Portrait of Kaye

An introduction by director Ben Reed

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When I arrived in London in 2011, I think the first thing I did after unloading my stuff was go next door to say hello to Kaye and Tom. Friends from my hometown in South Wales had been living next door to them for two years and had a spare room which I moved into. It was a rite of passage for new neighbours to have Kaye give you a tour of the house, and if you were lucky it was topped off with a screening of half hour of her home movies. Sitting and watching films of the room you are sitting in, recorded twenty, thirty years earlier by the person currently sat next to you is special. There were films that were sometimes silent, patient recordings of empty rooms, and films that were sometimes filled with the anarchic energy of mother and daughter making each other scream with laughter. Some of these films moved me the way Chaplin moved me, or confused me the way Herzog confused me. The magic of these moments was that you never knew how you’d feel when watching them. But you always felt something. 

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Some days you could cry with laughter at Kaye’s dedication to repetition (like a proto Stewart Lee bit); a 40 minute tape with 5 takes shot over two days, that endlessly roves over that year’s anniversary cards and gifts from the neighbours. Each take with the slightest of variations in the narration; a new joke, or a slightly improved delivery or wording of a line. With some viewings you filled the space with your own sense of sadness; the repetition and silence of the scene becoming an emblem of captivity (or something like that). But on another day the beauty and pride in the word “lovely” at the end of a take would shake you with tears, jumping out of the blue as the most touching and human expression you’d ever heard.  I obsessed over these tapes. And I studied them like students do Citizen Kane. They were up there with the most perfect artistic expressions I’d ever experienced. And so I thought if Kaye couldn’t leave the house to share her brilliance, maybe I could help her films to do so for her, and in the process some of the purity and genius of her work might rub off on me (or at least appear to). 

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I learnt more about filmmaking in the time spent watching Kaye’s home videos than I had in all the years of my other life as a professional filmmaker. The intent behind their creation was pure: photograph and record something you genuinely love. And if you really enjoy it, like really truly watch-it-a-hundred-times-and-still-laugh-or-cry enjoy it, then someone else might like it too. And so that became something of a manifesto for my films construction; only use the good scenes. The scenes which entertained you. The scenes which moved you. And the scenes which emotionally confused you by saying several conflicting things at once. 

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It’s how I wanted to capture her; no soundbites, no exposition, no montage, no b-roll, just take the time to watch a brilliant and original speaker speaking unedited. If I ever felt the need to disguise a scene with ‘direction’; to amplify or clarify, to make superficially more interesting or lively, then the scene didn’t deserve to be in the film. (Ok, so there are a few crude concessions to context in there; I chickened out a little, it was my first film after all).

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It’s fortunate for the film that Kaye has such a flare for the dramatic and the comedic, and like her home movies, she often blends the two in the same story, leaving you to make up your own mind. It’s something she’s aware of, often asking me after a long morning of talking “what do you think about what I’m saying dear?”. Not looking for validation, or for you to have decoded things in a certain way (she’s not didactic or a manipulator of a listeners emotions), but just wanting you, the listener, to understand. To understand the complexity of life, specifically her life, but also of how we all live. She’s a poet in this way, a playwright, who by talking about herself talks to us all. 

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