Jeff Keen

Artwar - The Full Impact

By Michael Kemp

Jeff Keen collage
Collage by Jeff Keen

Strange unpredictable weather. Sensing a break in the clouds, I swept across The Level to the Phoenix Gallery where Michael Sippings and Ian Helliwell were helping Jeff Keen (now into his 80s) set up his expanded cinema projection in the Red Room.

While I was waiting and studying a glass cabinet of obscure fanzines in the corridor, I felt a stranger approach…

…and lo, it was Fatih El Kariem, resident of this parish, direct from Saudi Arabia with jetlag. Michael Sippings, now on the door, let us in for free (what a nice man), shades of Cinematheque; and me and Fatih took our front row seats in the Red room for a rare selection of Jeff Keen’s manic full-on fragmented energy retina-blasting guerrilla film-making.

Breakneck animation, live action and collage, home-movie nudity, vintage pulp exploitation, toy helicopters, broken dolls. Creating work in rented rooms, destroying it on municipal dumps. Sometimes difficult to tell what was what exactly, much overlapping of themes and titles, explosions and optic nerves (not to mention reviewers’ hangovers and jetlag); but it seemed to involve reworked sections of his earlier films such as Cineblatz, Omozap and The Cartoon Theatre of Dr Gaz

Best of all was the never-before-attempted epic three-screen carnage total mindfuck of ARTWAR: THE FULL IMPACT - three hotwired 8mm projectors on the go simultaneously, while white sound speakers poured forth a torrent of dada warfare sound effects at deafening volume.

Extraordinary event, and a spirited round of applause afterwards for this fiercely independent octogenarian who has a DVD of his work being readied for release by the British Film Institute next year.

With ARTWAR still reverberating on our eyeballs, Fatih and I bade farewell to the good people of the Phoenix and climbed Southover Street, in the rain, for the warm sanctuary of the Greys pub and sat by the fire, drinking Harveys and Draught Guinness.

And who should be supping in the corner with his mates but Boring Bob Grover (late of the Piranhas) who came over and spoke with us, said he’d been rehearsing for his comeback gig with The Dates at the Pressure Point, next Monday week. He didn’t start playing trumpet or singing “Zambezi” though…

Jeff Keen collage
Collage by Jeff Keen

Eleventh-hour appearance by Spats (eccentric chef at The Greys) who came in from the blustery cold dressed as Father Christmas (this being the same man who once proposed locking the doors one Sunday afternoon and to get Sooty dancing up on the tables, after we’d foolishly sent our compliments to the chef).

All in all a great day and proof that Brighton can still inspire and that timeless characters such as Jeff Keen still ensure that the bohemian spirit will not be quietened or compromised by ugly money or corporate globalization bullshit.

Do not go gentle into that good night…