Dan Hopkins, film-maker & musician:
THE CREATIVE STOKE PROFILE: we review the recent short films made by Stoke-on-Trent's
(All video captures © copyright Dan Hopkins)
freshly-scrubbed uber-Technician from Staffordshire University? He's really an avante-garde superhero.
He goes home at night, pops another thesaurus in the blender, takes a swig and //whoosh// he's dashing out into the
damp Stoke-on-Trent night under yet another one of his bewildering array of monikers.
Sometimes he goes by the name "HL" (Hurra caine Landcrash),
or is the label-boss of "noground-r", or the impressario of
"The Electronic Image" screenings or an occasional music night, or a member of the trio
no ground processes. Sometimes he's the Pop Video Producer Man, sometimes the
VJ artist named "etc/". Sometimes he's up against
the Forces Of Funding, and is thus forced to be plain 'Daniel Hopkins the artist'.
Oh, and he's rumoured to have a band. But, whatever the name Dan goes by, he's always doing good work.
Dan has been releasing films since his debut with the Channel Four-funded short Driven (2000),
an impressionistic three-minute film about the dazed monotony of
driving. This effective little film plays with fluid Taxi Driver-like
shots of roads at night, to evoke the dazed state of mind one can
get after long working hours. The narrative is conveyed with admirable concision
by the actor playing the driver, and the ending invites the viewer's imagination
to run wild. Shot in 35mm, Driven is the film that kicks off the Dan Hopkins show-reel DVD.
Still from Driven (2000).
Sometimes his show-reel films
accompany Dan's own soundscapes, sometimes the videos are band promos. Driven is followed bumper-to-bumper
by Xanexxx (2004) made for the now-defunct band Mountain Men Anonymous. Xanexxx
shows a slowly-building montage of nature reclaiming ruins - ruins that used to be 'the modern world' in Stoke-on-Trent,
circa 1929. Towards the end of the film we are left only with outlines and shapes, vague
geometric blueprint-memories of places that are doomed to be demolished and tidied away
to make way for boring industrial sheds of breeze-block and tin. The film interplays with
a Mountain Men Anonymous soundtrack that provides a marching beat overlaid with a floaty nostalgic piano.
Three stills from Plastic Decay (2002)
Plastic Decay (2002) is one of Dan's most interesting and successful films. It continues Driven's
concern with the hypnotic weightlessness of modern travelling - yet
marries this with a new Jarman-esque sense of shoreline and seascape, and also adds an extra layer in Victor Burgin-style
overlays of poetic slogans. These three elements merge with great effectiveness.
Instant Jplug (2003) has a Japanese-sounding epic soundtrack by Arcade, reminicent of some late-90s tracks by
Aphex Twin. To this Dan opens with rice-paper like panels that give way to
organic textures and baroque geometric abstraction, later collaged with hypersatured plants
- plants that then slowly mutate back into
pixelated abstraction towards the end.
Two stills from A449 (2003).
Closer to the Edge has a soundtrack by the Derby-based band Development of Shape, and returns
again to the theme of travel, on roads at night. This is a moody introspective film that can't
match up to the 35mm polish of Driven, although it neverthless manages to end on a similar
claustrophobic note as a ghostly road-movie vista opens up. Closer to the Edge is also
available as a 3-inch 11-minute DVD release on Dan's noground-r label (ng-r05).
Dan's show-reel ends with his long hypnotic work A449 (2003).
A449 is a 15-minute 19-mile film of a trip down the narrow A449 road between Newport
and Monmouth in South Wales. You cannot turn your car round, or even cross this road, once
you are on it. Rain on the windscreen is composited with snatches of
glimpsed landscape, all of which is rendered in a very painterly manner due to the speed of the car and the way the
rain blurs the vision. Dan's own subtle soundtrack is full of whispers and doppler effects
from field recordings. Any one of the frames of this film, if suitably printed out, could serve as a painting, yet the film's sense of movement also successfully conveys the blockings and glimpses and plays-of-light
that are inherent in a car journey in rain. In its marriage of rain, boredom and the British
landscape, it speaks of a certain English neo-romantic tendency to melancholy and the strange meandering reveries
that that can engender.
Still from the end of Closer to the Edge.
Stills from Flying (2006).
