British cinema is no stranger to the ecstatic highs and ruinous lows provoked by drug use, as seen in the pill-popping behavior of the Mods from Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia, or the now infamous addicts from Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. London-based artist and writer Morgan Quaintance’s Surviving You, Always is the latest film to tackle this phenomenon. Rather than romanticizing the allure of LSD, Quaintance’s frank recollection of his teenage benders yields a touching account of love lost and knowledge gained.
Shuffling through old photographs that he took in the ‘90s, Quaintance builds a detailed account of his lysergic upbringing in South London. Mixing Timothy Leary’s narrated plaudits of psychedelic drugs with his own melancholy memories of getting high, Quaintance identifies a severe mismatch in experiences wherein the mystic wonders of certain drugs sink below the weight of life’s many trials and tribulations. Not only does the film attest to the multiplicity of experiences across racial and class divides, but to the multiple coexisting realities that define every instance of one’s life.
“You are being asked to watch something and simultaneously engage with two different narrative registers, or even three. I was looking for a way of communicating directly in one sense and indirectly in another, to have them both happening at the same time. On the one hand, very direct communication and then this other thing that is much more poetic, or slightly harder to recognise.” MORGAN QUAINTANCE
Much like a trip, nothing is what it seems in Surviving You, Always. Strokes of gray reveal themselves as a city in motion, a brick estate dissolves into nothing, and a photograph of a past lover discloses a tragic distancing. “History and memory are always present because of the distance in time between whatever I shoot and see,” says Quaintance. As such, his cinema presents itself as one of transformation where retrospection changes the meaning of each moment, emphasizing life’s constant endings and beginnings.
Born in South London, UK, in 1979, Morgan Quaintance is a distinguished polymath whose art and writing challenges aesthetic and political conventions. His moving image work has played at institutions like The Museum of Modern Art and festivals such as the International Film Festival Rotterdam. He was the recipient of the New Vision Award at CPH:DOX in 2020 and received the Jean Vigo Prize for Best Director in 2021, among several other festival nominations. Quaintance’s films, alongside his consistent contributions to The Wire and The Guardian, are the work of a tenacious critical thinker whose art seeks to reframe the way we think about the world.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.