Sunday, 23 November 2014

The History of Occulted Vectors, part 2: Nasrin Blake In Retrospect

Following on from our last entry on the history of Occulted Vectors, we explore the work, and cinematic legacy of noted film maker of the Avant Garde, Nasrin Blake. Outside of her work in film, Nasrin was a prolific writer for Occulted Vectors between the years 1984 to 1988. Her contributions include her landmark essays Mercurania: Cinema and its Debt to the Metaphysical Poets, and, Mute Sublime: The Romanticism of Fritz Lang. She also wrote numerous reviews, and penned a regular column detailing her adventures in the search for lost films from Britain's silent era.

This entry constitutes her earliest obituary, penned by Occulted Vectors editor, Thomas Berwick, following the conclusion of her eleven year career in film.


            June 23rd, 1990

            Nasrin Blake committed suicide on 1st June. Being told about it, over the telephone the day after, it felt like a lightning bolt coming out of a clear blue sky, like something completely unexpected and inexplicable. Afterwards, though, in conversation with those who knew and loved her, we realised that this event was something of a capstone. Suddenly, a number of seemingly unconnected phenomena in her life were shown to have an underlying sense that had previously escaped all of us. Nasrin often spoke of her life being a vast art project, but that isn’t to say that she thought of herself as the artist. Often, she described herself as being less the painter and more the brush- that the films that she produced did not belong to her, but to someone working through her.

1979, used at the Blue Seeds
Independent Film Festival
            Nasrin could not be described as a happy individual, though that isn’t to say that she was particularly unhappy. She was someone that, simultaneously, seemed to be carrying a weight that no one except for her could detect, but in conversation with her, you sometimes felt that she was silently laughing at you, at everything, for reasons you could only guess at: ‘Her little private joke with existence,’ as Jack Londinium once put it. Though never aloof, she did not suffer fools gladly, and would avoid small talk at all costs, though would engage with anyone she found interesting. When talking with her, she would fix her eyes on you, focus all of her attention on you, and you would swiftly lose track of time. I am certain that I am not the only one to feel like this, but the thought of never again being able to engage with her like that feels me sorrow.

            Her death is not just a loss to her friends and the occult community, but to independent cinema. Since 1978’s Meditation Tableaus: Experiments in Celluloid Transcendentalism, Blake created a further ten films:

·         Fusion/Fission/Fusion- 1979
·         Chthonic Transgression- 1981
·         The City and the Soul- 1982
·         What Crows Know- 1982
·         The Desert that Teaches- 1985
·         Wasted Time in Wasted Lands- 1988
·         Afraid of the Day- 1989
·         The Black Sun Revealed­- 1989
·         Golgotha- 1990

The eleventh film, of course, is the one we’ve all heard about, the suicide tape, which she entitled The Final Blooming of the Flower. She left behind considerable notes, explaining with great detail how she expects the film to be completed. Whether or not this will happen, no one can yet tell. The police have not released the footage of the suicide itself, and what we are left with is, typical of Blake, stock-footage that she had been experimenting with. We have decided to say nothing else about it until, or if, it is completed.

Her films are often viewed as acts of magick, a label which she was always uncomfortable with. In an interview she gave with this journal in 1988, she remarked: ‘These films, I feel, are more prayers than they are magickal rites. But, they’re not my prayers. They’re the prayers of something else, working through me. Though I suppose there’s little difference between a prayer and spell.’ Blake would often say that she would suddenly feel compelled to start work on a film, that the imagery and themes would come at her suddenly and often fully formed. The titles were the only thing that she insisted were entirely of her own devising. 
1985, limited theatrical release

Her most well-known work was The Desert That Teaches, a bizarre, harrowing and insightful documentary on the origins of the three Abrahamic religions, their relationships with the other religions of the desert, Zoroastrianism and the Yazidis in particular, and speculations about the role of the environment itself in the construction of these theologies. Blake, who always retained a strong respect and admiration for the three great monotheisms, though always remaining outside any particular faith community (though she was brought up a Shi’a Muslim), became fascinated by the relationship between the demands of a single God and the prohibition on ‘witchcraft’ found in the codes of these religions. Coupled with her last complete film, Golgotha, a short piece that follows her on a visit to Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposedly built over the sight of Christ’s crucifixion, ending with a haunting shot of the sun setting behind the Dome of the Rock, Blake’s fascination with the desert religions was obviously retained towards the end of her life.

What exactly nature of this fascination was, we may never now know.

Her small, quiet, non-denominational funeral, though carried out according to her specifications, felt like an anti-climax. It almost seemed as if she did not feel her life had been worth commemorating. This thought, that she did not recognise that she had made an impact on so many people, that she thought her art simply did not matter, I find the most heart-breaking of all those I associate with her.

She did not deserve the hand she was dealt.

-Thomas Berwick, Coventry 

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