Dan has let Creative Stoke have a preview of another four films that are new on DVD for 2006, a sort of 'video EP'.
Flying (2006) is a very accomplished new promo video for The Telescopes. It avoids the obvious temptation to give
psychedelic music a colourful 'kaleidoscopic' look as a backdrop, and instead goes for subtle black and
white montages of trees and branches, suggesting the complexity of
the music through the complexity of organic overlappings and gentle
wind movements. Gradually shots of the band playing are subtly
interwoven, without breaking the mood. The whole peice is very successful,
and evokes both the atmosphere of Japanese tree prints and a "west coast 60s"
Fields That Speak (2006) is another interesting new work with engaging new music,
a widescreen meditation on the brooding nature of the English landscape. It alternates
views and small organic details, balancing around mid-range shots. This film is
sheduled for a future release as part of a CD/DVD package on the noground-r label, titled Takuma.
Still from Fields That Speak (2006).
Also on the new DVD are Artificial Light (2002) which is the
video equivalent of the Martian poetry of the 1970s; an alien's view of
our artificial lighting systems, featuring contrasting views of sun-on-water and streetlights
and Burgin-style lettering.
This meditation on light pollution is a multi-layered film, filmed on a blend of
super-8 film and video. And Spruce is a short enigmatic tone-poem
consisting of red bands passing a field of
red, playing with DVD compression and artifacts, and evoking fleeting
impressions of blood scanning and satellite mapping.
Finally, we have Dan's four films inspired by the public art of Leicester. These were
included, in the form of a DVD, with a sumptuous hardback book on the city's
"Cultural Mapping" process. There is something in these four films, as there is in some of his other
films, of the early Situationist concern with the emotional textures of
urbanism and the routes through cities.
Loop (2005) flows through graceful drive-bys of circular traffic islands, the new sculptures
on them being glipsed fleetingly as they would be from a car. Track-suited pedestrians and shops
with huge "sale" signs provide grace notes in the background. Sadly, one is perhaps
more interested in the bushes and trees on these islands, than in some of the
stock municipal sculpture. But the core of the film is the sense of movement, which
contrasts with the fixed nature of the sculptures.
Ears (2005) is a very short, but very beautiful, film about one of the most interesting and
"active" public sculptures. It reminds one of
Derek Jarman's early short films and his later film The Garden; in its use of glimmering light, a long static shot, and
speeded-up film. Green (2005) consists of four small screens side-by-side, with speeded-up
hand-held footage of a walk between and past some of the city's public art.
The effect might be described as Derek Jarman's pop video for "The Queen is Dead" meets Hamish Fulton's walks. The sense of
walking is given closure at the end, by a circular movement around a new observation
post in a park. Scope (2005) has some very beautiful sections as two smaller telescope-view videos
are overlapped onto a video of a walk down a sunlit street scene. The music,
visuals and emotional sensibility really gel in the early part of this film, but it is
later marred by "pop up" still images of the public sculptures. Let's hope this latter feature was
an artistic decision, and not due to pressure on the artist by the funders.
Stills from Scope (above) & Green (below).
Dan, as 'Hurra caine Landcrash', also has a new album of his music out.
Moving (noground-r, ng-r 06) is that 'difficult third album',
being a follow-up to Adaptor (2000) and Digitalis (2001).
It features eleven ambient electronica soundscapes, very much in the mould of
Brian Eno's seminal Music for Films. As in Dan's films, there is a painterly quality here, the focus is never pulled, and
one is simply carried along or else 'watches' the aural landscape intently. The music broadly matches
the neo-romantic mode of many of his films, in terms of
conveying an emotional interaction with the landscape and a psychogeographic concern with
brooding industrial relics and roads. Growing up on the Somerset Levels probably
helped matters here; it was surely a place which was an education in the quality
of light, and the quality-of-tenderness that such a light can shine on tiny details in the landscape.
Moving front cover.
Several Dan products can be purchased via the website www.noground.co.uk
and also www.normanrecords.co.uk or www.lowenergynetwork.com or First Person Records.
Dan is based in Stoke-on-Trent and is always looking for collaborations in music and film.
Some previous Creative Stoke front-page features:-
The Frink School of Sculpture...
DAZED & Benny Browne...