Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jane Arden

Jane Arden (1927-82) was pretty cool. Actress, playwright, screenwriter, avant-garde film director, poet, you name it. Her talent, it seems, was both great and multi-faceted. A shame to learn, then, that she committed suicide in 1982.

She came from uptown Pontypool (47 Twmpath Road, if you're ever in the area). Her real name was Norah Morris. Her father, W.T. Morris, worked as a butcher in Newport. Her uncle was the singer Parry Jones. She went to Newport High School for girls before leaving, aged 16, to attend RADA.

She appeared in two films while still a teenager; acted in a couple of plays broadcast from Cardiff. Went to New York and did the whole starving artist routine. Back in Britain she concentrated on becoming a writer. One of her dramas, The Party (1958), starred Charles Laughton and Albert Finney. Another, The Thug (1959), provided Alan Bates with one of his earliest TV roles.

In the Sixties her writing became more feminist, experimental and radical. Her most notable play during this period was Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969) which ran successfully at the Arts Lab in London. With her lover and creative partner, Jack Bond, she also made the documentary Dali in New York (1966). How amusing to see her questioning the great Surrealist artist as he takes his pet ocelot out for a stroll.

Her film work was even more avant-garde. She scripted and starred in the experimental Separation (1967). She wrote, directed and appeared in The Other Side of the Underneath (1972), much of which was filmed in South Wales - including a scene at Newport Transporter Bridge. In 1979 she penned and directed Anti-Clock. All three films were re-released in 2009 by the BFI rekindling an interest in her life and work.

*If you want to further investigate Jane Arden's fascinating oeuvre you'll enjoy these two rather fine articles at Vertigo (and here). The Jane Arden MySpace site - set up by Tracy Granger - is also well worth a look.