Tyneside Cinema and Film London Artists' Moving Image Network present the UK premiere of White Hole, a new work by John Smith. Mike Quille reviews
Let us go then, you and I, out of the consumerist chaos of Northumberland St. in Newcastle, and up the stairs of the refurbished Tyneside cinema, to the new multipurpose gallery space. There we can watch the antidote to Black Friday madness, in the new, poetic film installation by John Smith, the veteran independent artist and film maker.
It's a continuously looped black and white film, just six minutes long, with the paradoxical title of White Hole. For the first half of the film, we're part of a slow movement towards a light at the end of a tunnel. Meanwhile, the narrative voiceover is describing a visit to Warsaw in 1980, and a young, idealistic artist's pleasure at the lack of both aggressive advertising and overwhelming, unnecessary consumer choice in the shops. Also, though, his experience of talking to discontented Poles, who supported Solidarnosc, admired Margaret Thatcher and wanted more consumer goods.
Then the narrator describes a later visit to Leipzig in 1997, the year Tony Blair came to power, where he witnesses apparent prosperity but also growing problems of unemployment and inequality. And it's in East Germany that he hears the latest grim aphorism, 'there's a tunnel at the end of the light'.
The second half of the film goes into reverse, and we're moving towards a black light at the end of a white tunnel. The soundtrack is also played backwards, which makes it sound like a foreign language. Thus visually and aurally we experience the contrasting ideologies of capitalism and communism.
It's a simple but very powerful juxtaposition of image and sound, documentary and feature, which echoes and reverberates as the film loops round: you will want to watch it at least two or three times. It works dialectically, to express positives and negatives, beliefs and realities, history and the present, forwards and backwards.
We're reminded of a time in the middle of the last century when there was a strong belief amongst the peoples of both East and West Europe that a better world was possible. That there was light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of peace, full employment, decent housing, education and health services: something to aim for after the ruinous wars and depressions of the first half of the century.
And we're reminded of the opposite, the reversal of progress, with that idealism and confidence evaporating into the present day lack of an alternative politics. And of how our political and economic life goes steadily backwards across the continent, as social and collective bonds are loosened by implacable, EU-sponsored neoliberal market forces.
It thus brilliantly succeeds in expressing truths about Eastern Europe which all the TV programmes this year about the fall of the Berlin Wall have failed to mention. And it also conveys, with a subtle, understated black humour, the bleakness of our current political situation, with no choice, no vision and no sense of an alternative to the consumerist madness of endless Black Fridays – the tunnel at the end of the light.
Stop shopping and go see!
White Hole is on at the Tyneside cinema, Newcastle, until 6 January, and is free of charge. It will also be shown on Channel 4 soon, in the Random Acts series of short independent films.
Mike Quille had a long career in the Probation Service and is now a poet, freelance journalist and political activist living on Tyneside.