Paul McCartney creates experimental home movies


Related films

The Next Spring Then

1966 • For Paul McCartney • Directed by Paul McCartney

The Defeat Of The Dog

1966 • Directed by Paul McCartney

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The whole idea of making films is good or a good one I like. But I don’t mean some very big expensive films, but films that you just make because you fancy making a film.

Paul McCartney – Interview for BBC Radio’s Pop Profile, May 1966

In 1966, Paul McCartney continued his exploration of the London arts scene, looking for inspiration for his music and enjoying being around other creative people. He helped to launch the underground Indica bookstore, connected with art dealer Robert Fraser (who would become a friend), acquired his first painting by Magritteattended a lecture by Luciano Berio, a pioneer in electronic music… He also created some experimental home movies.

In March 1966, Paul McCartney’s friends Barry Miles and John Hopkins launched an underground magazine called “The Long Hair Times”. Under the pseudonym Ian Iachimoe, Paul announced a competition to complete a film script, with a prize of twenty guineas for the winner.

Twenty guineas was a lot of dough! I was very interested in making films. I used to have a few images that I stored to use if I ever did make a film. I suppose I was thinking of New Wave French directors, or New Wave Polish in this case. I remember I had an image of breaking an egg into an ashtray, a very full, very dirty ashtray. That was a shot that was always on my mind. I think it was the natural perfection of the egg breaking into the really slobby man-made mess of the all the ciggies and stuff. I was interested in the contrast.

Then I had a thought about the sound of fire being very similar to the sound of applause and I wanted to do something with that. So I had a lot of unrelated ideas. I suppose it culminated in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. That was about the nearest I got to it.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

In April 1966, Paul McCartney met Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni in April 1966 and used this opportunity to show him some of the experimental films he had started to create.

Through Robert Fraser, Paul got to meet many of the artists and film-makers who passed through London, one of whom was the leading New Wave Italian film-maker Michelangelo Antonioni, director of L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse.

Paul: “I remember the word around town was ‘There’s this guy who’s paying money for people to come and get stoned at some place in Chelsea’, and of course in our crowd that spread like wildfire. It was Antonioni. He was doing Blow-Up and everyone was being paid, like blood donors, to smoke pot.

It was April 1966, and Antonioni was using Christopher Gibbs’s exquisite apartment on Cheyne Walk, overlooking Chelsea Bridge, as the set for his orgy scene. […] Christopher took Antonioni round to visit Robert Fraser at a time when Paul happened to be there.

From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

He was just there at Robert’s one evening. And Keith Richards and myself just happened to be there, and I’d brought some little home movies of mine. I used to have a projector that would flick pictures very slowly: click, click, click. So instead of 25 frames a second, a cat would just move flip, flop, flip, and we’d play sitar music or Beethoven or Albert Ayler, who was a great favourite. It was very very slow but it created a hypnotic mantra kind of effect. I showed Antonioni these movies and he was quite interested. They lasted about quarter of an hour, it was really a five-minute flick but we showed it so slow.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

In November 1966, Paul took a driving holiday in France, bringing a camera and doing some filming on the go.

Kodak 8 mm was the one, because it came on a reel. Once it became Super-8 on a cartridge you couldn’t do anything with it, you couldn’t control it. I liked to reverse things. I liked to reverse music and I found that you could send a film through the camera backwards. Those very early cameras were great.

If you take a film and run it through a camera once, then you rewind it and run it through again, you get two images, superimposed. But they’re very washed out, so I developed this technique where I ran it through once at night and only photographed points of light, like very bright reds, and that would be all that would be on the first pass of the film. It would be like on black velvet, red, very red. I used to do it in my car so it was car headlights and neon signs, the green of a go sign, the red of a stop, the amber

The next day, when it was daylight, I would go and shoot and I had this film that was a combination of these little points of light that were on a ‘black velvet’ background and daylight. My favourite was a sequence of a leaning cross in a cemetery. I turned my head and zoomed in on it, so it opened just with a cross, bingo, then as I zoomed back out, you could see the horizon was tilted at a crazy angle. And as I did it, I straightened up. That was the opening shot, then I cut to an old lady, facing away from me, tending the graves. A fat old French peasant who had stockings halfway down her legs and was revealing a lot of her knickers, turning away, so it was a bit funny or a bit gross maybe. She was just tending a grave so, I mean, I didn’t need to judge it. I just filmed it. So the beautiful thing that happened was from the previous night’s filming. There she is tending a grave and you just see a point of red light appear in between her legs and it just drifts very slowly like a little fart, or a little spirit or something, in the graves. And then these other lights just start to trickle around, and it’s like Disney, it’s like animation!

One thing I’d learned was that the best thing was to hold one shot. I was a fan of the Andy Warhol idea, not so much of his films but I liked the cheekiness of Empire, the film of the Empire State Building, I liked the nothingness of it. So I would do a bit of that.

