Armed with an annotated script of Blue Vanguard (1957) - the UN commissioned film by Thorold Dickinson on the 1956 Suez crisis - Louis Henderson travelled to Egypt in search of the subject for the film Logical Revolts (2012). The script is a fascinating document held in the Thorold Dickinson collection at the London College of Communication. References to any implication of guilt on the part of Israel’s contribution to the crisis, are emphatically erased by the censor’s red pen. The Dickinson script attempts to unravel the complexities of the Anglo-French colonial legacy at Suez.
Henderson’s film acknowledges the difficulties he encountered on the streets of Cairo and Port Said. He had to use a small DSLR camera grabbing his shots on the run and the resentment of the local population towards this white European male, is evident in many of his shots. The angry dismissive stares of his subjects becomes directed at us – the audience - so that we become both implicated and witnesses of the inflamed political tensions on the streets.
Henderson has established an idiosyncratic practice - part documentary and part fiction. He is influenced by Jacques Ranciere: "art does not do politics by reaching the real. It does it by inventing fictions that challenge the existing distribution of the real and the fictional.” Likewise, his new film shows the influence of a number of filmmakers from Godard to Marker and from Smith to Keiller. His ‘character’ Henderson, is a suitably English equivalent to Robinson. However, unlike Keiller’s genteel and detached fictive other, Henderson’s is more pugnacious in his fearless attack on the audience sensibilities and the evident relish for his task as post-colonial explorer.
The film problematizes where the ‘subject’ is located – is it in post-revolutionary Egypt; is the filmmaker the subject through his various use of “I” and “he” referring to Henderson; or is the subject the audience? We (the audience) become complicit in the finely imbricated textures of culture, history and politics – part documentary, part invention and storytelling. This reflexive interplay between filmmaker and audience, where the screen is simultaneously a window onto a foreign world and a mirror that implicates us directly, is what drives the particular dynamics of this thoroughly engaging film. Henderson’s latest work is contentious. It questions the very essence of documentary and joyfully dismisses any sense of anodyne conformity.
© William Raban