As a long-time reader of the work of Iain Sinclair, and an admirer of the work of novelist and filmmaker Chris Petit (his novel Robinson is one of the best London fictions out there), I have been aware of The Cardinal and the Corpse for about fifteen years, never with the opportunity to watch it. Until now, as someone has finally uploaded the whole thing to YouTube.
The fictional documentary is ostensibly about a search for a magical book that holds the key to an area of eat London (Alan Moore leads the search, fully bearded and doing his best attempt at acting), and a Sexton Blake detective novel The Cardinal and the Corpse, which may have been written by Flann O’Brien. At least that’s what I think is going on. In reality it’s Sinclair and Petit filming their mates and writers they find interesting in seductively shabby parts of a London now vanished. It’s an unfortunately (and overwhelmingly) male bunch, and there’s an odd amount of romanticising East End gangsters too, something familiar to anyone who has read Sinclair’s books. I’ll be charitable and say: it was 1992.
However, the film is of great interest as it features onscreen some writers (many deceased) whose work I love – Derek Raymond (I Was Dora Suarez), Emanuel Litvinoff (Journey Through a Small Planet), Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock – as well as interesting figures like David Seabrook (All the Devils Are Here), Brian Catling, Martin Stone and the semi-mythic (and intensely irritating) rare book dealer Driffield, who turned out to be a rather unsavoury character.
The biggest thrill for me was seeing the late Alexander Baron, who died in 1999, discussing Hackney and how even after he’d left it to move to Golders Green, he returned to walk the streets as ‘a kind of ghost haunting the whole borough’. Having been on Backlisted Podcast this year to discuss his phenomenal 1963 novel, The Lowlife, I would say he haunts Hackney still.
You can watch it here.