Philip Parr’s sacred talisman is tested to the limit as he watches Ra: The Path of the Sun God and talks to its creator, Lesley Keen.
INDEX: 66 LISTINGS: 70
Lesley Keen does not strike you as an obsessive. She is an intelligent, fast-talking. witty graduate from the Glasgow School of Art who could
presumably be making an honest living animating
Weetabix commercials. Instead, she has immersed herself in the culture of ancient Egypt for the last four years and produced Ra: The Path ofthe Sun God. I met her immediately after the first public showing of the film and, initially at least, she was in subdued mood.
‘It’s terribly difficult to watch your work with other people in the audience for the first time.‘ says Lesley. ‘You‘re painfully aware of absolutely everything they are thinking. It‘s like torture. It‘ll be some years before I can see how the film could be improved upon because it was so difficult to achieve. It‘s not really possible to stand back from it yet. It‘s respectable at the moment but I suppose if you‘re truly content with something you‘ll not do anything any better. You’ve got to be easy on yourself, though. You can’t go around whipping yourself saying “Oh God it was dreadful“.‘
Whilst Ra provides a visual and audible treat, there are sections of it which appear completely mystifying. Lesley hopes that The Tramway‘s accompanying exhibition will help to explain some of the more complex, mythological elements of her work which she admits ‘are not easy to assimilate. You‘ve got to grapple with them.‘ There will, though. be gaps in the exhibition. Lesley (with the help of the consultant Egyptologist who worked on the film) gained access to certain texts and documents which are normally kept behind lock and key.
‘I was given a talisman and various methods to get round the material,‘ says a relaxed Lesley, ‘because people have had their brains boiled by this stuff. People have gone mildly eccentric not to mention insane dealing with the texts I was reading. I heeded all the advice and cleansed the attic afterwards.‘
But surely reading such hallowed texts must have had some lasting impact?
‘Oh yes, totally. I came out of the other end having very little in common with anyone else. It was very intense when it was happening. The funniest thing was the people who I was working with had no access to these documents and I was sitting there going "Wow" and getting completely spaced out on this ancient mythology and they were looking at me saying “this is a complete loony". Words kept failing me entirely.
‘The whole time that I was making it I thought “No I‘m not the measure ofthis material. I don‘t think that the film is ever going to serve it — it‘s never going to do proper justice.“ You‘ve got to remember that these documents were never
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intended to see the light of day and there is undoubtedly a great energy released when you look at Egyptian paintings or read Egyptian manuscripts.
Whilst the ancient legends provided Lesley with the inspiration to continue the painstaking task of hand drawing every frame of the 72-minute film, I wondered ifshe saw any contemporary relevance for these tales of myth and magic.
‘I think that it‘s important to take metaphors from as many different sources as seems appropriate. There are a great many good, guiding principles in ancient Egypt. The Church assimilated the best of these and subtly disguised them. (The Wee Frees will be round to kneecap me for saying this kind of thing.) People believed these Egyptian myths for 5000 years. So far, Christianity has only had 2000. The film is only a potted version of the enormity of Egyptian religious belief, a great deal of which you wouldn‘t want to incorporate into modern life; like marrying your brother or sister. One has to deal with all of these things in the best possible taste.
One certainly cannot criticise the film in terms of taste (although look out for one of the main
characters losing a certain appendage courtesy of a wide-mouthed Nile fish). The flow of events and the recurrence of certain themes though, as Lesley explains, goes against certain cinematic conventions.
‘They didn’t know of cause and effect; if you used that principle it would be un-Egyptian. So, for the first I-don’t-know-how-many minutes I don‘t cut away. Any cut thereafter is to show that distance or time has passed. You can’t. if you get into a tight spot, cut to the chase scene or . . anything like that. Also, everything happening in the film is happening at the same time so all times, all places, are as one.
‘We can‘t really get our heads round that. They say that the bicameral split hadn‘t happened then — you didn‘t have left and right brain functions in ancient Egypt so we can‘t possibly understand. That said, I can’t say that I‘ve ever come across something totally alien. Although the ’ Egyptologist who I worked with told me she (I come across a text which loosely could be translated as “ 101 Things to do with a Sacred Hedgehog.“ ‘(Philip Parr)
‘Ra: The Path of The Sun God' will be shown at The Tramway, Glasgow, 29Aug— 6 Sept.
The List 24 — 30 August 1990 65