QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED - an interview/dialogue

OK Paul, tell more about the world of Paul and the Badger... how much does it relate to childhood, really?

Well, it relates to childhood and adulthood in pretty equal measure. This isn't an attempt at regression - rather it's a pretty straightforward, albeit somewhat allegorical, re-jigging of my life. Okay, the incidents aren't c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y autobiographical, but the power dynamics, aspirations, elements of hope and worrisome scenarios are pretty much a transposition of how things are/were.

But the method of the series - playing with puppets, making them props and dressing them up - is childlike, sure, but (and I'm hoping that this IS apparent) with a fair amount of discretion and consideration in its construction. Editing even.
Creative acts are acts of play, I reckon it's the same bits that are churning away in your brain when you write a novel or a screenplay as when you're playing 'make believe' games in kiddyhood. It feels like that, at least. Adulthood has many advantages (can reach higher shelves etc.), but it's built on the foundations of the kid you were - it's not like you kill off the creature you are for the first X years of your life, you just build on it. It still lurks within.

Are the woodland puppets children?

No, they're not children - they're just a bit otherworldly (woodlandy?), thirsty for knowledge and are still learning the rules. And the rules are very difficult to explain.

Your piece also seems pretty much bothered about what the rules are - there's that nice yellow man elucidating, but I don't fell all that wiser after he's finished his bit. It reminds me of Absurdist literature where an 'expert' explains and in so doing just further confounds. I see him as a bit like a secular priest - which is a non-sense itself.
Do you see him as an authority voice, or perhaps as some kindly explanatory volunteer? Are there different colour figures at different levels?

I like the idea of different colour figures at different levels.. I think that's in the right area! *
(*See more on that in my EXTRAS section...)

Bothered about the rules? well my piece is largely about anxiety too.
The idea of the 'Broadcast' is quite important to what I'm trying to play with, as there is an implicit super-authority in the broadcast voice - especially with the BBC, especially with a 'Presenter'. This is what we have grown up with, and I think we are both partly playing with the role that TV has had in our childhoods. There is something very comforting about that benign paternalistic voice - and what I believe I'm doing is poking around at that comfort zone, but in a way that is not straightforward or nostalgic 'satire'. It's important that the nice yellow man seems to come from a planet of his own that probably has a very consistent set of rules, just like your world of Paul and the Badger.

I think you are playing with that particular TV comfort Zone too, Paul. Because, when you think about it, having that relationship with a TV - well, it's a pretty dodgy power relationship really! I find it quite troubling, we believe and trust it because it's like a familiar relative that we've grown up with from infancy. We think it knows stuff,and it can infantilise us. Especially watching daytime TV, when you're ill - we've all done that as kids, off school 'sick', watching whatever's on.

There is something quite 'fevered' about the logic in BECAUSE OF THE WAR. I wanted to put that fevered quality back on to the presenter, maybe also infantilise him a little, as although it's mischievous, the piece IS partly about my feelings of deep unease about the ludicrous WAR ON TERROR and how it is presented to us as 'sense'.

But Paul, you haven't really spoken about TV yet. Using a home made TV form has given you the opportunity to have a lot of fun with the idea of a repeated 'conventional' format - rules, again -I know you refer to them and cite the influences in your 'for educational use only' section, but tell me a bit about Soo - she's from the REAL puppet show Sooty and Sweep, right? How did her character 'develop' during the making of the series?

Well, it's always struck me that Soo carried a bit of history with her - she was always the most sensible of the bunch, more like an animal aunt. And when you're writing a series you can't help but think of your characters' pasts, it's almost like they insist on telling you anyway. So, Soo being this assured figure who came from the east and sprang on to our screens in the sixties - well, it's not TOO big a leap to see her as a kind of Yoko Ono of the puppet world.

J.T. And who is this 'Uncle Duncan' figure, and why is he so rude?

