A unique event: For the first time all of John Samson’s films will be screened together. The films have been recovered and digitalised by Robin Samson, the director’s son, and the majority of the films to be shown have not been seen for over 25 years.
John Samson (1946 – 2004) was an extraordinary British filmmaker. Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, as a teenager Samson moved to Paisley just outside of Glasgow where he remained for the formative years of his life. Resistant to the constraints of formal education, at 16 Samson left school and took on an apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards learning precision tool making in an engineering firm. Samson quickly became involved as a spokesperson in the first Glasgow apprentices’ strike, helping organise visits by Glasgow apprentices to other shipyards in England in order to demonstrate solidarity across the British Isles.
Around this time Samson began to engage with the Anarchist movement, joining the Committee of 100 and participating in a number of Nuclear Disarmament protests including Holy Loch in 1961 where he was arrested with 350 others for demonstrating against the presence of a US nuclear submarine. In 1963, upon meeting his wife Linda who was studying painting at Glasgow School of Art at the time, Samson gave up his apprenticeship and fell in with a bohemian circle that included artists, writers and musicians. He taught himself guitar, took up stills photography and by the early 70s began to make films.
These experiences – Samson’s working class roots, his passionate interest in radical politics and bohemia – fuelled what would turn out to be a life-long fascination with individuals and groups operating at the margins of society. If it is possible to pick up such a thing as a singular thematic or narrative running throughout Samson’s films, then it is exactly this: his subjects are outsiders, people with unusual lives and obsessions, liminal figures who fail to square neatly with the normative models for identity and behaviour propagated by contemporary culture.
Evident from his very first film Charlie (1973), a 10 minute short film on the merit of which he was awarded a scholarship to the National Film School, Samson was an extremely compassionate filmmaker who never sought to exploit his unusual subjects. Instead he would immerse himself in their strange worlds; his keen eye teasing out motivations while never lacking a dry yet gentle good humour which helped him, above all, to make sense of each and every extraordinary existence he encountered.
Read our interview with Mike Wallington, the producer of Tattoo, Dressing For Pleasure, Britannia and Arrows.