“They’ve got catfish on the table” / Keeping Up — Substack by Ashley Clark

“They’ve got catfish on the table”
Keeping Up
By Ashley Clark
October 29, 2022

They’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got Ghostwatch in the air

Hello! Thank you for signing up to, or stumbling on, this no-news-newsletter written by me, Ashley Clark. If you do choose to subscribe—and it’s free—you’ll receive bulletins about whatever’s on my mind: usually some combination of art/film/music/literature/football. If that sounds good, hit the button!

This week’s quick rec is “Freedom Flight”, the closing track from the 1971 LP of the same name by the American musician Shuggie Otis. Otis, who is of African American, Filipino, and Greek descent, is probably best known for his song “Strawberry Letter 23” which, as recorded by The Brothers Johnson and produced by Quincy Jones, was a big chart hit in 1977, and later featured on the score for Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).

Anyway, “Freedom Flight” is wonderful: a near 13 minute instrumental soundscape of pealing horns, chiming guitars, and delicate, melodic bass noodling (my favorite kind.) I must confess I have no idea whether the songs’s title is inspired by the real-life so-called Freedom Flights (Los vuelos de la libertad) that transported Cubans to Miami in large numbers between 1965 to 1973, but either way, it’s a monumentally transporting and relaxing piece of music, and I’ve been listening to it a lot.

I had a very nice time at last week’s Indie Memphis film festival, which was celebrating its 25th edition. Highlights of my visit included a screening of Benjamin Christensen’s berserk witchcraft horror/essay film/comedy Häxan (1922) featuring a live, theremin-fueled, and curiously (but somehow appropriately) smooth-jazzy score; the good vibes/sounds/eats of the Black Creators Forum brunch; and the privilege of serving on the Departures (experimental/avant-garde film) jury alongside two people I greatly admire: writer/scholar Yasmina Price; and critic/filmmaker Blair McClendon. We handed out three awards: short film to Maya at 24 by Lynne Sachs, mid-length film to Civic by Dwayne LeBlanc, and feature film to Cette Maison (This House) by Miryam Charles. We loved all three, and I would suggest keeping an eye out to catch any of them when and where you can.

If I’m being honest, though, my real high point of Indie Memphis was attending a rather unexpected late night screening of the television special Ghostwatch, a true oddity which was broadcast once on BBC1, on Halloween night of 1992… and never again.

Indie Memphis managing director Joseph Carr told me before the screening that he stumbled across Ghostwatch on streaming service Shudder a few years back, and was so shaken that he felt the need to share it with a wider audience. It also didn’t hurt that this year marked the thirtieth anniversary of its first and only broadcastI’d read about the show in the past, and vaguely recall it airing at the time, but I hadn’t actually seen it until last week. I found it to be a staggeringly effective piece of television: intelligent, technically astonishing, and genuinely haunting. I’ve been turning it over in my mind since.

You can watch Ghostwatch here for free. It’s a tight 90 minutes, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Now, there’s a reason why I’ve been so absurdly vague about what Ghostwatch actually is, and that’s because I think this is one of those rare occasions where, even thirty years after the fact, a spoiler alert is justified, and coming to it completely cold—opening yourself up to the world it creates, and imagining that you had tuned into that initial broadcast moments after the BBC announcer had cued up the show with some context—could be beneficial to your viewing experience.

That said, there’s plenty of information about the backstory, intent and legacy of Ghostwatch freely available online, and you’re welcome to look it up if you’re someone who prefers to have a little bit of foreknowledge. I assume my British readers are likely to be much more familiar with the show and its milieu than my American and other international readers. After you’ve watched, you may wish to check out this entertaining and informative episode of the “Criminal” podcast about the show (thank you to artist Onyeka Igwe for flagging that one for me!) And it’s also out on Blu-ray soon, too.

If you do check out Ghostwatch, let me know what you think, and if you saw it at the time it was first broadcast, I’d love to know what the experience was like. Until next week!