I prefer to think of him as 'brusque'. I picture there being a whole lot of Mr's and Uncle's and Auntie's - a sprawling network of human hosts presenting 'capersome animals' shows around the world. It's a bit like the Watchers in Buffy. Uncle Duncan is a bit more of a veteran on this circuit, there's a certain - er - world weariness in his manner.

But, to pick up on your point, this trusting-to-tv relationship isn't exclusive to childhood. Walk down any street, in any town, after dark and watch the blue flicker.
The thing with children's tv is that the 'moral responsibility' aspect is much more overt - you don't have to embark on any great ideological deconstruction in order to see what the broadcasters are up to.

But tv's pretty nasty in its unremitting exclusivity - it just wants to talk through and of itself. When was the last time you saw a show that championed reading, that suggested that maybe literature could be a more rewarding cultural experience than tv gawping? Or learning/playing an instrument? Or writing? Of course it won't because that would potentially encourage people to turn off the set - that would be treason!

I think that what both of us are up to is using the vocabulary or discourses of popular tv in order to express anxiety states, to tell different stories - it's an appropriate 'tongue', and one that we've been taught ever since our little eyes first popped open. I know that I've been enrolled in the School of TV three times as long as I attended 'proper' school - isn't it right that I should use its language. I COULD articulate in specialist critical languages, foregrounding process, problematising narrative blah blah (I've got the qualifications!) - but my concerns aren't about a rarefied stroll around the grounds of the Academy. That's a different show. I'd need to wear a proper beard for that.

To kind of contradict this: I noticed in recent times that I was fretting about the Badger Series being "just entertainment", as if entertainment weren't enough!?! Do you see 'Because of the War' as having gravitas - it's got a serious-sounding title?

Well, yes and no. Calling it BECAUSE OF THE WAR was intentionally provocative. I suspected it would then maybe get programmed at film festivals into the 'socially concerned/political section' but then it would have a very different kind of discourse to the films it was alongside...
I wanted it to be an odd beast - both serious and wayward. That is really its point - that 'reality' is a bugger to pin down, for humans (and probably animals too) to agree on.But it's about the effects of things rather than the causes, and how can one possibly trace the chain of intimate effects of the big, disturbing events.
It also runs off in directions of decadent escapism - stupid ideas, frivolous extrapolations of nostalgic fantasy utopias and folk magic. There is some pretty sillystuff in there - turning trophies into sausages by burying them in the back garden overnight, screaming marshmallows, etc.
One has to remember also that this view of the effects of war is a view of history according to the Society of Yellow Men's records...

Maybe I'm attempting something like an earlier video I made called 'SHARONY!' which offended some by being fairly comic, but also quite seriously about dark aspects of human sexuality -featuring young children with very 'adult' toys.
I very much wanted to try and make an unlikely, even queasy, cocktail of gravitas and waywardness. I'm not too sure how people are 'getting' it yet!

But fretting about 'entertainment' - well, I think entertainment is a ludicrous word, what on earth can it mean as a category? it covers way too much! It should be gotten rid of and replaced with as many words as the Innuits have for Snow.

Seeing as there are over 50 terms for 'penis' in the English language, I'm not convinced that quantity is the way forward. But I take your point.

Yes it can get tedious when work tries too hard to please, or amuse, and that's it's main agenda. I suppose there's already so much culture out there that does that, so people look to 'serious' or 'experimental' culture to not keep pressing those same buttons as maybe those buttons are a little sore.
But I think, working in the area of 'experimental' film and video Art, or whatever you want to call it, we sometimes bother ourselves way too much with these considerations of categories. I think the generation below us really doesn't fret about it and we should follow their example.

But Paul and the Badger HAS to be entertaining in order to work - if it didn't use those familiar hooks and formulas and draw us along it couldn't properly inhabit the form it's playing with. I think, maybe like me, you are trying to walk quite a fine line of the work being different things at once, but make quite a subtle, unexpected mixture. Do you think people will 'get it'?

