As part of the BBC 6 Music Festival, a series of music documentaries are to be shown at Bristol’s Watershed. On Sunday 14 February, Mark Kidel’s cult Tricky documentary ‘Naked and Famous’ will be screened as part of a double-bill to feature the rarely seen ‘Tricky Live’. We find out more about his work, and the process behind this documentary.
Mark Kidel learned the tricks of his trade through the tried and tested method of self-education. Neither going to film school or taking the conventional route, Mark immersed himself in his art from a young teenager where he would take any opportunity to develop his understanding of films as a form of expression.
Spending time growing up in France, where there is naturally a stronger support network for developing autonomous documentaries and feature films, harboured his imagination further, and when living back in London, Mark created his first fly-on-the-wall documentary on southend band, The Kursaal Flyers So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star? in 1975.
“There is much more state support for film making in France than there is in the UK, they have an organisation that takes a levy of all the cinema tickets sold of American films – it’s an attempt to keep the French film industry going in the face of the American invasion. It’s very effective – it doesn’t stop American films being shown, but the money is ploughed back into documentary and feature films in France.” Mark explains.
Mark’s documentary films are predominantly based out of his devotion to music and to telling the stories that are most often overlooked. His resume holds a vast collective of work – both independent film titles including Under African Skies (1989) exploring the relationship between music, culture and society in Mali and Algeria and Boy George: Boy Next Door? in 1994. He has explored the meaning of melancholy in his visual essays, and challenged our assumptions with work that illuminates the truth and complexity of the human condition, in his 1993 film The Heart has Reasons and Kind of Blue (1994).
“I partly grew up in France, and French is my first language. I never went to film school. My film school was going to see films a lot and being passionate about cinema since I was about 14 years old. A lot of those were French films. There is a seriousness about French film, it’s not just about entertainment – that is very strong in French cinema. My own films tend to follow this style.”
“My writing opportunities often fell serendipitously.”
Mark set out to make a documentary on the Bristol Sound – a chance to get under the skin of the musicians who innovated a new direction musically, drawing on the stories of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky himself. It wasn’t a straightforward process, and took over a year to secure funding, but his documentary Tricky: Naked and Famous was eventually taken on by Channel 4, as Mark explains:
“I set out wanting to make a film about the whole of the Bristol scene in the early 90s. In general, nobody was too keen to be characterised as Bristol music. At that point, Tricky had split off from Massive Attack and made his first album, Maxinquaye, released in 1995 – it was ground breaking. He had made it entirely on his own using electronic tools that he had self taught. When that album came out, everyone was blown away, it was extremely well received. I’d also read an interview with him, and his background, of growing up in Knowle West, Tricky was one of the few mixed race people. There were a lot of gangsters in his family and his mother committed suicide when he was four years old, and he didn’t see much of his father. I found it fascinating, and could see that there was a film in this.” Mark says.
The documentary opened Mark’s own horizons, introducing him to parts of Bristol that, until the making of the documentary, were under Mark’s radar. South Bristol, Knowle West and the extreme poverty existing at that time in these areas, became intrinsically woven into the narrative as told through Tricky’s experiences. His music, a symbol of this urban landscape and the cityscapes he grew up within.
“It was an interesting way of getting to know Bristol better. I barely knew the south of Bristol. I had been to Knowle West once when I needed a depressed cityscape for a film I was working on. Tricky knew the area well, which was built as a housing development in the 1950s. There was huge poverty and unemployment, and consequently, a big drug problem.” Mark explains.
“Looking back, what I learned about film language, came from going to see loads of movies.”
Mark’s depiction of Tricky is an intimate one – created out of the proximity to his subject, and the working relationship they were able to develop across a short but intense period of time.
“I went to Paris to get to know him better, we sat around in his hotel room over a couple of days. Consequently, quite a lot of the film is set in that room. It was the first film where I shot a lot of it myself, which seemed appropriate because he was much more comfortable with just me and my assistant doing the sound. We got to know each other and got on with each other from the word go.” Mark recalls.
In the film, Tricky goes back to Knowle West and wanders around his old neighbourhood, meeting people whom he grew up with. In doing so, Mark was able to discover the inner workings of the city fabric that filtered through to Tricky’s own personal narrative. However, as with any portrayal, there is a threshold that Mark avoids crossing:
“On one hand, he was saying I’ll let you get close – but on the other hand, it was a bit too close for comfort – Tricky wanted to maintain some privacy. I’m very mindful of people’s private state and tend not to delve too much into relationship issues, I feel this is very private.” Mark says.
Surprisingly, Mark has not spoken with Tricky about the film itself, yet the documentary was given a lot of media attention at the time of release in 1997. During the course of the documentary, Tricky accompanies Mark to the town of Wells, where Tricky’s uncle was living at the time. In doing so, this revealed a story that ordinarily might not have been illuminated, and that is the beauty of Mark’s films.
“It hit a nerve at a certain time. I do follow my instincts. My films are often centred on how people feel – poetic in nature, perhaps. It’s about the things that open your heart. It’s about having a real passion for music – and what makes musicians tick.” Mark says.
Mark Kidel is a documentary maker based in Bristol. His media company, Calliope Media are based in Stokes Croft – for more information: http://www.calliopemedia.co.uk
For tickets (£6.50) to Tricky: Naked and Famous screening at the Watershed on Sunday 14 February, at 2.30pm: www.watershed.co.uk
(The second film of the double-bill features the rarely seen Tricky Live, a unique record featuring vocalists Martina Topley-Bird and Cath Coffey (Stereo MCs), filmed in near total darkness at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 1997.)