Comments from ‘The Persistence of Spirit’: Blue Black Permanent (Screening & Reunion of Cast and Crew) on 15 June 2019 at Summerhall, Edinburgh
Such a beautiful film. Fascinating to see the themes and imagery from Margaret’s shorts come through and be developed. The ending destroyed me.
Wonderful to see Blue Black Permanent on a big screen again—and in a restored format. Some—many—films age but Blue Black Permanent does not seem to have done so.
I have not seen the film since 1992 at the film festival. I enjoyed it as much today as then.
Robina, BBP Art Department
This is the second time I’ve seen Blue Black Permanent this year. It’s a film you need to watch more than once—there are so many layers to it. I’ve been thinking a lot about working with Margaret and her films. There’s lots I could say but far too much to fit on this card. I might write my thoughts down elsewhere, get in touch if you would like to hear them.
Even lovelier than I remember.
Sarah—thank you for today—lovely to reminisce and enjoy Blue Black Permanent once again.
Blue Black Permanent was the masterpiece that only Margaret Tait could have made. As a poet first and foremost who loved the visual world, as a true artist, expressed in the final sequence.
Where was the mermaid cave scene filmed? (Yesnaby?) Significant to me was the scene of the Shaalder [Tait family boat] going to the island—layered family memories—my own, my dad’s, family albums from 1950s–50s. Important scene—Primula Scotica on clifftop—“It will only grow here. When they try to transplant it, it dies.”
In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum hoc erat in principio apud Deum omnia per ipsum facta sunt et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt.
– The Gospel of St John 1:1-5
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower….
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Through the Eye…..
God Appears and God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
– William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1803
Greta is a poet. Her mother was lost to the sea when she was a child. She too, in the end, is lost to the sea. Her daughter is a photographer, but one who sees with, not through, the eye. Margaret Tait was a poet and a film-maker, a rare combination. Her single feature Blue Black Permanent  takes its title from the name of a variety of ink. Greta, whose life is remembered, and celebrated, in the film, which has the feel and pace of a requiem mass, writes poetry but we never hear or see her poems. We see her notebooks, and the sheet of paper on which she wrote her last poem before her death by sea but that is all. However, though we do not have Greta’s poems, in Margaret Tait’s film, we see, through her eyes, her world; the world which she expressed through those poems we never see, never hear, but know to be. Greta’s world is bounded by mystery, by the frightening death of her mother, taken by the sea, and by her own death by sea. In the opening sequence, set on a beach, Greta watches her daughter, with alarm and fear in her eyes, as she swims, breaking the waves. Her daughter, as she later acknowledges herself, is the child of her father, a landlubber, and will not be taken by the sea.
Although most of the film can be taken as a vision of Greta’s world, part is set in the present day as her daughter Barbara, and her boyfriend, Philip, both no longer young, fail to understand each other and cannot manage to grasp the meaning of Greta’s life; a lack of understanding symbolised by Barbara’s failure to find the notebooks, written in blue black permanent ink, of her mother. The painter, Andrew, whom Greta reveres – an artist who paints the roof tops of Edinburgh, those parts of the city, like its church steeples, closest to the sky, to heaven – is photographed, with, not through, the eye, by Barbara. When she asks him about Greta, her mother, Andrew just says: ‘What a loss’. All the characters in the film, her husband, children, two boys and a girl, her father, the painter and his model, have known, and not really grasped, the reality of Greta, but he, an artist, understands the depth of the grief entailed by such ignorance which can only be expressed by the forlorn words: ‘What a loss’.
The words of the characters are inarticulate, incapable of expressing the beauty which the viewer of the film sees through the lens of Margaret Tait, the eyes of Greta – we see through her eyes, not with them. We are taken into a world of beauty, light and life, of terror and of death. The whole film is haunted by time, the passage of time, the passing of life into death, the transformations of nature by wind, wave and storm. Two women are lost to the sea but we remain on the shore, gazing into the ‘offing’, the place where Greta’s eyes strain, the place into which her soul, in the end, is taken. We are left, having contemplated beauty and time, with truth, the vision of Margaret Tait who, like Greta, and William Blake, is poet who saw through, not with, the eye.