If they want it they can have it. Whether they make sense of it (largely) the way I do: I don't know. That doesn't really matter anyway. There's enough 'rhetorical' content in the episodes to urge/infer certain readings, but whether that's taken up is contingent on the viewer's cultural take and inscriptions.
I remember reading an interview with George Kuchar who was talking about audiences laughing uproariously at a scene in one of his based-on-his-real-life melodramas, and how it vexed him as this was about something really bad happening to him - his tragedy became their comedy.
My subjects (depression, alcohol dependency, suicide etc.) are touchy but kind of touching - personally I find the roll call of famous depressives in Episode 3 quite moving, but it's presented in a comic scenario. So does one get moved, irked or laugh? Hopefully moved laughter or irked tears will ensue.

Tell me a bit more about 'the rules' you spoke of earlier, but the rules that you've set that describe the paramaters of the world of PAUL AND THE BADGER.
I know in the making of the series I, as sometime puppeteer, have suggested little details of things that could happen, and they've overstepped the mark of what's 'appropriate' for their world. For example, the puppets watch you urinating, and there's a flashback to one of their friends committing suicide - but does Badger have any feelings of an, er, romantic nature towards Soo maybe? I THINK she's the only girl on set... or maybe Badger is closer to the Squirrel in that way...?

I think the Badger feels mild awe of Soo as she's a celebrity in their world, plus she understands and can explain things well.
But 'the rules'? It's more about the logic of their universe, and how that's informed by ours. There possibly could be an episode to come about 'sexual awakening', but it'd have to be handled r-e-a-l-l-y unsmirkingly straightforwardly as the show's meant to be informative, in earnest and pre-watershed, or at least meant-to-be-seen-as-having-the-intention-to-be.
It's too easy to wink at the audience and go for stock gags - that's REAL tv's way. Being sincere's a much richer route, I reckon - it allows for much greater ambiguity and tension.

And, by the way, it's only the Squirrel who watched me urinating, and that was him being sneaky. And look at what happens as a result... I feel a moral lesson was explored, albeit somewhat stumblingly.

I'd like to leap away from this line and ask: whether there are other makers (of whatever) that you see 'Because ...' having a kindredness with?


Hmm, kindredness.

I recently saw some video work by the Canadian group General Idea - from way back in 1979. I loved their flat, chroma-keyed studio effect - the Colour Bar Loungein their video Test Tube. They also play around a lot with conventions of the presenter, but I also found it really interesting how theyused simulated studio space, in a really crude, matter-of-fact way, that's kind of beautiful, too.
I also feel quite a kindredness with some of Miranda July's earlier video pieces where she talks directly to the camera in a persona - The Amateurist, for example. There's a LOT of nervy anxiety in her work, and a sense of genuine perplexity at the oddness of human reality.
But deeper influences.. well yes absurdist literature - Raymond Roussel, Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka
and the whole heap of British TV I've been suckled on, from Monty Python to Dennis Potter and Dr. Who...

There's video maker friends (Americans again!) whose work I respect and whose tenacity I've felt inspired by, as they're plugging away at constructing their own realities, Xan Price is one (see Ben Coonley another.
And of course there'sYOU Paul. We haven't talked about the fact that we... er are a couple, and make films largely 'at home'.
Maybe this, which seems so normal to us,is more interesting than we think?
It is certainly part of the WE MAKE OUR OWN TELEVISION theme... and then there's the formative influence (for me anyway) of the no-budget EXPLODING CINEMA scene...

These certainly ARE home made. There's a 'production pragmatics' in how we work, and how we write. Casts are pretty minimal too - and the actors often appear in their own gardens! (I counted 3 in 'Because of the War'). I don't think low/no budgets are heroic, but neither are they a restraint. Well okay, they ARE a restraint if you want to stage a chase scene on a paddle steamer with marauding ponies running about the deck in pursuit of a STAR - but you just shelve such ideas away until the resources are available. Or if you really want to do it NOW you rejig it as a tussle in the garden whilst being chased by a neighbour's rabbit or cat.

