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DVD Review: ‘The Lacey Rituals’ (BFI release)

★★★★☆

There’s so much going on in the BFI’s The Lacey Rituals box set that it’s often hard to get a grasp on it, all down to the artist in question – Bruce Lacey. A leading figure of the 1960s counter-culture movement, Lacey worked with everyone from Spike Milligan to Richard Lester and the Beatles. Artist, filmmaker, family man and experimental musician, his scope is wide, his eye mystical and strange, and his work often just plain silly. But don’t be fooled; as he states in a documentary included here (directed by Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams): “If you use humour, you can get below the protective armour of people”.

Lacey’s films are organised here into categories. His early films, such as Head in Shadow (1951), The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (1960) and Everybody’s Nobody (1960) show a running strain of slapstick comedy with an emphasis on visual gags inspired by silent cinema. The next category, ‘Human Behaviour Films’, includes Kissing Film (1967), a touching and beautiful instructional film (made with his then wife), in which Lacey and her try to instruct an audience on how to snog, at one point eating an orange and later involving a chocolate éclair and some cream.

The ‘Performances and Documentation’ series includes a film (directed by Roger Graef) called The Flying Alberts, which involved the comedy group the Albert brothers, and used a homemade ‘rocket’ made by Lacey. We also see Lacey’s props in R.O.S.A. B.O.S.O.M. (1996), a short history of a robot standing for ‘Radio Operated Simulated Actress, Battery or Standby Operating Mains’. Lacey’s Earth Rituals films are also otherworldly treats, shot mainly on Super 8 and documenting the artist’s exploration of mystical and occult ideas.

A notable highlight of the collection as a whole is The Bruce Lacey Experience (2012), a so-called ‘fragmentary portrait’ of the man and his art. Filmed over a three year period in which the artists Deller and Abrahams visited Lacey in his Norfolk home, it works as a collage of different art styles, time periods and objects, which Lacey lovingly explores in interviews. In his 1963 Gallery One show, he pinned a statement on the wall, which is reproduced in the usually impressive BFI booklet: “Singly, an object can only vaguely report, but by juxtaposition of apparently alien objects, they can be given the power to comment. These objects, then, are the vocabulary through which I can communicate”.

The above is the key, if any, to the films on show here: Lacey juxtaposes objects in order to create a new kind of language, which often hovers on the mystical. This juxtaposition can be seen in the way in which interviews and private and public performances and rituals filmed by Deller and Abrahams are put against a wide variety of material from his archives. The Lacey Rituals box set is without a doubt essential viewing for those interested in the history of British comedy or the 1960s counterculture.

Sophia Satchell Baeza