Peter Todd: “Focus On: Margaret Tait”


Little has been written about the Orcadian film maker and poet Margaret Tait. In August 2004 a major retrospective of her films was held at the Edinburgh International Film Festival followed in November by a touring programme of her work and accompanying book from LUX. She produced over 30 mainly self-made and financed films and also published three books of poetry and two of short stories.

Margaret Tait described her life’s work as consisting of making film-poems. She often quoted Lorca’s phrase of ‘stalking the image’ to define her philosophy and method, the idea that if you look at an object closely enough it will speak its nature. This clarity of vision and purpose with an attention to simple commonplace subjects combined with a rare sense of inner rhythm and pattern give her films a transcendental quality, while still remaining firmly rooted within the everyday. Margaret once said of her films, with characteristic modesty, that they are born of ‘of sheer wonder and astonishment at how much can be seen in any place that you choose…if you really look. — LUX.

The following is a selection of books, journal articles and newspaper cuttings on Margaret Tait held by the BFI National Library.


Mike Leggett
“Margaret Tait,” in A Directory of British Film & Video Artists, edited by David Curtis (Luton: John Libby Media/London: Arts Council of England, 1996), pp. 190-192.
Overview of her career and work.

Ben Cook and Peter Todd
Subjects and Sequences: A Margaret Tait Reader (London: LUX, 2004).
First book on Tait including pieces by Ute Aurand, Gareth Evans, Lucy Reynolds, and Ali Smith, together with a selection of poems, publicity sheets, and interviews with Tait herself edited by David Curtis.

Joss Winn
Preserving The Hand-Painted Films of Margaret Tait, MA dissertation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 2002, unpublished.
A study of the hand painted films in particular Calypso with specific consideration to the preservation and archiving of them.

Journal Articles

Ben Cook and Peter Todd
“Margaret Tait,” National Film Theatre Booklet (October 2000), pp. 34-35.
Details of the tribute screenings at the National Film Theatre.

David Curtis
“Britain’s Oldest Experimentalist… Margaret Tait,” Vertigo, No. 9 (Summer 1999), pp. 62-63.
Tribute following her death written by David Curtis, formerly Senior Visual Arts Officer at the Arts Council of England.

Tamara Krikorian
On the Mountain and Land Makar: Landscape and Townscape in Margaret Tait’s Work,” Undercut, No. 7/8 (Spring 1983), pp. 17-19.
Analysis and description of two of Tait’s longer films, On The Mountain which captures the changes in Rose Street, Edinburgh, where for many years Tait had her base, and Land Makar a study of study of an Orkney croft (next to where Tait herself was living at the time), and the woman who runs it, Mary Graham Sinclair.

Alex Pirie
“Margaret Tait Film Maker 1918-1999: Indications Influence Outcomes,” Poem Film Film Poem, No. 6 (2000), pp. 1-12.
A selection of various quotes, writings, and poems from a number of sources, selected by Alex Pirie who was Margaret Tait’s husband.

George Clark
“Aspects of Change: The 58th Edinburgh International Film Festival,” Senses of Cinema, 33 (Oct-Dec 2004).
A review of the 2004 Edinburgh festival including several paragraphs at the end on the retrospective of Margaret Tait films.

Peter Todd
“Remembering Margaret Tait (1918-1999): A Deeper Knowledge Than Wisdom,” Vertigo, Vol. 2, No. 7 (Autumn/Winter 2004), pp. 53-55.
A version of the LUXONLINE essay by Peter Todd, together with short contributions from other film makers Ute Aurand (reprinted in Subjects and Sequences: A Margaret Tait Reader), Annabel Nicolson, and Sarah Wood.

Press Articles

Murray Grigor
“Margaret Tait,” Independent (12 May 1999), p. 6.
Obituary by film maker Murray Grigor who as director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival organised the 1970 Margaret Tait retrospective.

Jan Moir
“First Person Highly Singular,” The Guardian (31 March 1993), pp. 8-9.
Interview and overview of her career at the time of making her feature length work Blue Black

Sukdev Sandu
“Unique Vision of a Film Poet,” The Daily Telegraph (23 August 2004), p. 17.
Preview of the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival retrospective of Tait’s work.

Elizabeth Sussex
“Margaret Tait, film-maker,” Financial Times (9 September 1970).
Review of the retrospective at the 1970 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Elizabeth Sussex
“Margare Tait,” The Guardian (13 May 1999), p. 22.

“Margaret Tait,” The Times (28 May 1999), p. 31.


Originally published in Peter Todd, “Focus On: Margaret Tait,” in 16+ Source Guide: Experimental Film (London: BFI, 2004), republished with thanks to the BFI Reuben Library.

Peter Todd is a film maker and curator based in London. Todd has produced various projects that present and explore the work of Margaret Tait, including a major retrospective of Tait’s work at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (2004), and an international touring programme entitled Subjects and Sequences in partnership with LUX. The accompanying book Subjects and Sequences: A Margaret Tait Reader (LUX, 2004) was co-edited with Benjamin Cook (Director, LUX) and together they also produced a DVD of selected films by Tait. In 2002 Todd received Scottish Screen Exhibition Development Award funding for research on Margaret Tait with a view to preserving and making available her work. In 2006 he was funded by Pier Arts Centre, Stromness Orkney in regarding developing the collection to include work by Margaret Tait including 16mm prints and DVDs. Todd has presented Tait’s work at BAFICI Buenos Aires, MoMA New York, MIFF Mumbai, Tate Modern London, Pier Arts Centre Stromness and Portgower Village Hall Sutherland (with Sarah Neely) amongst others. In 2018 he curated the season Rhythm & Poetry; The Films of Margaret Tait at BFI Southbank London.