At times, Tracey Emin has this totally impudent smile, as if she has just pulled off a major scam (some would argue this is precisely what she has done). Frankly, I admire her balls. There's really nothing quite like being an internationally celebrated artist, when you grew up thinking you were little better than a whore. Also, with her work, she unashamedly gives full expression to feminism's notion that the personal is political. She does this again in her first feature film.

Top Spot is a combination of non-linear visual symbolism and teen cinema verite. It begins by interviewing her six main characters, all Margate schoolgirls, Laura, Kate, Helen, Kieri, Frances and Liz, launching straight into the lyric weirdness of adolescence, with its child-like daydreams and strangely adult sensations and experiences. Emin was exploited in her youth and the female characters she creates in Top Spot show a range of possible reactions to a variety of situations.

The film follows Helen the most closely, giving expression to her fantasies of travelling to Egypt. It also follows Kate, who mirrors Emin's teenage self to some extent, undergoing some of the same ordeals and upheavals. It is visually poetic, infused with the artist's nostalgia for the beauty of Margate, which is evoked most strongly with repeated shots of sunsets.

Although there are rough storylines for each character, the film has a dreamlike quality, cutting between Helen's "fantasy" of visiting Cairo and the "reality" of Margate's Dreamland amusement park. Emin evokes this idea of girlhood as a dangerous place, but alongside that danger is great possibility. She attempts to reconcile these ideas with her range of characters, from the typical "slag" to the brainy, Egypt-obsessed Helen.

The film mixes DV and Super 8 footage, some of which was shot by the cast, and there is a sense of capturing the intensities of teendom in the saturated colour and flashing lights of Margate's funfairs. In an interview, included on the DVD, Emin defines regret as nostalgia and sentimentality over the past, and its clear that this is what she is trying to explore and perhaps even exorcise in Top Spot.

The film's ending is very telling. Some of us long to eradicate our past, but growing up means we realise that this is impossible. Like the exploited girls, we try to shake off the shame of what has been and stride purposefully into what will be.

Emin is a provocative creative spirit and, although we can love what she does, or hate it, rarely are we left unmoved. As a narrative film, Top Spot has its flaws, but as a whole it's an interesting piece of work, visually experimental and engaging.

Like a teenage girl, the film is both tender and ruthless.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2006
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Top Spot packshot
Memories of abuse and teenage dreams in Margate by the artist Tracey Emin.
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Director: Tracey Emin

Writer: Tracey Emin

Starring: Elizabeth Crawford, Laura Curnick, Kate Foster-Barnes, Helen Laker, Kieri Noddings, Frances Williams

Year: 2004

Runtime: 62 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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