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From the Writer's Desk: A Preamble

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Welcome to our bizarre experiment where we make a music-docudrama about a century-old Socialist British Composer and his relevance to the present-day music and arts festival.

Indulge me for a while with some scattered reflections on myself and my taking on this adventure.

I came to this project knowing nothing about Rutland Boughton, or the Glastonbury Music Festival. But as a lifelong resident of Northern Nevada, I am no stranger to Burning Man.

Droves of the devout descend about our little city at the end of every summer, while alkaline dust, like the bone grindings of some unreckonable beast cover, yet reveal, everything. Something happens out there. These people are pilgrims of some yet unapprehended faith. They elect to endure; they suffer for art. Or maybe, more prosaically, they are looking for a frame, a temporal space of no-space, a forever-time to experience and express.

I have never been out there myself.

My attitude always swings between idle curiosity and quiet disdain for the indulgently aloof demeanor of these “spiritual” tourists. Over the years, the tradition has grown into me, becoming a permanent fixture in my imagination. I now meet the phenomenon with a sense of wonder.

And questions.

Like those playa pilgrims I’ve repressed any affinities with, I too have been searching for a frame my entire life. I’m not one for making clever labels and titles for myself. Quite simply, I’ve always been a daydreamer with an imagination shaped and molded by cinema. This “calling” has led me down many paths of study: theater, religion and myth, music, literature, philosophy, yoga, radical politics. My entire life has been a search for a language or an art to give shape, life, and breath to the raw intensive energy of my imagination. The question has never been “Who am I?” but rather the more mundane, “Where do I belong?”

I share all of this now, because these very questions are the thrust of this film. And these elusive biographical details demonstrate the deep aesthetic and spiritual connection that I feel with our subject, Rutland Boughton.

The Aesthetics-Politics nexus has been the foundation of all my wanderings and wonderings. For example: Do we change the system by changing people; or do we change people by changing the system? I think this question only makes sense when we assume the stability of an individual subject participating in a social construct. More interestingly, I would ask: What is our nature that might by different from this? How might one live? What if we understood the collective as possessing a power in its own right, something fundamentally different than a mere collection of individuals playing out their own desires to their own ends? What if the mass was power itself?

Though these stink of typical political philosophy questions, they cannot be posed without a consideration of the aesthetic. The do not have potency without art. These political questions always seem obscure and maddeningly obtuse. Which is why Boughton tried to ask them in another register. He faced them head on with his own musical creations. We are facing them head on with a documentary film.

I will reflect on these issues in much more detail in later installments, but for now I want to leave the impression that these questions at the intersection of art and politics were the soil that Boughton tilled. And it is the same soil I have taken root in.

These questions will be at the heart of this film.

But how we intend to go about asking them, also needs some explanation...and a few steps back to orient you to our film.

The Film

Our "What"

We are celebrating the timeless theme of the unifying power of music through two frames, the life and work of the unfairly forgotten British composer and Socialist Romantic Rutland Boughton (1878 to 1960) and our present-day music festival scene.

Boughton was one of the progenitors of the music festival movement and a proponent of a new type of popular music that he worked tirelessly to craft his entire life. We think Boughton’s story and his lifelong pursuits offer a delightful opportunity to explore similar themes in our present moment. Our goal is to introduce this enigmatic figure to a new generation and to refresh the public’s perception of what the music festival’s purpose is and the critical importance of elusive joy and ecstatic spiritual experiences that the festival space offers to thousands of people.

This story will involve two main strands: Boughton’s life as told by family members, scholars, and a showcasing of his own musical creations, and a robust and earnest look into the present-day music festival scene at Glastonbury and Burning Man. We will conduct interviews with popular musicians, artists, and designers with the goal of drawing parallels between their own personal struggles with creating music, and making that creation accessible to the people, in the same way that Boughton spent his entire career doing. We will also dig into the experiences of the common festival goer, why they see the experience as so important to their life, and what they go through to get there. We want to pierce the veil of surface decadence and indulgence and expose the raw beating heart of these experiences.

