Who is The Creator?

The Creator, a film about Alan Turing, was conceived by the only filmmakers who could have made it, says Laura Brown…

History is what those who have power write down.

Poor you if you’re a minority, disenfranchised or without a voice; the history read in the future might not be one you recognise as now. How will a student in the mid-26th century read about the World Wars, the cracking of the Enigma code, the information technology age? How will they perceive it? And how will we, as the players of the age be remembered – we have sat and watched atrocities, miscarriages of justice, besmirching of good names. Yet we have also rehabilitated characters and sought to address our own bigotries. Are we good, or are we bad?

The Creator, the latest film by Al and Al which premiered at The Cornerhouse this summer and comes to Liverpool this week explores a story of the father, but it isn’t one that those of an historically Christian persuasion might be expecting.

The Creator is Alan Turing. The father of computers and artificial intelligence. The man who created the world’s first computer. The man who paved the way for our age. The man who was forced to undergo a brutal quasi-medical treatment after he was found to be gay – when homosexuality was still illegal – a man who died, was believed to have committed suicide and whose memory and reputation for a generation was reduced to one thing; his sexuality.

“Every library, every science park, every creative business; there should be a statue of Alan Turing”

There should be statue erected to Alan Turing in every place people stand with a smartphone in their pockets that helps them to share their voice with the world. Every library, every science park, every creative business; there should be a statue of Alan Turing outside.

For Al and Al they believe we’re in a period of evolution in terms of how we see Turing:

“We are undergoing a shift in (his) representation, as we are undergoing a shift in representations of gay men. In terms of history we already define this as ‘the computer age’ so Turing is fundamental and his representation will evolve”.

“Our slow progress towards equality – the ultimate goal – will make Turing as significant as Einstein eventually”.

Let me first introduce you to Al and Al, if you’ve never met before. They are filmmakers working at that corner of the industry where it meets with visual art. It is fitting that their first retrospective, first major solo exhibition (in 2008), was at FACT, a place which aims to occupy the same space. Eternal Youth saw a new commission and Al and Al’s body of films that combine live action with computer generated environments. They looked different when they left to when they arrived in Liverpool.

“The city got hold of us and smacked us over the head”

“Everything changed for us in Liverpool,” Al and Al say now “The city got hold of us and smacked us over the head”. They call it “intense, ecstatic and brutal”. Brutal it most certainly was (their studio was broken into and burgled as they stayed at Edge Hill station creating a new work for the city’s Capital of Culture Year. Their ten year archive was stolen). For some artists, the experience could have broken them. It could have made them leave and reject the city in its entirety; no one would have blamed them. In fact, I think perhaps it made Al and Al love Liverpool more than they had before. “It is true; you never walk alone in Liverpool”.

The Creator marks a significant maturation in the work; technically in terms of the work itself but also in the power of their voice as filmmakers and artists. There are no question marks, no grey spaces in terms of what you believe is motivating Al and Al. The story is of the computers – the Thinking Machines – trying to discover where they came from and who Alan Turing was. It is stunningly beautiful.

The world created is entirely immersive, a blending boundary between reality and dream (or madness). It is also unflinching, and seeping through the screen is the distaste for the way Truing was treated, based on nothing but homophobia and a fear of the unknown. There have been many works this summer exploring Turing and his legacy as we celebrate the hundred years since his birth. This is the first I saw that deals with the story with real passion, which has no safe corners to hide for those who damned him and pointed their fingers, who allowed his legacy to be rewritten.

“We have been thinking about making a film about Turing… for 12 years. Computers have always been an integral part of both of our lives, from playing games like Pac-man and asteroids on our Atari consoles when we were kids, to learning basic on our Commodore 64’s, to listening to and making music with computers during the Hacienda and Quadrant Park years in Manchester & Liverpool.

“It was a friend of ours who first spoke to us about Alan Turing at art school, and then when we learned about his life and work, we knew one day we would make work about him. It was another moment of serendipity when the Cornerhouse and AND (Abandon Normal Devices) festival commissioned us to make a short for Turing’s centenary celebrations in Manchester.”

There is an inevitable reflection on Christianty as you watch The Creator. The title, the fact that religion and blind faith is what led to the persecution of gay men and women, the idea of trying to discover who made you. I told Al and Al that in some way the film reminds me of a letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, an apostle trying to articulate Jesus’ teachings after his death (and resurrection if that’s what you believe in).

“Jesus wasn’t the creator”, say Al and Al. “Although Christology would later conceptualise he was ‘one being with the father’ which has some similarities with how we believe Turing’s spirit somehow lives on inside the computers he created; they are certainly machines like no other we have seen before”.

Yet the creator has ambition as well for his “offspring”. It was the Thinking Machines that was the starting point for the film.

“Turing was very patient with the world’s first computer he created in Manchester. As he programmed the computer he became fascinated by the idea of teaching a machine to think, as if it were a child that needed raising – Turing wrote about how it may be possible to programme a machine to feel encouragement when it got things right and experience punishment when it got things wrong,
in order for it to learn and become intelligent”.

Perhaps Al and Al are the only filmmakers who could have made this film. Their body of work stems from computers – “everytime we shot a film in 16mm we used to feel faint as we heard the film passing the gate and thinking about the cost”. Their sexuality, their whole-hearted belief that our age is born from Turing – “if you take computers out of the equation, the rest of the world doesn’t exist” – perhaps he is Al and Al’s creator too?

Laura Brown

The Creator screens 6.30pm @ FACT Wednesday 7th November as part of the Liverpool Biennial Film programme and is followed by a Q & A with Al and Al and producer/curator Bren O’Callaghan

Posted on 05/11/2012 by thedoublenegative