Being Arthur and Raphael Hefti

Being arthurThis weekend saw Paul Fillingham and I produce the first ever live 24 hour Twitter presentation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for a project called Being Arthur as part of the Being Human Festival at the University of Nottingham. We billed this as The Sillitoe Trail II as it developed themes and ideas from our Space commission a few years ago.

being arthur then and nowThe presentation was split into two parts: Then and Now. The script for ‘then’ was a combination of the novel, the screenplay, a few other Sillitoe novels and a bit of improvisation. ‘Now’ saw Seaton working his way through ‘nine hundred and fifty-bloody-four emails’, playing fishing on his wii because the canals have now dried up, and using dating App Tinder to meet lonely women because it’s cheaper and more immediate.

arthur pintsIt took a lot of research and time and was pretty much last minute due to other deadlines vying for attention. Paul created some beautiful visuals. I particularly liked the ‘drinking contest with the sailor’ as he visually created the slow, demolition of a pint. We created Twitter accounts for some of the other characters too, which was a right headache to properly synchronise so that it got tweeted in the right place.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the project was getting comments from people who weren’t aware of what we were doing. As I’d used my personal Twitter account (TheSpaceLathe) for the modern Arthur, a few friends got quite concerned about the content of my tweets and thought I’d had some kind of personality change. I haven’t explained to them yet that I am not having a string of affairs as I’m quite interested to see if any of them start gossiping to my partner or spreading rumours.

tinder arthurBut using my personal account did restrict some of the content and meant I was more cautious than I should have been. One person on Twitter (@monsterlander) commented that the real Arthur Seaton would have laid in to noisy neighbours who woke him up (this is how the ‘new’ story starts) but as far as I am aware, Seaton didn’t really go around lamping people. There was always the threat of violence but he didn’t really instigate it. When he gets caught out by the squaddies it’s them that catch him rather than the other way around. But I was able to respond to this later on in the schedule by sending Monsterlander a threat.

It was a pleasant coincidence that Raphael Hefti’s exhibition was running at the Nottingham Contemporary at the same time as Being Arthur. Hefti is fascinated by processes and experimenting with materials. For his current solo exhibition he visited industries in the East Midlands, such as Rolls Royce with the aim of learning about the composition and treatment of metals in different states.

Arthur Seaton is a factory worker at Raleigh who grafts all day at his lathe for “14, 3 and tuppence for 1,000 of these a day”. Raleigh, during the period in which the book was set, was one of the largest employers in Nottingham, alongside Players and Boots. Sillitoe worked at Raleigh too, describing the daily grind as “a thousand times a day I set the bar, spin back the turret, push in the chamfer, force the drill. Working two cutting blades till the brass hexagonal nut falls into my right hand and gets thrown into a tin.”

Photograph taken from Evening Post, Nov 6. Mark Patterson article

Hefti, if you like, has taken these offcuts, these pieces of industrial waste from the production process, and given them new meanings through his experimental art. Instead of nuts he has used aluminium, titanium, copper and steel poles and heated them up so that they produce ribbons of beautiful colour. The artwork is entitled ‘Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially altering their Determinacy, 2014’.

Both Seaton and Hefti’s artwork share quite a few similarities: Neither can be easily classified, they are both shaped by the industrial production process, and they equally strive to transcend their material existence. Seaton described his lathe as ‘my everlasting pal because it gets me thinking’. His imagination enabled him to temporary escape from monotonous, repetitious labour while defying anybody to try and grind him down. Hefti’s incredible artwork refuses to be pinned down and transforms industrial waste into something quite magical. But the similarities end there. Seaton would never be seen dead in some poncy art gallery, not even for a free cocktail on opening night.

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BFI

Perhaps the most difficult element of the Sillitoe project so far has been trying to get my head around copyright, particularly with regards to film stills from the movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. MGM, who now own the rights from Woodfall, don’t seem to pick up their emails very often which is a little worrying as The Space goes live on 1 May. I’ve been informed by various people in the trade that this is perfectly normal and most likely because the project isn’t going to reap much financial reward and so there isn’t really the motivation to respond. This seems a little odd given the recent Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills in Congress that claimed piracy costs the U.S economy between $200 and $250 billion per year as well as the loss of 750,000 American jobs. You would think they would be after every penny.

 

The initial process for clearing rights is relatively straight forward. You register on the MGM website and put in a request for content. Getting them to respond is the difficulty. Tony Roe of Inside Out has been helping to chase this and if he has had difficulties as a documentary maker with the BBC, it makes you wonder what chance anyone without an established media institution behind them has. As a back-up, we’re crediting the stills as the property of BFI/Woodfall films and through more email notifications will either take the images down if MGM are unhappy or pay them what they want once they sort out an invoice. I had anticipated this kind of problem which is why I brought in New College Nottingham as a partner to illustrate various scenes – but even here you have to be careful. If they were to create an illustration that looked like Albert Finney then we would be in breach of copyright due to the ‘likeness.’

 

Despite all of these difficulties, I had the pleasure of going down to the BFI last week and working my way through the archives. I even had to put on a pair of those funny white gloves. It was a real privilege to be able to do this, particularly seeing shots of the cast taken off camera. I never realised how many freckles Albert Finney had on his nose and cheeks and Shirley Anne Field is absolutely gorgeous. We were after images for the five key locations on our App trail (Old Market Square, White Horse, Raleigh, Trent Embankment and Goose Fair) and found some real beauties. There was a great one of Norman Rossington riding the Market Square lion but unfortunately they didn’t have the one of Albert Finney and Shirley Anne Field in the same place. I love this image and have it stuck on my office wall at work.

 

The BFI content can be accessed online and I’d strongly recommend anyone doing a similar project to check out their website. Thanks to a collaboration between regional film archives and the British Film Institute, film archive collections from across the UK can now be searched online which saves a lot of time. By combining archives, it’s pretty easy to search out content based around particular themes. This means if we have a problem getting the rights to show a clip of Arthur Seaton working in the factory we can always use a documentary about Raleigh from some other footage. The BFI have the rights to a lot of documentaries and so this is also easier to clear. So if you see a ‘for sale’ sign up at my house over the next six months it means I’ve got it all horribly wrong and a lawsuit for my troubles.