Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Muse of the Mas



Simon Lee 10:09 pm
Published: February 14th, 2009

The white boy born in Guyana, raised in Trinidad and schooled at London’s prestigious Central School of Art, Peter Minshall, is at the forefront of reworking the diverse Creole traditions of Trinidad’s indigenous festival into a transnational, multi-disciplinary transcultural art form, which is utterly unique and profoundly human in its embrace of good and evil.
“If I had a gun, a lot of people would be dead,” quips deadpan Dalton Narine, Gonzales boy, Vietnam vet, former Miami Herald features editor, novelist-in-the-making and director, co-producer of Mas Man—Peter Minshall Trinidad Carnival Artist.


Narine is a diminutive, bug-eyed behind his oversize lenses, driven documentary film-maker. Ideas bubble and cascade from him with all the dizzying unpredictability and force of the sheer Maracas waterfall.Despite an impressive tally of awards for earlier documentaries (filmed when he was a TTT man), the one-hour-47-minute tribute to Trinidad’s most globally acclaimed artist of many talents, caps, humours and stories, was no easy walk to bring to the screen.
Five years in the making, Narine wearied of the often-repeated query—when he and co-producer, cameraman and editor, Benedict Joseph, would finish.He often thought of offering his old-time friend from Gonzales, LeRoi Clarke’s response to when he’d finish a canvas: “When it’s finished.”As any artist in Trinidad can confirm, funding is a rare commodity, and of 50 proposals Narine and Joseph sent out to the usual corporate and public sector suspects, only three warranted replies.


“Everywhere we went there was a hurdle,” Narine admits with perverse glee coming from a man who took bank loans like a young man takes lovers, mortgaging and re-mortgaging his Miami house and finally dipping into his Miami Herald pension. “The Muse carried us through,” he emotes with the fervour of a Minshall acolyte, waiting to mount the Savannah stage on Carnival Tuesday night. Money wasn’t the only obstacle. Gathering the footage was an unwelcome lesson others have had to contend with, when attempting to source fairly recent cultural archival material.


Meeting Minshall
The Ministry of Information’s cardboard boxes proved impregnable. Second-hand footage had to be sourced from NCC Channel 4, and amazingly no footage existed, either of the seminal hummingbird costume or Minshall’s 1976 band, Paradise Lost. Stills were screened instead.
In retrospect, it was Paradise Lost that seduced the artist in Narine. When he first heard about it, his curiosity was piqued, “How could a man make a mas on Paradise Lost, which I read in school?” When he saw the band live on the road he became an instant Minsh convert, “I still think it’s the best band I’ve seen; it was awesome, surreal.” Meeting Minshall after his “conversion,” the two became friends “on an artistic and professional level,” and the Mas Man gave Narine and Joseph a carte blanche go-ahead for the documentary and submitted himself to four hours of interviewing, clips of which punctuate the film, in between 29 other interviews.
Narine is unconcerned, either about local reception of the documentary, or recouping his outlay, although Cott has stepped in late in the game, with $100,000. “If we don’t make any money out of it, there are always the international film festivals. People know him and his art,” he reasons.“We’re head of the band, and if there’s any glory in that, we’ll take it. The line forms behind us.” With his local (Guardian, Express, TTT) and American (Esquire, Ebony, Village Voice, Miami Herald) media experience and Trini to the marrow involvement with culture (steel pan behind the bridge, sailor and Indian mas) Narine was well-placed to direct this project.


He has long recognised what the organisers of three Olympic Games and all those who wait to gape at what Minshall has come up with this year did: the white boy born in Guyana, raised in Trinidad and schooled at London’s prestigious Central School of Art, is at the forefront of reworking the diverse Creole traditions of Trinidad’s indigenous festival into a transnational, multi-disciplinary transcultural art form, which is utterly unique and profoundly human in its embrace of good and evil. While the definition of art as a mirror for society is unnecessarily limiting, Minshall has, indeed, “dipped his cup” into the collective experience and psyche of T&T, and “offered a cup of beauty in return.” Narine and Joseph are to be congratulated by all who love the seven realms and beyond, for bringing Minshall’s gifts to the wider world.
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