Glasgow art collective 85A’s first self-produced film, Chernozem, was originally launched in The Glue Factory back in 2012. By all reports, it was a groundbreaking event that blurred the lines between cinema and live performance, audience and actors, and redefined the way film can be experienced. Fast forward some eighteen months to the Red Lecture Theatre at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, and it’s difficult not to feel that some of the original impact has been lost.
For this event, Chernozem is presented as a straightforward screening of Judd Brucke’s less-than-straightforward film. The convoluted plot focuses on Maschine, a man with a factory for a head. Maschine’s attempts to escape from enslavement under the brutal boss Golgotha are variously helped and hindered by a series of grotesque supporting characters including the nightmarish henchmen the Gichts, seductive Siamese twins Hope and Charity, and a giant industrial god.
It is clear 85A intend for this to be an experience first and foremost, and the storyline is just one small element. To that end, the scrawled subtitles, thumping industrial soundtrack, grainy monochrome footage and jerking cuts all contribute to the evocation of a dystopian world informed by Soviet propaganda, German Expressionism, and Eraserhead-era David Lynch.
Perhaps the most powerful moments come as the audience exits the theatre through the industrial labyrinth of dark corridors, where Gichts lurk in the shadows and Golgotha himself mans the exit. The screening is followed by Renegade Maskerrade, a sort of masked ball-cum-nightclub which promises to develop the atmosphere created by the film, but the spell is somewhat broken by the cold air of the Summerhall courtyard and the sight of the film’s characters, in full costume, chatting over beers as the audience wait to be ushered to the next venue. Perhaps the original experience simply cannot be duplicated, but we must count ourselves fortunate that groups like 85A are around to push boundaries.