Watching the K Foundation Burn A Million Quid –
strange goings on at the Aberystwyth Film Festival, 11th November 1995
[recently restored to the web at http://www.nexistepas.com/pilgrim/works/kfoundation.htm, which isn’t that far from enthusiasm, which is where the new stuff generally goes…]
Let it be said at the outset that journalistic objectivity, analysis and critique will not serve here. All the navigational aids are down. Nobody knows anything; everybody knows that. So what did we see?
The screening of the film, ‘Watch the K Foundation Burn A Million Quid’ was to have been followed by a discussion between audience and perpetrators – which many attendees had been anticipating with more relish than they had the film – but KF honcho Bill Drummond and henchman Gimpo took to the stage at the outset, before the screening, and read out a "contract with the rest of the world" which Bill and Jimmy had signed the previous week, under the terms of which they vowed not to discuss the Burning of A Million Quid, or any of the K Foundation projects, for a period of 23 years.
Cop-out, murmured some. I don’t think so; the Burning is of a species of activity which Debord called detournement, which is neither didactic nor dialectic; you don’t stand around explaining detournement. You just do it, and let whoever is affected by it make sense of it, or not, in whatever way they can.
So, the lights are dimmed, the screening begins: an hour-long, silent camcorder documentation of bank notes being fed into a fire. Not terribly compelling stuff, although some shots, especially the flame close-ups, could excite the really determined aesthete.
Outraged independent film makers – calculating, no doubt, how many small films they could have made with the dosh – left early in disgust, and it certainly isn’t hard to see why. Most people encountering the fact of the Burning have probably considered at some point what they might have done with the money, which is very much like imagining how you’ll spend your lottery jackpot, when it comes. The easiest journalism in the world.
Within five minutes of commencement, there were discussions going on in the auditorium, in the toilets, and afterwards, down the street, along to the festival club, and into the night. It’s curious how this film – this event, this subject – gave us license to enter into conversation with complete strangers – which may be (part of) the point, and begs a question: why do we not discuss other films in such a direct and animated fashion, with strangers, immediately? It seems necessary to assault consumer culture head-on, before we shake the walls which separate us from the person in the next seat.
For this stimulus, we should be grateful, and we should wonder at ourselves.
Where did these alienated abstractions come from, anyway? How did they come to be? Jimmy & Bill made their records, just like anyone else might make a record. Off goes the product into the world, and people buy the product, radio stations play the product, and intellectual property being what it is, royalty cheques drop on the doormat -which are duly deposited in bank accounts, where the numbers get bigger (and further away).
What has been lost? In the weird arithmetic of film-making, a million quid isn’t an awful lot. It will buy you about 20% of Sandra Bullock – or probably about enough of Arnie for a genetic fingerprint to be made, thus confirming its authenticity.
And how "real" is all this? How can anyone prove or disprove it? What sort of a budget would you need? Telephone numbers? The Bank of England is apparently satisfied that the ashes offered for analysis represent the remains of a large amount of "real" money. But how much does it matter whether they really did it or not? The belief-system that says A Million Quid is actually valuable has been challenged; that much really happened.
We can have some fun speculating what might have occurred if the Burning had been undertaken in Oxford Circus, or in Threadneedle Street, rather than a stone shack on the island of Jura.
We can also wonder how things might have gone if the Burning had been undertaken by famously conventional Mick Hucknall, who is surely much better able to afford it, rather than by renowned anarcho-pranksters the K Foundation. (Maybe Red Mick could have Burned ten million. How much more – or less – fabulous would that have been?)
I had a wonderful time. I had three or four of the year’s best conversations in one evening, and I made some friends, and for a while there I was reassured that I’m not entirely alone in a horrid, solipsistic nightmare of ghostly simulacra.
Which I happen think is worth A Million Quid of anybody’s money.