Maggid Street: Hackney and the Alchemical Impulse

By Iain Sinclair

maggid-street-iain-sinclair-renchi-bicknell-tom-baker.jpgMaggid Street, 1972

Maggid Street was configured in 1972 as a chapter in a Hackney-based 8mm diary film undertaken by myself, Renchi Bicknell, Tom Baker and others. Having just published my Ginsberg memoir The Kodak Mantra Diaries, I decided to attempt a lowlife gothic fiction that would feature another Albion Village Press poet, Brian Catling (future performance artist and Oxford academic). The accidental narrative, shot on outdated stock rescued from Kingsland Waste Market, was improvised as an alchemical fable.

maggid-street-iain-sinclair-renchi-bicknell-tom-baker-2.jpgMaggid Street, 1972

A vagrant, played by Jeremiah Healy, is taken in by a south London surgeon, who subjects him to a series of violent procedures, in the hope of recovering the inner daimon, the spark of light. The film is silent, but shaped around an unspoken sentence by the doctor. ‘Once, I believed that I could take a thing of mud and, by treating it with water and with fire, bring forth a golden-winged angel.’

maggid-street-iain-sinclair-renchi-bicknell-tom-baker-3.jpgMaggid Street, 1972

The original film, known as Maggot Street, ran for around fifty minutes. The editing-in-camera and style of shooting was influenced by Stan Brakhage’s autopsy film, The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes. During the editing of The Falconer in 1996, the 8mm footage was crudely re-filmed on video. A new version, incorporating elements lifted from material shot by Chris Petit, was made with the editor Emma Matthews. Music by John Harle was added. And a new title, more in keeping with the alchemical scheme, was adopted. After a screening, in support of The Falconer, in Bristol, the film went back into the vaults.

Iain Sinclair’s latest book, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, is available now. A weekend of screenings exploring Hackney on film as seen through the lens of the book will take place at Dalston’s Rio Cinema on 25th and 26th April as part of the East End Film Festival (this will include Maggid Street, now with added graphic elements by Dave McKean). Sinclair will also present his diary film on 28th April in the festival.