Sunday, 29 December 2013


The Dog and Partridge, Sheffield. December 2003.
"I've heard - and it's probably an urban myth - that the best way of acquiring a taste for Guinness, is to drink three pints of it as fast as you possibly can."
A real task, performed for the first time. In a pub, with friends. Somewhere in between documentary and documentation of live performance, An Acquired Taste is a touching film about what we carry with us from our childhood to our adulthood. About family. And about drinking.
An Acquired Taste (2003)
A film by Christopher Hall & Alexander Kelly

Photography by Robert Hardy & Hilary Foster
Sound by David Mitchell & Jacqui Bellamy
Funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire and supported by Site Gallery, Sheffield.

Programme Notes

ALEX: The idea to do this – the drinking-three-pints-to-acquire-the-taste-for-Guinness idea – originally came up as something to do in a show. I can’t remember what process it came up in for the very first time, but I think the fact that it only made sense to do it once – it only makes sense the “first time” – meant we didn’t pursue it for that project. It felt too stand-alone.

It came in to my mind again in 1999, when I was part of the Legacy Project at Arnolfini and Prema (a brilliant experience with 6 other artists, about which there is more to be written at some point), which was planned to conclude with a one-off, unrepeatable performance. So an action that could “only be performed once” seemed appropriate, and I remember talking to Ju Row Far about it. But that project went off on its own direction, and the three pints idea didn’t fit.

After that I remember thinking that as the action was only significant when performed for the first time, then I should probably perform it for camera. In 2002, Chris and I had recorded me reading a set of postcardsthat my dad had sent me from America when I was a kid, and I thought that a similar set up would work for the Guinness drinking: a bare space, me and the pints, and then, using a workshop/devising task format we find useful, perform the task then immediately talk about the experience - reflect out loud without planning what to say.

I talked to Chris about it and he immediately said yes, we should do it, but that we should do it in a pub and invite friends, and most importantly, get my dad along. It was this instinct of Chris’ that makes this into a film, for me, rather than documentation of a performance event, or live art for camera – though it obviously contains those things.

We went to one of the two (I think) real Irish pubs in Sheffield, the Dog & Partridge, one Sunday lunchtime.

CHRIS: Alex asked me to write about An Acquired Taste for the blog. I like reading about films, I like watching and talking about them and I really like making them. The fact that I’ve written two articles in over twenty years of making them is an indication that I’m not so keen on writing about them. As with Pills, we’ve spoken a fair bit over the last decade about the how and why, so as with the Pills blog entry I thought I’d share some stuff that you may not have heard or read before today.

We shot a full technical rehearsal the day before, on location, without extras using blackcurrant cordial instead of Guinness. I’ve never viewed the tapes, but they’re labeled and stored in the archive right next to the actual tapes that were used in the final film.

ALEX: This is news to me. Was I there?

CHRIS: A sixth camera was used on the day of the shoot but went into auto-shut down mode just before we started, we turned it on again but forgot to check focus. The footage was unusable.

As soon as Alex said “I’ll share it with you, Dad” I knew I had my last line. I tried various endings out during the editing, but always this was the ending with resonance and truth.

There are a couple of trims throughout the film which mean that the main task of drinking the Guinness doesn’t happen in real time.

ALEX: This is also news to me! We set about filming without knowing how long it would take me to do. There used to be a pub in Sheffield with an Eight Pint Club (or something like that), and their best times were up on the wall in the bar. They were all under an hour, most of them under 20 minutes. The fastest something like 4 minutes. I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near that league, and in fact it was possible that I would hate the taste so much it would take me over an hour. If that was the case, the plan was to exhibit it as a multi-screen gallery piece, rather than short film. (Respect to Arts Council Yorkshire, and particularly Adrian Friedli, for investing in that risk with us).

CHRIS: Like all of the split-screen work that I do I’m always striving to do something better than Scorsese’s work in the Elvis On Tour film.

ALEX: And that’s the second thing, of course, that makes it the film it is.

CHRIS: The sound that you hear of Alex drinking was made during the final sound mix session in a mixing room in London. It’s the sound of a sound assistant drinking a pint of water.

ALEX: Cheating. And the fruit machine is dubbed on, too, isn’t it?

CHRIS: The moment of silence whilst Alex is drinking the final few gulps is there as one of the audience / friends / supporters gave a loud and disproportionately rousing ‘YESS!’, as Alex finished drinking, unbalancing the tone of the climax.

ALEX: Again, cheating. Or rather, shifting the balance of what the film is about. Although the film is clearly, on one level, about (the act of) drinking, to us it was about more than that. We showed a rough cut to our friend Deborah Chadbourn, who over the years has given us some brilliant advice. She said what she liked about it, as a parent, was watching my dad watch me take the challenge. “Just watching to see how your doing.” When Deborah said that, I knew it had worked, that the task had allowed us to make a film about something bigger.

CHRIS: I hope you enjoy it.

ALEX: Me too. And a final note. One of the things I love about this project, is that as well as the friends who joined us for a drink, the whole core team were long term collaborators who had worked with us on our first two projects (the 72 hour multi media performance Testcard, and the short film With The Light On, in 1995 and 1996): Chris making and editing, David Mitchell and Jacqui Bellamy on sound, Robert Hardy and Hilary Foster on camera.

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