FIRST EXPOSURE: JAMES BATLEY for the July issue of Dazed & Confused magazine
By Carmen Gray
Self-taught British filmmaker James Batley's first short Bad Owl and the Fox Boy screened at Cannes in 2011, and he recently went back with his second Kneel Through the Dark. His colour-drenched experiments - shot on Super 8 - elegantly lace together oneiric soundscapes, animal totems and occult motifs with an instinctual understanding of rhythm.
"When I started I didn't even have a computer to edit with” he says when we meet at his east London home. “I'd just record onto VHS and film it back through the TV." His room teems with subtly discernible animal forms, from a door-stopper cloaked in cats' faces to a pink bedside pigeon-lamp and a stag's skull on the record-player.
A creature on the wall inspired his first film: "My friend brought back this amazing postcard of a badly stuffed owl from the Florence Nightingale Museum - an owl Florence had rescued that had fallen out of a tree. She kept it in her pocket and when she went to the Crimean War it died. If Florence Nightingale leaves you you're pretty fucked."
Kneel Through the Dark references legendary English occultist and libertine Aleister Crowley. "I find him an appealing character," Batley says. "All ‘the occult’ means is ‘the hidden’. If you deconstruct the sound it turns into something else."
Blank City (dir Celine Danhier, 2010)
A documentary about New York's 70s No Wave filmmakers.
Batley: "To film a Roman scene, they'd arrange a viewing for an apartment with big columns, undo the windows, and at night come back and shoot. I really appreciate that sensibility!"
Possession (dir Andrzej Zuwalksi, 1981)
Cult '80s Berlin-set horror about a demon-possessed wife. "I love the camera shots.” Batley says.
Night of the Hunter (dir Charles Laughton, 1955)
The lyrical ‘50s classic about a reverend-turned-serial-killer. "Everything about it is perfect."