Friday, February 22, 2013


This documentary was started many years ago and is no nearer to final completion than it would have been had the makers decided to make the best of the material they had on hand then to capture the life and work of Alasdair Gray.

Even the latest cut , which was being edited and worked on at 4 am the day of this showing , has only one glib , almost flippant , reference to the Independence vote coming in 2014 , in which he categorically states "Home Rule" as he likes to call the process will be a certainty , a comment that deserves some clarification and production of evidence as nearly all the polls being conducted seem to suggest the YES vote is over 10% behind the NO in all opinion polls.

The makers claim lack of financial backing for the project as to why we are still no nearer the final presentable cut , though one does wonder if their is also the artistic element of lack of grounding to which aspect of the multi-faceted Gray they want to explore rather than superficially voyeur a bare scratching of his many disciplines only to find they have penetrated beneath of the surface of none.

As the Q&A after screening suggested the documentary does not cover any of the critiques and analysis of Book both at home and abroad by other artists which Gray loves to discuss in depth with his colleagues and peers as pointed out by Bernard MacLaverty , another contributor in the session pointed out the non-existence of vast writings and discussions Gray has had about religion and the church within the universe of spirituality.

Having seen the documentary and heard the input of the audience it seems the best course of action for the makers would be to have a taut appraisal of one aspect of his expression in a deep and meaningful way , for example by far the best parts of the documentary were the scenes and close-ups of his Murals , it was the rare times you got to see Gray the artist at the art-face.

Gray is a brilliant Muralist , superb painter , gifted novelist , skilled publiciser , very good playwright , critic and a noteworthy poet.What he is not is the archetypal classical speaker of a nations voice that marks out a Yeats or a Gibran , or the embarrassing comparisons to being a Scottish Leonardo Di Vinci which should make all parties cringe.The one weakness in Gray "the myth" is that he does not have the finger on the pulse of the nation , this can be read as either him being way ahead of his time , or it being questionable if his watch is in good working order , i go with the broken watch theory.In the matter of art this is an asset , to breath and work to a completely different aesthetic wave is the spice of stimulus , but to be the voice of a nation one needs to be a paradox of an artist that is grounded and rooted as well as uplifted and aspiring.It is something the great Celtic Artists can do , but Gray , despite his variety of expression cannot do to a deep level.The same goes for Nationalism as expressed by the Celtic Peoples which is a healthy embracing of others nationalism which genuinely strives to have local decisions made locally by those accountable to the constituency they live in , unlike the superiority nationalism we see in the continent.

To illustrate the point , Grays wading into the nationalist question has had the effect of those in favour of independence seeing his "input" as somewhat of a liability , whereas those that wish to retain the union can quote him copiously as the frankenstein nightmare of what an independent Scotland could become.What for an artist can be a welcome trait , can for an advocate in the political realm be a blunder of catastrophic unwise proportions.

For example the Scotsman Newspaper had this take on his bizarre and misplaced attack on non-Scots "colonialists" taking over the arts.An ironic piece of lack of sense as the very organisation he attacks has only this year re-claimed Macbeth in a fantastic production that has been a smash in Broadway and plans to stage a major production of Hoggs "Confessions of a Justified Sinner" in the summer.

This irresponsible piece from someone who should have known better compelled the much lauded and universally appreciated director of  The Scottish National Theatre to defend herself on the grounds of "race".The flurry of comments shows how much heat rather than light was generated.

This prompted a polemical debate in the Bella Caledonia Magazine in which the reply in the rebuttal comments section by the brilliant Scottish Actor Tam Dean Burns deserves to be published in full.

"Ok I’ve read Alasdair’s essay several times now. I really wish Scott Hames and Word Power had made it available so that everyone could make a considered opinion of it and its sentiments. But I have to say first off that I really don’t think the smear accusations hold much water. Yes, the headline and subheadline are wrong and deserve criticism but could easily have been the work of a sub-editor. The article quotes selectively, sure, but it contains the substance of what the essay is arguing and does not misquote. To make out that Scotsman Publications has “stepped over a line” and deserves boycotting is just silly. And to refer to the journalist Peterkin as ” self loathing” and such like smacks of the Zionist propaganda machine that Alasdair refers to in regard to anti-semiticism.I have criticised Kevin for adopting Alastair Campbell style tactics, also employed in regards to Macalpine ie try to divert the story to being about shooting the messenger – in those cases the BBC, in this Scotland On Sunday.
At last, Kevin and Michael admit that the terms used by Gray are generally best avoided. Settlers and Colonists are terms asking for trouble and its ridiculous to howl now when they find it. As far as I can see there is no fundamental difference between the quotes in Peterkin’s article and the essay.
I’m only going to make a point or two more because I’m being picked up to appear on Scotland Tonight about this shortly but I take offence at Kevin stating that’s my “reward” for joining the Unionist camp. I mean really- get a fucking grip Kev.
I don’t need to come to the defence of Vicky Featherstone. She has spoken brilliantly for herself. All I’ll say for the benefit of those who comment here is that the vast majority of voices heard in National Theatre of Scotland productions have been working class Scots.
But I take offence at the smearing of Giles Havergal as a colonist who, one can only presume in the way the essay is constructed is being accused of being not a great Artistic Director of a theatre of world renown- the Glasgow Citizens’ – but an example of “arts administrators (who) were invited to Scotland by the Scots, stayed longer but were still colonists, not because they eventually retired to England or were promoted to other jobs there, but because their work for institutions originally created to encourage art in Scotland actually depressed it.”
Giles Havergal used to stand at the front door welcoming the audience in every night and Glasgow and Scotland should be totally proud of what was achieved there. And as for merely two plays, even that’s not true- what about Trainspotting, Filth, The Cutting Room, two of which I was in? I think if you look at the records you’ll also find only a handful of Shakespeare’s. the Citz had its own unique take on theatre and that should be celebrated rather than nit-picked at here. This is not behaving as if in the early days of a better nation but grumping and moaning in the hangover of a referendum defeat brought about by such stupid own goals. Thank crivvens almost all comments I’ve read have wanted nothing to do with any desire to lump folk into settler or colonist camps. Like I said with the Open Letter to Laurie Sansom ( must be wondering what he’s let himself in for! ) there is a debate to be had about directors in Scottish theatre and that may well extend to other spheres, but I’m afraid that so far, this has not been that debate.
And finally, never mind the bloody Abbey, Scottish playwrights are punching well above their weight and have been for some time!"

So much for any weak points about Gray the national voice , Gray the artist is a supreme talent and deserves the last word in a medium in which he is a master, in this link you can see him talking in depth about his Novel "Lanark" and its impact since publication.

You can see most of the documentary on youtube ( notice how many years since it went up).

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