Shot on expired 16mm film stock, Marcy Saude’s brief investigation into the position the Pilgrim Father’s, Come on Pilgrim, hold in England’s history of colonial exploitation is a 27-minute delight.
Firmly an experimental short, the film was inspired after the director moved to Plymouth «for love.» She ended up living in the house in which the would-be settlers of Virginia are said to have stayed the night before the Mayflower sailed 402 years ago.
The connection between Island House and the passengers of the Mayflower may be apocryphal. But the timbers that form its roof were salvaged from a Spanish ship, and Plymouth’s history stretches back to before the Bronze Age – when Dartmoor was forested, and the earliest copper and silver mines were dug.
Saude succeeds in tying in this ancient history for a film that opens with views across Plymouth Sound as a motor dinghy drives over the waters, flags exclaiming «No Nations» and «No Borders» fluttering in the wind.
First, she tackles the pilgrims themselves. These were hardly locals searching for adventure; rather, they were religious refugees who had already lived some years in the Netherlands. Their search across the Atlantic was for freedom. But, ironically, they would bring genocide to the natives of North America and drag the slave trade in their wake.
#Colonialism was legally justified by a bunch of post-medieval mumbo-jumbo based on ancient legends asserting that a Welsh prince, Madoc, had first conquered the lands of North America.
But, ironically, they would bring genocide to the natives of North America and drag the slave trade in their wake.
Such flimsy reasoning continues to this day, Saude suggests, as the film segues between images of ancient trade items – bronze age copper palstaves (small hand axes), decorative items and clothing clasps – and a demonstration on the Devon coast by Extinction Rebellion. The unstated suggestion is that capitalism and its rapacious appetite for natural destruction (aka the profit motive) is as much a fairy tale as the legal basis for conquest and slavery.
Financial considerations may have prompted the director’s choice of outdated 16mm colour stock – the film is clearly in no-budget territory – but it is a genius choice, giving the film the raw, ragged feel of a home video from the 1950s. As such, it has a sense of personal truth a more considered, better-funded film may have had.
There are delightful touches such as characters dressed in T-shirts declaiming «Im/Migrant» or «Narrator», a scene involving the deliberate scratching of an old vinyl LP – which is then played, crackly sound and all – and mock Anglo-Saxon man-to-man combat on Dartmoor.
Somehow it all hangs together as obscure facts are tossed in – such as the fact that Captain Cook’s secret instructions to «make contact” with Australian Aboriginals (i.e. to establish a British claim to the continent) were only declassified in the 1920s.
For those looking for a more logical and sequential history of British colonialism in North America, Come on Pilgrim will not satisfy. But, for those who love a quirky, experimental visual delight, it is just the ticket.