological episode” by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Walking to teach an evening class, I lost a few hours of time; I did not know where I was, but some of it felt like heaven. It transpired I was still in King’s Cross, well I suppose it is my kind of heaven.

A strange and worrying time then. Perhaps the right time to reflect on the past, and to use a few of those old cases of papers.

Thankfully the mystery looks finally to be resolved, by a doctor here in Istanbul, in 2009.

To clear up a mystery credit. A guest appearance in the film is made by Andrea’s dog, Radio. Everyone watching the film assumes he is my dog. He looks so comfortable. He was there on the shoot; it was that kind of film.  Sadly Radio died of a rare illness in 2008.

The music? Until recently I had always thought that “I Will Take You Home, Kathleen” or “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” was a very old, traditional and anonymous song. The Internet recently informed me that whatever the Irish tourist sites may say, the song had a writer. Thomas Westendorf, a teacher in Illinois, wrote it in 1875 as a song for his wife, Jeanie. She was visiting her home town, Ogdensburg, New York at the time. It was a great hit. Many great singers have recorded this song, Elvis and Johnny Cash to name but two, and almost every Irish star.

We thought to include a medley of the versions, but the rights issue would make that impossible. At the last minute, for this release, Andrea asked a friend, the country singer Christine Cynn, to record the song. I was in Istanbul, where I now live, and the deadline for its inclusion on the film was up.

Christine’s version was “better than Elvis”, Andrea assured me, and I have to agree.

A woman singing the song to a woman, a tribute, a kind of offering to my mother, Kathleen. My Kathleen was Irish, but she was given away, shortly after her birth, by her Irish parents who did not want a child to an English couple who did. I still have the hand-written note that is all that records the transaction.

I hope such chance elements, some of them sad, also give the film a quality of something “fresh and green.”

Paul Hallam
Istanbul, February, 2009

Real Estates: A project by Fugitive Images

Fugitive Images are Andrea Luka Zimmerman and David Roberts, a ‘collaborative cultural activist producing agency, with a particular interest in, and commitment to, the social organisation of urban space’ – www.fugitiveimages.org.uk. Real Estates is a six week project coordinated by Fugitive Images at PEER in London, featuring work by, amongst others, Fugitive Images, Focus E15 Mothers, Tom Hunter, Bekki Perriman, Jeremy Till, Andre Anderson, John Smith and DIG Collective.  Further details can be found here.

“The project marks the end of a seven-year series of collaborative works with our neighbours of the Haggerston Estate.  Our work came from within the community, with whom we cultivated other spaces to gather, share and campaign before the estate was demolished in 2014.  Our neighbourhoods and communities are facing even greater threats from new developments and policies that separate and stratify us.  But there are also many that have resisted these forces…” Fugitive Images.  For more information and to subscribe to updates go to www.real-estates.info.