Our "How"

In creating this documentary film, we have been faced with limitations: We’re tasked with not only telling a coherent story about a man who worked over 100 years ago with only bits of biographical data, written prose work of music and art criticism, and his own musical compositions, but we need to make this story matter. We are attempting this by trying to single out not how Boughton may have influenced us today, but by identifying that what mattered to him also matters to us today.

We are all tapping into the same source and asking the same questions; namely, what is the nature of the ecstatic joy that music can evoke in us? What makes that experience seem so spiritual/religious? And, perhaps most importantly, even though these experiences happen within the individual and are necessarily short lived, how can we understand them as a form of power, a power to change, and possibly even save, our decaying world?

We know these are big questions. The great challenge of the writer is to make these big ideas and important questions personal. We aim to achieve that through the life of Rutland Boughton and through interviews with present-day artists and musicians who struggle and suffer to find their art a home. So, we will be teasing out and developing these questions through multiple contexts: Boughton’s own life and creations, the story of Michael Eavis’ efforts to create and sustain to present-day Glastonbury Contemporary Arts Festival, and the interviewing/chronicling of contemporary artists and musicians who face internal and external obstacles to give their life expression, and the spectators of art who sacrifice much for a taste of the divine.

What we hope to reveal is that not much has changed since Boughton’s time. With this documentary we hope to revive these questions, to get folks to see these events with new eyes. We are interrogating the modern-day festival culture through the lens of a figure who could be considered one of its primary progenitors.

Our "Who"

When it comes to documentary filmmaking, the role of the writer is almost indistinguishable from the director; both have a vision and work to see it carried out to completion. Both are tasked with directing the flow of the intended idea or emotion, to rearticulate it in new forms. Since I am serving that role on this project, I feel it’s important to share a little bit about myself that connects me to the practical/technical side of bringing this project to life and to the resonances I feel with the subject matter. As I explore this, we’ll see that they are intimately intertwined.

Firstly, Style. How do I see myself qualified to execute this? By nature I work in movement, images, and a music-motivated storytelling style. I’ve served as director and editor on many projects that were music-based: music videos, wedding films, high-concept style product and lifestyle reels, etc. I love to build drama around the energy of rhythm and movement. To me, art is nothing short of the articulation of the fundamental tension between what is said and what cannot be said. The torsion between what is shown and what cannot be shown. I bring this mantra to everything I create. Which leads me to exactly what this documentary is all about…

Secondly, Content. Why do I care about this story? Being tasked with this project has been a challenge for me. While I have discovered strong resonances with Rutland Boughton, I have maintained an aggressively lukewarm opinion of music and arts festivals. Though I hold far left and radical socio-economic beliefs, I have always felt that there was something indulgent and atavistic about festival culture. To me it always begs the question. I am sympathetic with the intentions of festival culture, but I’m skeptical of the practical reality of them. I appreciate them but I don’t take their pretense for granted. This documentary is an opportunity to rekindle the spark, to renew the faith in the art and music experience for a cynical generation.

Closing Thoughts

This blog will serve many purposes: it will give you a behind the scenes look at how this project is being conceived and gestating; it’ll provide key summaries and critical reflections of various texts and works that I have been consulting during the writing process; it will provide sneak peeks into scenes and set pieces we wish to produce; it will profile interviewees and other key players important to our story; it will provide thematic touchpoints; and, maybe most importantly, it will allow me to polish and present the hundreds of pages of notes I’ve been writing over the past year during the early stages of this project.

I hope to check in with a post every week or so.

If you come away knowing our subject and our stylistic approach as clearly as I can imagine them, then this blog will have served its purpose.

Please consider following this blog, our Facebook and Instagram pages where we will be continually chronically our journey from multiple angles.

Thanks for stopping by.

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