British multi-hyphenate Tracey Emin’s feature debut Top Spot was set to be released in theaters almost twenty years ago. The film, which follows a group of six schoolgirls’ coming-of-age in the seaside town of Margate, was struck with an 18 Certificate by the British School Board of Film Classification ahead of its release because of a scene depicting suicide. The decision would prevent its intended audience of teenage girls from seeing the film in theaters, but rather than re-edit her film to comply with a 15 Certificate Emin decided to withdraw Top Spot from UK theatrical distribution.
Although Top Spot did not play in theaters, it was still televised and has developed a cult following since its initial transmission. Its honest representation of teenage life, with all its pitfalls and pleasures, set it apart from the era’s prevalent cinematic representation of young women as innocent and carefree, as though alien to their surroundings in their naiveté. Inspired by Emin’s own memories of growing up in England’s south east coast, the schoolgirls in Top Spot have a “backbone,” as a writer for The Independent put it in a 2004 article about the film. But, subject to shame and abuse in their early exploration of sex, the girls struggle and it is their unwavering commitment toward one another that makes them so human and Emin’s film such a vital example of collective care.
“A lot of people are really derogatory about my work and say it’s just art that something like a teenage girl would make. Well, yeah, it is because I’m still stuck in a teenage world, part of me is still there. I’m still dealing with those issues and a lot of people always are.” TRACEY EMIN
Top Spot was in development for years, stalled due to financial constraints. After Emin received development funds from British director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, The Trip), another sum from the BBC, and taking money out of her own pocket for what amounted to an “incredibly low budget,” she was finally able to realize Top Spot on her own terms. Mixing Super8 and DV-footage, as well as mundane vignettes against fantastical sequences, Emin’s lyrical trip down memory lane stresses the porousness between fact and fiction; in turn, invoking the incredible human ability to assure a new future by redesigning one’s past.
Born in Croyden, England, in 1963, Tracey Emin is a renowned artist whose practice encompasses several media — sculpture, drawing, painting, video. She earned a fine-arts degree from Maidstone College of Art in 1986 and a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Arts in London three years later. In the decades since, Emin’s art has garnered her international acclaim. In 2007, she represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale and in 2013 she was recognized as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to the arts. This year she opened the Tracey Emin Artist Residencies (TEAR), an art school in her hometown of Margate.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.