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Flicker (2001)

Courtesy of Christopher Newby

Main image of Flicker (2001)
16mm, colour, 5 mins
DirectorChris Newby
Production CompanySatellite Films
Produced byAngela Scott
Shot byChris Newby
Music bySand

By their bonfires and blazing crosses, the people of Lewes in East Sussex commemorate the burning of the Protestant martyrs during the Marian persecutions of the sixteenth century.

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The celebration of Bonfire Night on November 5th is a great British tradition across the nation, but for some residents of Lewes in East Sussex, it's almost a way of life. For one night only, various Bonfire Societies transform the entire town into a gaudy pageant of torchlit processions and strange, sometimes sinister costumes based on various historical themes - the distinctive striped tops of smugglers' traditional garb being particularly prevalent.

The scale of the revelry is because in addition to commemorating the Gunpowder Plot, Lewes is also marking a specific local event: the so-called Marian Persecution (named after the Catholic Queen Mary I) of Protestant heretics. Seventeen burning crosses are carried through Lewes, representing martyrs burned at the stake in front of what is now the town hall. The events culminate in the symbolic burning of effigies, usually representing controversial current political figures.

Compared with the sedate pace of Chris Newby's earlier work, the multi-coloured orgiastic frenzy of Flicker might come as a surprise, though it's wholly appropriate to the subject. The title refers not just to the frequent shots of flames but also to the aesthetic approach. Shot by Newby himself with a deliberately jittery hand-held camera, the combination of long exposures and a slow frame rate enabling him to shoot in natural light while speeding up the action to often breakneck pace. A feverish, pounding score by experimental post-punk group Sand adds to the overall feeling of unchecked delirium.

As in his earlier films, Newby's editing draws analogies between disparate materials, often at an elemental level. Flames are intercut with flowers, firework trails with water spouts, branches criss-cross the screen while brightly-coloured stained glass windows appear to be taking off into the stratosphere along with the exploding rockets. Newby simultaneously takes full advantage of the cornucopia of naturally occurring juxtapositions in front of his camera - the burning tar barrels and flaming letters, for instance, are also symbols of Lewes Bonfire tradition. Finally, as clouds scud across the face of a baleful yellow moon, the film comes to a juddering, exhausted halt.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD of Anchoress.

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Video Clips
Complete film (4:29)
Newby, Chris (1957-)