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Margaret Tait by Ali Smith
Ali Smith
Margaret Tait
Here's an example of Tait syntax, the film's title being a phrase that can mean so many things.

This elasticity and multiplicity of meaning are deep in her use of the cinematic image too, and here's the perfect film in which to see it at work. It opens with traffic sounds played against the bare branches of trees. Where are we? Tait famously added her sound on after she had edited the film - we are exactly where she would like us to open our eyes and ears, in a hold between rural and citified, past and present, part and not part (later she will use music, chanter and violin and voice against traffic and building work noise and silence, to re-energise this sense of place).

In what is meant to strike us as structureless, sound juxtaposes sound, image juxtaposes image, and sound and image equally meet and clash and blend in an orchestration of simple but unforced oppositions - heat and ice, personal and impersonal (a man in a room, the only personal close-up in the film, opens and closes his eyes), new and old (new pipes waiting at the back of old tenements), light and dark (moon, carlights, streetlights, christmas lights reflecting on a black wet city street), surreal and real (the texture of road surfaces, a boot hanging like a leg in a river), timeless and fixed (a clock face with no hands, another with hands fades to black.)

Meanwhile it snows on a streetcleaner, thick big snow and itís falling all over his clean road. Anonymous people pass, looking in shops. A crocodile of schoolgirls walks up a snowy pavement - only one, at the back, turns and glances at the camera. The jaws of a sandshifting digger open and drop sand. Ducks form an unknowing choreography, and this almost universal unknownness, lack of self consciousness, visits all these images with a sense of mystery, grace, the sudden seeing of some everyday and brilliant revelation. Steam comes off a teaspoon just used in hot tea then left on the side of a saucer, in an unbelievably beautiful shot of nothing, and everything.

Where I am is here is social without story. It shows people, unknown to them, living and working and doing things with a kind of quotidian care and love, above all it shows a kind of calm survival, a getting-on-with-it, whether in the cleaning of or traversing of a street or the putting up of a new city. It does all this by forcing nothing, by allowing images their own voice. It is meditative and calm; its seeming structurelessness is a deception; its images are reverberative, as in all working poetic structure.

Its final section is entitled The Bravest Boat. Images of a small boat on a calm pond, then images of a roaring fall of water. Images of all kinds of fire, then images of the cityís insurance buildings and banks. Images of the waterfall, then images of lions, caged. Where I am is here is a focus on the tenousness of the journey to wherever it is we are, and the giving over of the self, first to the seeming shapelessness and meaninglessness then the unexpected shapeliness and beauty of where it is we are, and last, a suggestion that we simply give ourselves over to the astonishing and everyday richness of the experience of being here.

Still from Where I am is Here
by Margaret Tait, 1964
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