Mare’s Tail

David Larcher
United Kingdom 1969

28.02.2020 16:00 Without dialogue Kino Arsenal 1

16 mm, 160 min. Without dialogue.

It begins with a meditative, vibrating drone in the dark auditorium and ends with a word scratched onto the film strip: REFLECT – an invitation to viewers to think about what they have seen, but also the description of one of the many techniques used by David Larcher in his two-and-a-half-hour experimental film epic. Such dual and multiple meanings are a recurring motif in the film, as is the desire to decipher the foundational structures of cinematic perception. There is a fascination for the psychedelic expansion of consciousness and for the complex web of relationships between experience and memory – the film can be read as both a hippie-esque, elliptical diary film as well as an encyclopaedia of experimental image systems.
“Mare’s tail” is the term used in England for elongated, fraying clouds resembling a horse’s tail that herald a coming rain. And just as one must learn to first see this symbol and then interpret it, David Larcher teaches us cinematic seeing in a kind of creation story of visual representation, which is at the same time a section of the director’s own history, bathed in the period colours of late 1960s. (uz)

David Larcher was born in London in 1942. From 1959 to 1962, he studied Palaeolithic archaeology in Cambridge and then film and television at the Royal College of Art, London. Larcher began to take photographs and make films in the 1960s, and from the 1980s he also devoted himself to video art. From 1996 to 2007, he was professor for video art at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM). He lives and works in London, Cologne and Mauritius.

It flies, swims and moves from point to point

A film like MARE’S TAIL by David Larcher is an epic film flight into an inner space. It is a 2¾-hour visual accumulation, which, as it is the filmmaker’s personal odyssey, becomes the odyssey of each of us. It is a man’s life transposed into a visual rapport. It is of the spirits and the demons, which are in each of us, that unravel, as in the film, as mystical totalities through into the fragmentation of realities. Every moment begins a journey. There are spots before your eyes, as when looking at the sun that flames and burns the moments of our time-going into another, time-going into the film and into us. From nowhere known to us, and with no reason given, we look at distant moving forms and flash into through. Drifting through suns. A piece of earth phases over the moon. There is a face, your face, his face, a face that looks and splits into forms that form new forms which we can discover once again as tiny monolithic monuments. A profile as full face. The moon again, the flesh, the child, the room and the waves become part of its own and our hieroglyphics.
MARE’S TAIL is a real trip. It flies, swims and moves from point to point – just like each of us. The lines move into shapes which move into orbits and your eyes water into the colours. What each of us can see is more than what we do see. The film becomes one of the most vital penetrations into the experience of seeing, and ranges along with Brakhage’s “Art of Vision” as a classic in film perception. Ranging from the abstract to the figurative form, MARE’S TAIL allows no direct verbal way to give it its position. It not only goes from the abstract to the figurative, in terms of its objective view, but explores the subjective responses of Larcher himself to his own life and to his personal visual experience. (…)
In this way it is an archetype of film expression. The movement of lines, as a slow animation, combined with a phlegmatic zoom and twist, become like pieces of thought. They are also back projections refilmed. There is the refilmed negative (colour onto colour negative) producing an alteration of the already transformed colour subtleties of the film. (…)
It is about time and it needs time. It cannot be watched impatiently, with expectation; by looking for generalisation, condensation, complication or implication. As with most films it just needs the unconditional time to experience what is happening and what you see. Then you will receive.
MARE’S TAIL is probably the first British-made film that reaches towards this encompassing sense of pure vision, and one of the few of its kind and size in the world. Larcher, who is also one of the few subjectively responsive and free photographers, has no theories. If any influences seem evidently exerted it is the “I Ching”, hypnagogic imagery, and some of John Cage. At one point in the soundtrack, Cage’s voice incessantly repeats, “Am I a butterfly?” from the phrase, “Am I a man or am I a butterfly?” The question still echoes. (Also echoing is one diffused and distant voice singing, “River, the follower,” on the soundtrack at one point). The real influence however is still Larcher, who roves and discovers in his own world without the constriction of ours. This is the essence of the film and makes it unique. It is freedom that is desired by many, feared by most and intellectualised out by others. MARE’S TAIL (made possible by the unpretentious support of Alan Powers) gives continuance to film modality. It also gives continued understanding to the freedoms found in many films made by many other filmmakers.

(Steve Dwoskin, Afterimage, London, No. 2, Autumn 1970, Infoblatt N0. 28, 1. Internationales Forum des jungen Films, Berlin 1971)

Production Alan Power. Production company Q Production (Richmond, Surrey, United Kingdom). Written and directed by David Larcher. Cinematography David Larcher.

Films

1975: Monkey's Birthday (360 min.). 1983: View through the Aquarium of the / Ich Tank Durchblick (5 min.). 1987: EETC (69 min., with Mike Stubbs et al., Forum 1987). 1989: Granny's Is (50 min., Forum 1990). 1993: Videøvoid: The Trailer (33 min.). 1996: Videøvoid: Text (36 min.). 1998: Ich Tank (59 min.).

Photo: © Courtesy of David Larcher and LUX, London.