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A Portrait of Ga

Where montage becomes memory; or is it the other way around?

A Portrait of Ga (1952) is an early work by the Scottish writer and filmmaker Margaret Tait. Blurring the lines between documentary, poetic essay, experimental cinema and conventional home movie, the short, four-minute film presents a series of small observations of Tait's elderly mother, the "Ga" of the title. In its accumulation of little moments, some playful, others entirely mundane, Tait creates a portrait of her mother that captures the different facets of the older woman's personality. In this sense, the film achieves what great art has aspired to achieve since time immemorial: to record and to express.

Filmed on colour stock 8mm film, A Portrait of Ga has a vibrancy to its imagery. Whether depicting the older woman exploring the rugged but beautiful landscapes of Kirkwall in Orkney, where the filmmaker grew up, or simply sitting by the window, smoking a cigarette or unwrapping a sweet, the accumulation of these small gestures and the unobtrusive, almost naturalistic way that Tait records them, expresses the humanism, sensitivity and the hymns to nature and the elements that define much of the filmmaker's work.

A Portrait of Ga [Margaret Tait, 1952]:

When we think of the people that define our lives, whether they're friends or enemies, family or other, it's often these small details that live longest in the memory; the way someone sits, a gesture or a movement of the body, the way they dance or laugh. Tait's film captures this in relation to her own mother and presents it with a great warmth and intimacy. As she ruminates in verse on the soundtrack, we realise how monumental these seemingly trivial observations are to Tait's own conception of her mother as both a familial influence and as a human being.

Presented as a supplementary feature on the BFI's Blu-ray release of Tait's only feature-length work, Blue Black Parchment (1992), A Portrait of Ga has a significant relationship to that later film, but is also markedly more successful and cohesive. Once again, Tait is making a film about a woman attempting to understand her own life and work through a focus on her own mother, and creating a portrait of a woman defined by a particular landscape as well as a deep and emotional connection to the nature and the elements that surround her.


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