reflexive commentary

the busker

This film is about a musician and busker named Jules Madjar, who is based in Canterbury, England. I’ve met Jules only two months before producing this film, when I decided that I wanted to do his life history for my Anthropological Research Methods II class as part of my MA in Social Anthropology with Visual Ethnography.

 

My interest in Jules was sparked from seeing him around Canterbury busking on the streets, as well as playing in jazz, blues and folk nights in the venues around the town for years. This interest was later to be grown stronger when I found out that a well-known busker, Jean-Philippe Madjar, who sadly passed away in July 2017, was his father. He was such a colourful character and a recognisable figure in Canterbury, who used to busk to make money for his cigarettes as his wife Diana wouldn’t let him to spend money on smoking. After reading his obituary I had a natural instant urge for doing his life history as I thought he must have had a very interesting life to tell. It was unfortunately too late, instead I sort of directed my wonder to Jules and consolidated my already existing urge to learn more about his life. Following the deaths of two other talented buskers, Maximum Martin and Joshua Lambert-Price in August 2017, I was pretty sure that I wanted to do something about and for buskers.

 

I ended walking up to him one day and telling him about my intention of presenting his life history for my class, which he happily agreed. The idea about this film has emerged from the life history project. What I wanted to capture with my camera and convey to the audience was pretty much what I have been lacking, which I believe is the case for the majority of the members of the community here in Canterbury or elsewhere. We pass by buskers performing on the streets, and most of us just perceive of them as faces and sound that belong in the backgrounds of our town, and for some they may be solely sound. I feel as if their presence is being taken for granted, as many of the passerbys are emotionally indifferent to them, let alone knowing about their stories. This is not only true for the buskers, but a consequence of the organisation of life in city as “the essentially intellectualistic character of the mental life of the metropolis becomes intelligible as over against that of the small town which rests more on feelings and emotional relationships” (Simmel 1971, p. 325).

The filming process also thought me new things about all the experience behind what is visible when a busker is performing on the street. The filming was very much unstructured and improvised and non-stcripted as a consequence of the laid back and easy-going personality of both Jules and me, the rapport we have built during the life history project, which may be felt through the film. I wanted to follow him around with a hand held camera while he goes busking so that the audience can feel my presence in the film making process and get involved in the experience as if they were there rather than feeling as if they are watching hime as an outsider. In this sense, I tried to be reflexive. My aim was to reflect Jules' motivation behind busking and his experience of it to the audience as realistic as possible. I have used some pieces of the recordings from the life history interviews to enrich the experience.

I wanted the audience to witness what I have learned about busking in the filming process; that there is much more to it than just playing music on the street for money, as many would have thought. Buskers are acting as bridges between us and our surroundings. 

Finally I would like to confess that in the beginning I have imagined a more exhaustive film about Canterbury buskers, but the process shaped it into an end product that is focused on Jules' experience as busker. However, I believe he is a very insightful and genuine person.

Simmel, G. (1971). The Metropolis and Mental Life. In: Levine, D., N ed. Georg Simmel On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 324-339.