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Dreams and Past Crimes of the Archduke (1984)

Courtesy of Jeff Keen

Main image of Dreams and Past Crimes of the Archduke (1984)
16mm, 7 min, colour
DirectorJeff Keen

A frenzied poetic maelstrom featuring crime, war, horror, madness and defiant creativity.

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Jeff Keen has given himself and his stars a variety of exotic titles through the course of the films they've made together: The Cat Woman, Motler the Word Killer, Daphne Dale - Girl Detective and Baby Jelly, among many others. These names point to the comics and B-movies he's consistently enjoyed and evoked in his work from the early 1960s to the '90s, when paintings of his avenger and anti-hero, Omozap, often feature. Although it is not clearly stated, the Archduke named in the title of this '80s work must refer to Keen himself. The film, with its dreams and past crimes, constitutes a form of requiem for a now abandoned way of working. Keen is solo and centre stage in the films made after this point.

The 16mm work is made up of three parts: out-of-date film stock accompanied by evocative piano, a noir style photo-drama set at Brighton train station and - the main piece of the film - a gorgeous blue- and red-dominated poetic psychodrama. The use of old film stock is not untypical for Keen; he would regularly use whatever material was at hand, often using different types of film stock within the same title, as here. As a low-/no-budget filmmaker, he frequently had little choice, but he often exploits the poetics of low-grade material as part of the process.

Keen cut his images in the main section to a soundtrack provided by his daughter, Stella Starr, who recorded the cut-up of music and sound effects during a film show at the local cinema. Although not always credited, Stella has provided regular assistance to her father, beginning in the late '60s and usually as camera operator. She also features as the blind-folded artist painting with a paper brush, a particularly dynamic image. The red- and blue-painted figures look partly to the new romantic art that was happening at the time but also look like ghosts of the people who'd appeared in Keen's films for the last 20 years. The double-exposure of the ghostly figures, the slow-paced action, colour dominance and interplay between sound and image make this one of his most reflective films.

The film also features a Hitler mask which Keen bought at the end of Brighton Pier; Hitler features in cut-outs and extracts from newsreels, too. This placement explores the neverending presence of war within popular culture and Keen's personal focus, having served in WWII.

William Fowler

*This film is included in the BFI DVD and Blu-ray compilations GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen.

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:42)
Keen, Jeff (1923-2012)