‘An exceptionally well produced book that reflects something bigger than itself.’ It is possible to imagine less fervent praise. In the case of The Secret Agent one panel member was able to convince his colleagues in an instant. In the book the Canadian video artist Stan Douglas explores the seventies and the history of Portugal, which at that time was both wrenching itself free of dictatorship and losing its colonies.
This particularly successful book actually encompasses three works by Douglas. In the video installation he revamps a tale by Joseph Conrad of 1907, keeping the characters and plot but transposing them to the turbulence of Lisbon just after the Carnation Revolution of 1974. The book contains the original script and an extensive collection of film stills and production images. The second work is Disco Angola, a series of eight staged historical photographs of two more or less simultaneous moments: the hedonistic glamour culture of New York nightlife in the seventies and the civil war in Angola. The third, Luanda-Kinshasa, is a six-hours-long jazz film which includes eleven songs recorded in the legendary 30th Street Studio, where recording artists included Miles Davis and Glenn Gould.
‘You find yourself deeply involved in the minutiae of the work and production process, and yet it’s a book that’s been made with the brakes on.’ Would it have worked equally well as a paperback? Possibly, but this is ‘pure aesthetics’ and ‘damn well done’ – including the paper wrap-around band with quotes from the films and technical information. Film becomes photography – and it’s a completely new experience because the book lacks the pace of a film.