The DMC12 story intersects temptingly with the present in unquantifiable ways: the story of a collapsing car company chimes with the recent meltdown of the car industry in the US, for instance. These are avenues for speculative thought but they remain just that, seedbeds for argument. Indeed, seeing the past through the prism of the present might only warp it further. But in our moment, the past is never allowed to be just the past.
Make it new John (2009) tells the story of the legendary DeLorean car, its creator John DeLorean and the workers of the Belfast-based car plant who built it. Campbell’s film deftly contrasts the DeLorean dream with its spectacular downfall during a critical period in Northern Ireland's history, and the canonization of the car – the DMC12 – as a symbol of the American myth of mobility.
The son of an immigrant Romanian foundry worker, John DeLorean possessed a talent for engineering that took him to the top of Chevrolet, General Motors. Following his resignation from GM in 1973, he persuaded the British Labour Government to back his new venture – building a factory in Dunmurry/Belfast to produce a new sports car. Almost immediately beset by financial difficulties and allegations of embezzlement, DeLorean's attempts to keep the factory open became increasingly desperate, eventually leading to his arrest by the FBI. The factory—which employed 2500 workers— closed in 1982 under the Thatcher government, having produced just over 9000 cars.
As with Campbell’s earlier works such as Bernadette (2008) and Falls Burns Malone Fiddles (2003), Make it new John (2009) fuses a documentary aesthetic with fictive moments, using existing archival news and documentary footage from the 1980s as well as new passages of 16mm film shot by Campbell, imagining a conversation between DeLorean factory workers.
I think that documentary relies on shorthand and parable as much as any work of fiction.
Duncan Campbell (b. 1972, Dublin, Ireland) lives and works in Glasgow. In 2008 Campbell was the recipient of the Baloise Art Prize and a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award. Recent solo exhibitions include Tramway, Glasgow (2010); Chisenhale, London; Kunstverein München; Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna and The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (all 2009). His work has been featured in Art Now, Tate Britain, London (2006) and Manifesta 5.
Make it new John was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, Chisenhale Gallery, Tramway and The Model, Sligo.