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Save Jeff Keen!

By Mike Everleth ⋅ May 14, 2010

Embedded above is the full short film Marvo Movie by British experimental filmmaker Jeff Keen. It was made back in 1967 with support from BFI and is a brilliant work of art from that very fertile underground filmmaking period. However, as a British filmmaker, Keen is regularly left out of traditional avant-garde film histories, even though his work is on par with the best of his era. Marvo Movie is brilliantly disturbing and unsettling with a slight touch of the sentimental.

Keen is now in his late ’80s and severely ill with cancer. To pile on that troublesome news, Keen and his wife were also recently evicted from their home. In addition to the emotional and personal turmoil that has put the Keens through, it has also left the state of his artistic archives in jeopardy.

News of the Keens’ dire situation first surfaced in an article by another British filmmaker Daniel Fawcett that was published on the website Ape Engine. Fawcett and a colleague of his are doing their best scanning, photographing and otherwise archiving Keen’s collection of sketches, props and paintings.

Woman with a cat face

A DVD collection of Keens’ films was put out by BFI last year. It’s called GAZWRX and is not available in the U.S., although I’m sure you can buy it directly from BFI and play it if you have the proper DVD player, or it’ll probably play on any computer. (I’m not up on all the different zone issues with DVDs.)

GAZWRX is a 3-disc set of Keen’s films. I’m not sure when or if Keen stopped making films, but he was producing them at least up until the early ’00s. The DVD also includes a new interview with the filmmaker, an experimental documentary by Ian Helliwell, another documentary on Keen and a 96-page booklet featuring his artwork and articles by writers, including Underground Film Journal friend Jack Sargeant.

Sadly, in the U.S., Keen is barely known and is left out of most traditional histories of the underground. (I only found out about his work recently.) He did have a film — or some films, it’s hard to tell — screen at the 1999 New York Underground Film Festival and a 5-film retrospective was recently held at Brooklyn’s Light Industry. I’m not sure what other types of screenings he may have had in the U.S. (If you know of any, let us know in the comments below.)

Keen doesn’t have an IMDB or a Wikipedia page, but here are some more links to find out about him:

  1. ScreenOnline: A career overview by Will Fowler.
  2. Close-Up: A bio, also by Fowler.
  3. The Guardian: An interview.
  4. Frieze: Great overview.
  5. LUX: Descriptions of Keen films in their collection.
  6. YouTube: A trio of clips and films.

Although I titled this post “Save Jeff Keen!,” I’m not sure what can be done to help him in his current predicament. But, more people should know about him and his work while we still have him here on Earth to appreciate him. This is one of those times when I’ll say again that it’s sad that there’s still an “underground” in this day and age when so many great films are able to be seen and written about for large audiences.

I’m just hoping to spread a little awareness of this great filmmaker.

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