Responses to Blue Black Permanent


Notes from the screening of Blue Black Permanent on 21 October 2001 at The Lumière, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, compiled by Michael Romer

Richard Mowe, director of The Lumière, introduced the film. He said that Margaret Tait’s short films Garden Pieces would be shown as part of a programme of that name in the near future. He reminded the audience that Gerda Stevenson, who plays Greta, would talk about the film afterwards.

Margaret Tait, Blue Black Permanent, 1992. Courtesy of British Film Institute.

The audience of about 80 people watched the film without rustling a sweet wrapper. There was a complete silence when the film ended. One person left, probably to go to the toilet, but everybody else stayed to hear Gerda. In most personal appearances a quarter or a half of the audience leave before the discussion.

Here is something of what Gerda said:

Gerda did not generally look back on past work because of her involvement in new things. Seeing the film again had been a strange experience, particularly since the death of the director Margaret Tait, and the producer, Barbara Grigor.

As a director, Margaret gave only a few indications of the way she wanted the roles acted. Although very expressive in books and films, she used few words in everyday communication. She was always eager to catch chance possibilities suggested during filming and collected many film sequences, only some of which were used later.

One of the best aspects of the film is the way Margaret used Orcadians to act the Orkney scenes. In particular, Walter Leask showed perfect judgement in his portrayal of Greta’s father. Margaret was so concerned about authenticity that she did not want Gerda to try to reproduce an Orkney accent, but Gerda managed to adapt a little to the way her fellow actors spoke without Margaret objecting.

Margaret Tait, Blue Black Permanent, 1992. Courtesy of British Film Institute.

Gerda identified strongly with the importance Margaret attached to a sense of place. Gerda is now living only a mile or two from where she was brought up.

It is vital that reflective films like Margaret’s remain to present an alternative view of Scotland to that shown in important fast-moving films like Trainspotting.

Someone asked where the title Blue Black Permanent came from. Gerda said that one reference was to the sea and another to writing; Greta’s daughter is said to have ink in her veins like her mother. Now that fountain pens are uncommon, a phrase once familiar from ink bottles may have to be explained to new generations.

Gerda had brought along four of Margaret’s books. She read part of the short story where two visitors to Orkney completely misunderstand what the people they meet are thinking. She also read from one of Margaret’s poems about the death of a near relative.

Margaret Tait, Blue Black Permanent, 1992. Courtesy of British Film Institute.

A man in the back row said viewers has seen two films in one; in addition to the usual film running its course, the film presented a sequence of such well composed frames that each one could stand alone as a still photograph.

The audience may have been silent at the end of the film, but they showed their enthusiasm in the way they applauded when Gerda had finished speaking.  So many people came to speak to her that the director of the cinema eventually had to ask politely for everyone to leave.

Audience reactions

The man with the large collection of Sight and Sound
A great film with lots of beautiful scenes. His favourite sequence was Greta drinking the large mug of tea on the boat, landing, and then walking to her father’s house.

The wandering Norwegian couple
They came by chance to see the film.  He said how much he liked the Bergman pacing. They had no difficulty in following what was going on in spite of the language difference.

The woman who always sits at the back to cry
She did.

The retired university engineer whose field trips always ended near distilleries
He and his wife thought the film wonderful.

The man who tried to photograph Margaret Tait
Delighted that he had heard about the showing of the film.

The woman from Romania
She was deeply moved by the portrayal of the feeling of displacement.

The piano teacher who has been going to retire for the last ten years
Lovely film; nice café too.

The school teacher from Orkney
She had not known about the film and thought it magnificent.

The wine merchant
She found it hard to speak, even after the half-hour discussion.

The cinema director
The question and answer session showed how much the audience had appreciated the film.

General comment

Nobody seemed to have any major difficulty in distinguishing the time strands in the film. Perhaps the handout alerted them, but there are plenty of clues to help anyone but a dozing critic. The audience kept an intelligent silence about Greta’s death.

Margaret Tait, Blue Black Permanent, 1992. Courtesy of British Film Institute.

Many people who were not able to attend expressed their regret at missing the film. Several have asked if a video is available.

A note on the introductory music

The Lumière staff played the album Redpoint by Duncan Chisholm and others (Copperfish Records, no date). The album information reproduces Iain Crichton Smith’s translation of poem XLII of Somhairle MacGill-Eain’s (Sorley Maclean’s) Poems to Eimhir: “If we were in Talisker on the shore. . .” The first track is The Rose of St Magnus.

Courtesy of Michael Romer