A selection of the late Jeff Keen's brilliantly bizarre film work screens at Perth's Revelations Film Festival - the first retrospective since the underground icon passed away last month.
Jeffrey John Spencer Keen was an avant-garde visionary who chose a career of questioning and challenging artistry at a time when it was particularly difficult to do so. A contemporary of such unique talents as Andy Warhol and George and Mike Kuchar, Keen passed away on June 21 at the age of 88.
Based for most of his life with his wife and muse Jackie (pictured, right in 1968's Meatdaze) in the artistic hub that was Brighton, the insatiably prolific Keen officially made 70 films, though it is believed the number could be well over 100. A celebrated painter, poet and sculptor who masterfully expressed an idiosyncratic view of society, his films exhibited a “lo-fi, DIY aesthetic, fascination with popular culture, sexual openness, and playful approach to personae”, commented UK’s The Independent newspaper. Recognizable techniques included crude but mesmerizing animation, collage overlapping, use of archival footage, friends and family non-actors, even the deliberate scratching of the film surface; his stock of choice was Super 8.
The Revelations Film Festival, beginning this week in Perth, will offer the first retrospective appraisal of Keen’s work since his passing. Although the event was programmed several months prior to Keen’s death and has toured the world since it was curated by his daughter Stella Starr in 2010, it will be the first such gathering that allows both fans and newcomers to assess his films with the knowledge the artist’s work is complete. The program consists of short-films Wail (1960), Flik Flak (1964-65, below), Marvo Movie (1967), White Dust (1972), The Dreams and Past Crimes of the Archduke (1979-84), Omozap + Omozap 2 (1991), Artwar (1993), Plasticator (1990s) and Joy Thru Film (2000). Revelation’s program describes the works as “a visually rich, rapid paced, often loud and lurid, celebration of all that is cinema.”
“I grew up in Brighton, amongst quite a vibrant artistic community” says Jack Sargeant, Program Director of Revelations, “and he was someone whose work and life we were all aware of. His role in the underground film community is very important, it can’t be underestimated.”
On screening the retrospective so soon after Keen’s passing, Sargeant says, “Of course, there will be a poignancy in the air, but his films were full of life and excitement and he was such a brave, kind person. I think that is how best to remember someone like Jeff Keen.” With Stella Starr honouring her agreement to attend the Revelations screenings, Sargeant is aware the mood may be sombre. “There’s always that tension between the poignancy and the celebration, though (our intent) will be that the event becomes a celebration of his work.”
Jeff Keen Retrospective takes place on Saturday July 14th at the Astor Theatre, Mt Lawley.