Stuart Marshall

By Rebecca Dobbs

Stuart Marshall, composer, video artist, teacher, filmmaker and activist, died in London on 31 May 1993, aged 44, after being taken ill with an Aids-related illness while on the West Coast of the States researching a film for Channel 4’s Critical Eye series.

Born in Manchester, he studied fine art at Hornsey and Newport Colleges of Art, followed by an MA in new musical composition at Wesleyan University in the US. He subsequently taught at Newcastle Polytechnic, the Royal College of Art and Chelsea School of Art, inspiring his students with his vision and enthusiasm. Through the 70s he produced over 40 musical, video and theatre performances in the US, Europe and the UK.

A founder of the London Video Arts, a member of the Film and Video panel of the Arts Council and an assessor on the Committee for National Academic Awards, he was also on the Sexuality Committee for National Academic Awards, he was also on the Sexuality Committee of the ACTT. His essays and articles on film and video and on sexual politics appeared in several key publications. His artistic work can be seen in the collections of many galleries and institutions, including the Museum of the Moving Image in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In every field he worked in he built up a formidable reputation.

Rod Stoneman (Commissioning Editor for Channel 4) remembers meeting him first on the South West Film Tour in 1980 ‘when his resolute and polemical advocacy of the art of video led him to a marvellously sectarian dismissal of “film” in all its forms. He managed to overcome this cultural disgust over the next few years as he began to produce a substantial body of beautifully made and thoughtful documentaries on gay and lesbian history enjoying the specific visual pleasures of the dreaded celluloid.’

He was one of the first independent film-makers to respond quickly and intelligently to the Aids crisis by making his film Bright Eyes for Channel 4 in 1984. He went on to make several films for the gay and lesbian series ‘Out’ and ‘Out on Tuesday’. Caroline Spry, commissioning editor for ‘Out’ remembers: ‘I first met Stuart in 1987 when he brought me a proposal for a film about gay men and lesbians in Weimar and Nazi Germany. It was typical of his depth and complexity of thought that it was provocatively entitled Desire.’ Selected for the Berlin Film Festival in 1990, Desire won the audience prize at the Turin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival 1991. The Toronto Star said of it: ‘This feature-length British documentary has a precision, resonance and rhetorical force that mark it as one of the best filmed social histories of recent years.’

Marshall’s next film, Comrades In Arms (Channel 4, 1990) was a touching and often hilarious account of lesbians and gay men who served in the British armed forces during World War II. Even the unsympathetic Daily Express reviewed it as ‘a most entertaining and compassionate programme on a startlingly unexpected subject’, while the Village Voice called it ‘a beautiful film poem’. It won the American Film and Video Festival Red Ribbon award in 1991. Next was Over Our Dead Bodies (Channel 4, 1991). Documenting the lesbian and gay community’s response to Aids activism in the US, it won the audience award at the Los Angeles and Gay International Film Festival. Last year Marshall made Blue Boys (Channel 4, 1992), a devastating exposure of the nefarious activities of the Obscene Publications Squad and their bigoted policing of gay male sexuality.

Stuart was a true democrat and implacably opposed to discrimination, censorship and bigotry. All his works showed a desire to make people think about what was going on around them. As an HIV/Aids activist, he delivered hard messages with wit and skill. Joining Positively Healthy in 1988 and becoming co-chair, he found long and successfully against outright attack and sheer apathy. The film we were preparing at the time of his death was a personal plea for patient choice and the expansion of alternative medical options for people with Aids.

Isaac Julien, Marshall’s friend and former pupil, says: ‘We already miss him, but his strength to fight stays with us. His body of work stands as a testament to his love of justice and for a critical engagement of gay and lesbian representations in our film and TV culture. He was our best teacher and one of Britain’s most important political independent filmmakers.

The New York New Festival 1993 is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Marshall. The LA Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was already showing Blue Boys, but is putting on an extra programme of Over Our Dead Bodies and Robert Marshall.

In memory of Stuart Marshall, Maya Vision has created the Stuart Marshall Award for alternative film-makers. Money for the award will be raised from donations and from the exhibition of Stuart Marshall’s films please contact Ben Weissbort at Maya Vision (tel 0721-836 1113, fax 071-836 5169). Donations by cheque should be made payable to ‘Maya Vision Ltd./Stuart Marshall Award’ account and should be mailed to:

Ben Weissbort
Maya Vision
43 New Oxford Street
London WC1A 1BH