The Art of Grayson & Crombie’s @BAFTA Masterclass Documentaries

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Images Dr David Dunkley Gyimah

Grayson Perry and filming partner Neil Crombie’s Masterclass is funny. Not, I’ll-tell-you-a-joke-haha-funny, but how they reflect about their work accompanied by infectious raucous laughter funny.

A convo with Observer Magazine journalist Mirander Sawyer elides between questions about their journey to the pair sharing mate-moments, like this below from Grayson as we the audience anticipate the reveal.

When we put it out (documentary) on telly we have a big party. Everyone involved in the telly we all sit there in one of our sitting rooms watching it go out live and we’re sitting there on twitter going wherrr! ( laughter).

Michael Parkinson would have had a ball, Ms Sawyer’s not having too bad a time either. Oh! there you go, they’re laughing again. An interview within an interview about interviews. The audience laugh back. What gives Grayson Perry, an artist, whose alt other Claire’s porcelain looks are as famous as his porcelain ceramics the edge in social documentary? Crombie has an idea in this clip below.

From 2003 Turner Prize winner to award winning BAFTAs and RTS’s (the latter shared with Crombie, a 20-year doc maker), Perry’s approach to documentary is less facts, facts, fact about life — the stuff of journalism — to more emotion, emotion, emotion — the stuff news journalists believe they should eschew.

This form is not easily replicated. Not because of the testing task of coming up with that idea; back of an envelope now says Grayson. It’s more complex that than hushes Crombie to the audience. Nor having the foggiest finding suitable subjects; they scoured the city looking for business types who just wouldn’t give of themselves. What about knowing where the doc’s going? That’s every doc makers worst imposter syndrome nightmare; months of shooting edited down to 90 minutes with favourite bits missing! No, it’s just that this type of doc isn’t easily replicated because you’re not Grayson.

Every artist has their unique DNA. If Theroux’s weapon is silence and mischievous pregnant pauses and Dinnen’s is her disguised forensic eye; Grayson and Crombie is the cultural curiosity, the disarming probe and artist’s gaze, the kumbayaing of subject and material. Do you remember Grierson’s 1935 Housing Problems? How might that look and sound made today?

After he won the Turner, Grayson tells us someone asked me if I’d do something on transvestites and I thought, “Yeah I’ll have a go. I’ll have a go”. He met Neil and the partnership took off. Some people have all the luck eh?

It reminded me of former Southbank Artistic Director Jude Kelly’s methodology for artists. Back in the 2010 I was an Artist in Resident at the Southbank Centre when Jude working with Turner winner Jeremy Deller launched Collision.

As artists reach a certain point in their career, she said, they take less risks and potential projects you’re invited to take up invariably fall within what you’re known by. Jude wanted to address this in this video clip below.

Perry‘s new safe space for risk taking illustrates how invariably when they turn their attention to new challenges prove to be dab hands. Plus, really it’s all a big laugh.

What I enjoy is the process.I enjoy planning it. I enjoy thinking about. I enjoy reading up about it. I enjoy getting on a plane. Going to the place. It’s all good fun. And have a drink afterwards then we have right old laugh.

Towards the end of the masterclass, a young director bravely poses a question: how does she get her documentary about black lesbians she’s shot on various continents out there on television and festivals?

The pair don’t face that problem, given what they’ve achieved thus far but Crombie shows a generosity of spirit caught in this tweet.

And then Crombie and Grayson’s Masterclass, part of a series of events at BAFTA, ended as it begun, belly-ache laughter.

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Neil Crombie and Grayson Perry’s films include: BAFTA-nominated Grayson Perry: Rites of Passage, BAFTA-nominated and double RTS-winning Grayson Perry: All Man, BAFTA, RTS and Grierson-winning Grayson Perry: Who Are You?, and All in the Best Possible Taste which won a BAFTA and Grierson.

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Author Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a former artist in resident at the Southbank Centre. As a journalist, he’s formerly worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News and ABC News, and interviewed the likes of Eartha Kitt, and Fela Kuti whilst presenting on BBC radio. He’s the first Brit to win the covered Knight Batten Awards and an Asper Visiting Professor of Journalism at University of British Columbia and currently a senior lecturer at the Cardiff School of Journalism. He specialises in documenting events as art and journalism. David is a RTS Juror. You can learn more about his work commented on by Jon Snow et al here.

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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