There were some sequences I loved: there was a Ferris wheel going round, but you couldn’t quite tell what it was. And I was looking out of the hotel window in one French city and there was a gendarme on traffic duty. There was lot of traffic coming this way, then he’d stop ’em, and let them all go. So the action for ten minutes was a gendarme directing the traffic: lots of gestures and getting annoyed. He was a great character, this guy. I ran it all back and filmed all the cars again, it had been raining so there was quite low light in the street. So in the film he was stopping cars but they were just going through his body like ghosts. It was quite funny. Later, as the soundtrack I had Albert Ayler playing the ‘Marseillaise’. It was a great little movie but I don’t know what happened to it.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

I did a film, that I wish I had now. I filmed a gendarme on traffic duty in Paris and he was just stopping all the cars, so that was one roll through. It was a Bolex camera and you could rewind so you could then go through again. The second time, he’d gone, so I just filmed all the traffic. It looked like this impossible job where the traffic was just going through him all the time.

Paul McCartney – 2012 interview – From “Revolver (2022)” book – It’s not clear if Paul makes reference to this trip to Paris, or an earlier one in 1966. The reference to the Bolex camera is at odd with the reference to the Kodak 8 mm in “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles

In Punch Magazine, from November 1966, there was a mention of two experimental home movies created by Paul McCartney in 1966. Those were named “The Next Spring Then” and “The Defeat Of The Dog.

In the November 1966 issue of Punch Magazine, Paul McCartney’s two experimental home movies were mentioned. These were titled “The Next Spring Then” and “The Defeat Of The Dog.

When we had talked ourselves out, McCartney took me down to the basement and showed me some of his home movies, informally entitled “Till Next Spring Then” and “The Defeat of The Dog.” They were not like ordinary people’s home movies. There were over-exposures, double-exposures, blinding orange lights, quick cuts from professional wrestling to a crowded car park to a close-up of a television weather map. There were long still shots of a grey, cloudy sky and a wet, grey pavement, jumping Chinese ivory carvings, and affectionate slow-motion studies of his sheep-dog, Martha, and his cat. The accompanying music, on a record-player, and faultlessly synchronised, was by the Modern Jazz Quartet and Bach.

From Punch Magazine, November 1966

The movies created by Paul McCartney were shot without sound, using Kodak 8mm or Bolex cameras, and he created soundtracks for them. Those films usually used the superimposition technique.

We discovered that if you put a home movie on, and put a record on at a random point, the record would synchronise with the music. At a number of points it would synchronise magically and at a number of points it would run out of synch. My theory was that in a movie there are probably fifty points that are moving at any time: the cat’s tail, the cat’s paws, the leaves, the bit of sunlight, the door which was opened and the person that walks through. The arms of the person, the feet of the person, the head turning; there are a lot of points in a movie that were moving; even the camera sometimes. Sometimes it’s just the camera that’s moving. Camera wobble and the lights will give you movement. And I figured that your eye synchronised these points of movement with the movement in the music, so fast sitar music was always very good for it. It would link up and, because it was Indian, it would suggest an exotic feel to the movie.

Paul McCartney – From “Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now” by Barry Miles, 1997

With any kind of thing, my aim seems to be to distort it, distort it from what we know it as, even with music and visual things and to change it from what it is to see what it could be. To see the potential in it all. To take a note and wreck it and see in that note what else there is in it, that a simple act like distorting it has caused. To take a film and to superimpose on top of it so you can’t quite tell what it is anymore, it’s all trying to create magic, it’s all trying to make things happen so that you don’t know why they’ve happened. I’d like a lot more things to happen like they did when you were kids, when you didn’t know how the conjuror did it, and were happy to just sit there and say “Well it’s magic.” I use “magic” instead of “spiritual” because spiritual sounds as if it fits into too many of the other categories. If something unbelievable happened to most people at the moment they’d explain it by taking a little cross-filing out of their brain and saying “Well of course that doesn’t happen you know, there aren’t ghosts. And they just explain it with a great, realistic 20th Century explanation for ghosts. Which is that there aren’t ghosts. Which is no fucking explanation at all!

Paul McCartney – Interview with International Times, January 1967

We had books around and by osmosis he absorbed a lot of these things. [Paul] learned about films as well. My father had a film school and Truffaut came over and those guys and I had watched a lot of movies by that time. I had an 8mm camera and John and Paul had 16mm cameras and I showed them both how to use them. They’d send things through twice so they’d get double exposures. They learned by trying things out.”

John Dubar – Co-founder of Indica Books and Gallery – From From “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year” by Steve Turner

Unfortunately, some of the films were stolen by fans who broke into Paul’s home on Cavendish Avenue. However, Paul still possesses some of them.

It was a pretty rich period. I used to make 8-mm home movies and show them one frame at a time – flick, flick, flick – which made them last about an hour, when they only should have been ten minutes, you know? I remember showing them to Antonioni – I think he was in town filming Blow-Up – and Keith Richards. We had some nice evenings – quite stoned evenings, I must admit – just watching these movies. I still have them. 

Paul McCartney – Interview with Rolling Stone, September 1986

Paul McCartney’s interview with the International Times was reproduced in the “movie journal” section of The Village Voice, in March 9, 1967

Last updated on December 3, 2023

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