Something about Iain Sinclair’s latest book screams of a serious author having some serious fun. 70×70 – Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked In 70 Films is a deliciously poetic documentation of a sprawling curation project that does exactly what it says on the tin, and then some.
In celebration of his 70th birthday – and in response to a suggestion made by King Mob’s Paul Smith – the Hackney wordsmith rummaged through his own back catalogue in search of traces of works he’s hunted, happened upon, made and admired. From it, he pulled a film for every year to date, weaving together a rich sort of cultural autobiography.
Over the next 12 months, Sinclair screened all 70 films in a series of special events across the city, trekking out to obscure parts of town to talk about everything from Douglas Sirk’s wonderful Tarnished Angels to Patricio Guzmán’s jaw-dropping Nostalgia for the Light.
With the mammoth undertaking done and dusted, Unlicensed Preaching represents something of a project journal.
The book is split into two main parts: the first a collection of short passages offering nutritious insight into each of the films concerned, and the second a record of the events held, comprising Sinclair’s intros, transcripts of conversations, and contributions from friends and collaborators, such as Alan Moore, Chris Petit and Andrew Kötting.
The essays in the first section are sure to delight anyone with a modicum of interest in film. Whether or not you’ve seen the material is of minor significance. Reading about Kiefer Sutherland making “a pass at that cryogenic Burroughs voice of world-weary cynicism” opposite Courtney Love’s “emboldened” Joan Vollmer in Beat – and what it is about this bizarre feature that works – is fascinating, regardless of prior knowledge.
Reading about directors you are more likely to have preconceptions of – like Godard, Sirk, Welles and Hitchcock – is an education, but perhaps most interesting are the commentaries on Sinclair’s own work and that of his friends. An extended piece on his collaboration with Petit and Susan Stenger on Marine Court Rendezvous – “where the silenced dead catch up with their fugitive souls” – is simply marvellous. And the same goes for his thoughts on Kötting’s stunning This Our Still Life.
The second section expands on the reasoning behind his choices and furthers the intrigue. We learn about things like the “collaging and bricolage of sounds”, the spillage as “projects leak into each other”, and much more. He loosely situates each film within both a personal and wider cultural landscape, with key figures and ideas popping up over and again.
This unclassifiable book knits a complex tapestry of history, memory, documentary and fiction in a way that those familiar with Sinclair’s writing will surely recognise. His sentences are often dense and always thrilling to roll your tongue around. But his ideas on the past, present and future of cinema are what remain, steadfast and long after reading.
70×70: Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 Films is published by Volcano Publishing. ISBN: 9780992643454. RRP: £25