Someone almost there -
John Foxx premiers The Quiet Man
John Foxx's third appearance at the Leeds International Film Festival saw the premier performance of a project integral to all of Foxx's output since the late 1970s - The Quiet Man.
Since John Foxx first began filming and photographing friends wearing a second hand grey suit from Oxfam, this “quiet man” figure has never been away, providing a recurrent figure and underlying theme in almost all of his songs. He has been writing The Quiet Man for three decades now, and although it may never materialise as a conventional book, on Friday 7th November 2008, John Foxx premiered an audiovisual show of live music and live film mixing, presenting The Quiet Man in this form for the very first time.
Even minutes before Leeds Town Hall opened its doors to the public, Foxx and collaborator John Leigh had improvised a new piece, combining the sounds of a treated grand piano with live film mixing - a happy accident which had evidently excited Foxx, and a sign that The Quiet Man was still evolving, just moments before its first public airing.
The first segment of film was a long montage of clips, ranging from Foxx's camcorder footage of 1970s London, overgrown ruins, flashes of private life and people wearing that old grey suit in various locations. The prevailing theme was the suit, with the voiceover describing the affect of wearing it and the suit somehow becoming part of you. With Foxx playing piano backing music similar to Drift Music, the narrator told the story of the suit, as its wearer walked through the remains of a London ravaged by time; desolate and overgrown. Stunning flashes of imagery showed landmarks such as the Royal Albert Hall overgrown with weeds and climbing ivy, echoing the writing of J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World - a novel Foxx openly cites as an influence, and it was this kind of imagery that the concept of Foxx's Cathedral Oceans project grew from.
Wandering in and out of his old favourite places and empty, posh hotels, the quiet man spends the story exploring places from his past. Watching the film, it became clear that this multimedia presentation is perhaps the best form for The Quiet Man to take. No text book could ever quite evoke such emotion, that this simple combination of voice, piano, strings and film did.
The second part was entitled A Man Made of Shadows - a title familiar to anybody who has seen Foxx's Tiny Colour Movies performance. This piece expanded on what was previously just a fragment, though using the same monochromatic clips of early American cinema and flashes of famous faces. It was interesting to realise that this section had evolved from the ongoing Tiny Colour Movies project.
A Man Made of Shadows ended with Foxx finally putting himself in the quiet man's shoes, and reading a moving passage, as the silent film continued to roll. In this narrative, we hear the central character step into the cinema screen and merge with the film - images of the Metamatic album cover come instantly to mind. The man gets lost in the film and wonders for years, through the lost city streets and rooms looking for a lonely woman in a long, lost apartment. The sad story tells a tale of exploration and longing, with no definite conclusion. Yet this was the perfect way to bring the show to a close; almost like the end of a first volume, leaving you yearning to hear more.
There was a real feeling of convergence to The Quiet Man. Throughout the films, familiar imagery from Foxx's singles and album artwork would appear - at long last in its original animated context, such as the back of the suited figure walking through gardens as seen in the Church booklet, the blinding light of car headlights and the obscure film noir stills from the From Trash booklet to name but a few.
Most significantly, we heard familiar words and phrases recurring throughout the narrative - lines we knew from Foxx's songs and familiar words that pop up every now and again. Finally, somehow it all made sense, bringing a warm feeling of finality to the project - yet still clearly a work in progress.
Watching this almost animated discography prompted me to ask a question during the Q&A session that followed. Which came first? The novel or the songs? John's reply, somewhat unsurprisingly was, 'a bit of both', as it was clear that many Foxx songs has grown out of ideas written for the novel, but over time it would start to influence itself, and new songs would make their way into the novel, and thus, Foxx's music and The Quiet Man are now inseparable - more than ever before.
Despite the sense of closure, it was clear that there is still more to come from The Quiet Man, and although still writing regularly, Foxx does want to 'complete' it - which is unsurprising after so long and given that he may be entering what you might call the 'final phase' of his career.
The Quiet Man left me moved yet enlightened. So many of those mysterious lyrics suddenly made sense. Never before has John Foxx been so open and vulnerable - though not through song, but through a beautiful combination of narrative, film and piano. In some ways, it felt too personal or slightly intrusive to finally be allowed to see these films, most of which have resided in Foxx's private archive for a long time. However, the quiet man himself has deemed it the right time for this to be seen, and in many ways, feels like the project he has been working towards ever since he sat down to write “The Quiet Men” with Ultravox over 30 years ago.
10th November 2008