The most important thing to me about our situation is that filming the garden/rabbit scene would be part of everyday living - it wouldn't be odd. We dress up (you were painted pink last week!), build props and film all the time. It's nothing special, it's just what we do. That's why I'm really pleased to be doing this show with you - this is like our home life made public.

Marauding ponies in pursuit of a STAR? That's lovely...
Well I am really happy about us doing this show together too... it's the first time we are consciously 'collaborating'.

Gosh yes, 3 back gardens! Well it's not that I'm mean and don't want to pay for 'real' actors and locations (because I could), it's something about the honesty of weaving the reality of the work in and out of my own lived reality. Because that's where the content is coming from anyway. For example, that's my dad and step mun in the video, burying the trophies in the garden - the same back garden we used to bury all our dead pets in. I was always curious to dig them up and see how they had changed...

I agree largely with you on this - but wouldn't push the 'honesty' bit so much. For me it's that moving image practice can come directly from, and feed directly back into, my real life - not in a documentary reportage fashion, but as part of the sense making and play that IS my life. It's storytelling, really, using local props.

I've found the industrial and commercial film models, and the trad avant garde, all pretty unsatisfying in terms of practice and canon. The former with its 'professional standards' - a normativity of how-things-should-look (which invariably comes with an industrial-sized price tag attached) - the latter with its stress on authority artist heroes.

These models represent a fraction of the pie-chart of what can be done with moving images - both have their strengths, obviously, but are such a partial account.

Last Saturday was 'International home movie day' I wonder how much our practise could be characterized as contemporary 'folk art' as much as Experimental film and video or 'Art'?

That would fit in with my storytelling take - and I've long seen what I'm up to as experimental home movie making. That's what much of my Super 8 work was (meant to be) up to.

Britain is big on categories, butall cultures to some extent police the 'status' of cultural artifacts. I quite like the idea that we are muddying the waters a little. Rather than playing the 'everyday life as ART' game - experimental film making practice has a dubious relationship with 'Art' anyway, and that 'game' is now practically an orthodoxy - I think we are doing something that is more problematic. It certainly still seems problematic with in the established experimental film and video scene (in the UK) to be playing so sincerely with narrative forms...

I find the artist Mike Kelley really interesting on this one, the hierarchies of forms of address. He's written about the suffocating lack of ambition of much 'craft' and 'folk art' (he grew up with it)but clearly finds it moving and effective and uses it's forms all the time.. all those restaged fragments of high school plays in his feature film 'Day is Done'...

I think it's down to the pragmatics of where you 'live' i.e. which world or sphere you occupy. Beyond the gallery scene there are practitioners of very refined folk arts and crafts, real marvels of commitment and eloquence - and at the same time there are thousands more dabblers who'll be making the standard sock puppets and shell creatures. The latter work's often most affecting for reasons the maker's least aware of - it's like watching home movies where the pathos is often in the film's lack of sophistication, in what's missed out, the glimpses and awkwardnesses of the filmer and the filmed.

That only goes so far in what it can articulate, and the not-in-the-movie audience member tends to be invoked as a more informed, more 'literate' viewer. I don't wantto encourage a feeling of superiority in my viewers - I'm endeavouring for something a bit more egalitarian!
What I DO want is to lead people through not-quite-right familiar structures, take different paths, find hidden corridors, and along the way explore formal and narrative possibilities. It's meant to be like a (kind of) funhouse - with some educational content thrown in!

Yeah well I think you shouldn't be too modest Paul. PAUL AND THE BADGER is a pretty smart maze as well as a funhouse.
But I think both our pieces invite the viewer to solve their puzzle, in some way.
The architecturalanalogy is a good one though. If PAUL AND THE BADGER is a maze of interconnecting rooms and corridors,BECAUSE OF THE WAR is a bit like a series of false walls, but with the front wall - the unstable screen - bits of the narrative have kind of plopped out and colonized the viewer's space, made it into a charmed place...
Let's hope people will want to stick around...

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