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Art, Culture, Movies

Dirty Innocence

by Brandon Edmonds / 17.03.2010

Claire Angelique is the winner of the 2009 Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Her film My Black Little Heart was partly produced by Lars Von Trier. It was shot by the guy who shot Slumdog Millionaire. A fitfully original and disarming film-maker who deserves your attention, her new film Palace of Bone will be out later this year. Her journals The Last Initiation are out now in all good bookstores.

Hey Claire, okay so here are my questions. The first one is the hardest.

Mahala: There’s a terrible turning away from popular concerns in film. The era of ‘social drama’ or social protest cinema (reaching a peak in the 70s with the political thrillers of Costa-Gavras and the pointed moral tales of Fassbinder and Chabrol, and something like Sidney Lumet’s incredible Dog Day Afternoon) seems to be a trail long gone cold. The concerns and fads of adolescence hold sway today. From Harry Potter to the Twilight series. Or else its all about mass-affect techno-fetish blockbusters (Transformers, Avatar) that are driven by little more than profit. Are you concerned, as a young film-maker, with engaging social reality? Particularly the South African present, with its chronic inequality and elite indifference to suffering? Or does your own biography, riven as it is with addiction and ‘bad choices’ – tend to loom large? Are you in danger of a narcissistic dead-end?

Claire Angelique: I’m no narcissist. And I still can’t always tell my ‘bad choices’ from my good ones. But yeah we all have a dead end fortunately and before mine, whilst I’m still young enough to make films about young people living in south africa, all suffering in their own way I guess, I will. I’m not afraid of engaging social reality – I’m scared of not embracing it. I think the most powerful stories are personal ones, they’re also by default the most political. We all judge each other and in a sense when you’re writing and making a film you are passing a series of judgements, without them the fictional film becomes a documentary. I don’t think south African film makers will be so gloriously documented as the 70s sub culture (the so-called American New wave) you refer to, the industry is far too mediocre, the powers that hold the money are a bunch of capitalist wankers who have no understanding of the relevance of film as an art form, and shoot you down before you’ve even had a chance to stand up.

Quite frankly the only way forward for film makers is to make films
with no budgets, saturate the industry, break into the castle and cut the heads off the morons that laud their despicably hypocritical agenda over anyone who treads off the footpath…

Actually I’ve also forgotten what the question is, and I can’t be bothered to read it all again as I have to go help my mom make dinner, oh yeah, my question to myself is: do you care enough to carry on, that’s a question I’m still answering, its all new romantic and stuff.

Mahala: I also forgot what the question was. A Christian woman I know walked out of your film ‘My Black Little Heart‘. The foetus burial scene was too much for her. I think its sad she walked out. Pathetic, really. Do have anything to say to her?

CA: I don’t know why people bother to come see films if they walk out of them. Kind of defeats the point really!

Claire Angelique

Mahala: I’ll let her know. You certainly light up a room. Where does
this blazing self-regard come from? It seems at odds with your self-destructive tendencies, or do they require each other?

CA: When I was in rehab, the last, I mean the third no the fourth time, the councillor told me I had a lot of demons to deal with. It was then I knew I was up to being a film maker because you sure need to be a soldier to fight those dirty scoundrels who want to bring you down and choke the life out of your stories. I’d sooner do business with a drug dealer than with some of those financing devils, at least the man on the corner brings some temporary relief – the suits just steal your dreams…

Mahala: I’m not sure what the fuck I mean by this but where, for you, is the line between self-promotion and self-enjoyment?

CA: It’s normally in my sock or the little front pocket of my jeans
wrapped in plastic…

Mahala: Ouch! Do artists have to ‘sell themselves’ or can you conceive of a social or political system that respects artists?

CA: Of course artists have to sell themselves, we’re all a bunch of whores and I don’t know any or if there ever will be a system where artists have been respected. From Wilde being imprisoned, to ear cutting and copious opium use, art and the system are at complete odds. You have to be willing to put on your balaclava, throw a petrol bomb and take to the streets.

Mahala: Settle down now. What compromises have you had to make (personally, in terms of your own principles) to get your work made and distributed?

CA: None, I don’t compromise, much to my detriment

Mahala: Has the Standard Bank Young Artist Award helped? What
role do banks have in the arts?

CA: The standard bank award has been lovely, thanks to some phenomenal supporters out there who have taken me under their wing and make sure I have something to feel proud about even when I crash all my cars. ‘The best lack all conviction’ don’t they? Banks have a huge role to play in the arts, but their service fees are ridiculous!

Mahala: Tell us about Palace of Bone.

CA: Its about found cell phone footage of a group of mismatched down and out characters around Albert Park in Durban – Fender Bender, Katapilla, Po, Shazi, Jackie the Chan and Tito’s lives get mixed into a series of vignettes that sometimes don’t always make sense, kind of like morning afters.

Mahala: Tell us why My Black Little Heart hasn’t found a global audience, despite its quality?

CA: Lies, deceipt and treachery amongst squablling producers and sales agents.

Mahala: Now that sounds like a movie! The Last Initiation is a great title. Very Georges Bataille. Why publish your journals? Shouldn’t artists edit themselves in private? Shouldn’t certain doors be closed to the public?

CA: Oshen, this wonderful guy I met in Jhb, told me I looked like Bob Dylan. We both shared a love of beat literature and he had read my blog and owned a publishing company. We grew fond of each other, drank a bit in airplane bars, and he offered me lots of money to publish. So I am. He’s also a very uncompromising individual and wanted to treat the journals as purely as they were written. They were written with a dirty innocence and I generally don’t segregate what is my ‘art’ and my life, they’re too closely intertwined, they feed off each other the little fuckers, leechy bastards. They’ll suck me dry one day, I tell you, mark my words, no actually don’t just buy the book and read them.

Mahala: Will do. You have a very generous approach to your own expressiveness – a kind of over-production? Your blog is a remarkable tissue of rants in chunks of stream of consciousness. Is there a feminist tilt to the flood of your expressiveness? A sense of talking out loud no matter what men think? Do you want to over-run all kinds of boundaries?

CA: My aunt and my parents read my blog and didn’t speak to me for like 2 months! I had to pretend it was all fiction, but I think they know better. Anyway, I make a killer risotto, so all’s forgiven. My dad just doesn’t understand why I’m a crack whore in all my films! He’s wrong (this time) because in my new film, ‘Palace of Bone‘, I play a dealer, selling celluloid dreams, analog or digital they’re both fashionable at the moment. Anyway, he’s lucky I’m not a fundamentalist, and declare jihad on all middle aged white men! Then shave my hair off and do the fandangle…

Mahala: Yikes! What ‘artistic rules’ do you live by when writing? What other screenwriters have you felt close to?

CA: Writing is just really easy for me. I’ve always been able to do two things, read and write…oh and dance, I’m good – well I was kind of a good dancer. I write by experience, and I feel closer to photographers, musicians and poets than I do screenwriters.

Mahala: We’re in the final stretch now (I know you’re neck-deep in pre-production). Has District 9 shown the way forward to a popular interesting South African cinema?

CA: Um, no!

Mahala: Fok! Do you have a future in this country?

CA: Do I have a future? Yes, yes I do whether it is in this country or not, I’ll always tell South African stories, its in my blood whether they like it or not.

Claire Angelique

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