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  • Wholly Communion:Notes on the Filming
  • Peter Whitehead

Peter Whitehead wrote this short statement for Wholly Communion, the paperback he published in 1966 to accompany the film. It was the first publication of his Lorrimer Books imprint. The text contained an introduction by the poet and novelist Alexis Lykiard and each of the poems that were featured in the film's final cut. Whitehead's emphasis here on the subjective and selective nature of his documentary offers a counterpoint to critical attempts to view the film as an example of cinema verité. A more detailed account of the circumstances in which Whitehead composed the film, which advances upon the stance articulated in these notes, can be found in his novel Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (Kettering, UK: Hathor, 1999).

Wholly Communion was shot on 16 mm film and later blown up to 35 mm. Synchronised sound was recorded in the Arena, but was later abandoned—not so much a bad recording as distorted sound. The film was re-edited to a recording made direct from the poet's neck microphone, before the sounds' hazardous adventures across the acoustical space of the Albert Hall.

Any pretensions I had as a cameraman about the objectivity of film, have, since making this movie, also been abandoned. Anyone seeing this film who thinks they have at last seen the "truth" about what DID happen, are deluded. They have seen the film that also "happened" that night at the Albert Hall.

For an event to be recorded on film the camera must be started BEFORE . . . and only two cameras filming continuously could have recorded something more probably objective. I was editing the event as it happened, before it happened, with one camera and one hour of film. Add to this no tripods allowed, camera linked to fixed recorder, no light reading on the meter, inaudible poetry, "revolving poets" and worst of all zoom lens as the [End Page 164] only emotional link between the camera and myself and the subjectivity of the film was unavoidably determined before the poets even started to read their work. All this before two weeks at work on an editing machine . . .

Once the film emerged form the laboratory it was THERE—to be cut down from one hour to half an hour, but otherwise in its fixed final form. It has been distressing ever since, during the controversy, to find the film awaited as a possible proof or explanation of what really DID happen. The film only further proves the selective nature of the medium, and can do nothing but exist as another impression of a unique evening. [End Page 165]