Black Audio Film Collective, Who Needs A Heart

6 December 2015

Glasgow Film Theatre

Black Audio Film Collective, Who Needs A Heart, 1991. Courtesy of the artists and LUX.
Richard Rogers architects’ model borrowed by Karlin and Jonathan Bloom/Collinson for For Memory and still from Holocaust, NBC 1978

With a special introduction by Francis McKee (writer, curator and director of CCA Glasgow), this controversial feature film from Black Audio Film Collective is a parable of political becoming and subjective transformation. A record of life on the fringes between 1965 – 75, Who Needs A Heart (1991) explores the forgotten history of British Black Power through the fictional lives of a group of friends caught up in the counter-cultural anti-hero, activist and charismatic social bandit Michael X.

Black Audio Film Collective’s distinctive approach to documentary filmmaking culminated in this film inspired by the story of 1960s black revolutionary leader Michael X. However, to call it a biopic’, or anything resembling one, would be to miss the point. Who Needs A Heart is interested in the effect that the political spirit of the 60s, which threw up such a complex personality as Michael X, had on black/​white relations on the one hand, and on the relationship between art and society on the other.

Narrative has been replaced by a collage of fragments. The soundtrack, which could fill a theatre by itself, has a hallucinatory relationship to the story. And the direction seems to have inhaled some of the experimental substances of the time it represents. Which isn’t to say that Who Needs A Heart is a bad film. On the contrary, it is compelling, exhilarating and inexplicably moving, once the viewer realises that any attempt at a rational explanation is pointless.

The film reveals relatively little about Michael X, self-styled leader of the Black Muslims in London and president of the Racial Adjustment Action Society. It does, however, present a vivid description of the social scene through which such political movements flowed, and the emotional and psychological consequences for the young people caught up in it.

— Ann Ogidi, via BFI