Mike Hardcastle 1952 - 2016

It will come as no surprise that I've been pretty ambivalent about the 21st century since it began.

A line in one of the last emails from Mike Hardcastle, wryly expressing his shimmering rage at the stupidity and greed that is making this planet uninhabitable.

Alongside the professionalism, courtesy, generosity and quiet stoicism, the utter reliability that anyone who worked with Mike will recognise, there was this obdurate passion, this anger, the other side of his love for the sea, his love for the stories of people that he saw through his camera, and that as editorial alchemist he painstakingly sifted and assayed, and found the authentic metal to be made into films. I think he loved documentary above all because it began with discovery and through it, in it, he hoped to find truth.

I met Mike in 1975 when I was at Downstage and he was at Pacific Films, and got to know him better on Middle Age Spread. But I didn’t really get close to him till the last seven years. He was a paradoxical figure, funny, kind, warm, a rare friend, but also beset for long periods by grim and overwhelming pessimism. There was something of the Old Testament about him. You could imagine him stalking through a desert wilderness, bearing his granite prophecies, his intransigent manifestos, his apocalypses of revelation and cataclysm. He’d been devout in his youth, and had rejected it. Singularity of belief still marked how he thought, even if he had long abandoned the theology - remember how his complicated friend, that reprobate apostate Barry Barclay, never gave up arguing like a Jesuit? For Mike, unflinching rectitude could be a strength and a burden, like his uncomfortable scorn for small talk, and his reactionary commitment to baked beans on toast.

He raged at the dying of the planet, but not at his own dying. He did dislike the indignities his failing body and medical palliation inflicted. In the conversations we had about what was happening to him he expressed a calm acceptance he hadn’t expected. Toward the end he whispered, smiling, this too will pass. He’d already held a frail boat steady through a long and violent storm, the only one standing.

Seven years ago Mike, Waka Attewell and I had a go at putting together a film about death and madness and art and other ordinary things. The film didn’t happen, which didn’t really matter because other ordinary things did.

Mike dreamt of growing his own spuds and tobacco in a town where a river meets the sea. There wasn’t time. And now he’s gone.

For a man who could be such a grim old git he left a broad wake of love behind him.

Photograph by Waka Attewell

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