Three seminal 70’s films from the London Film-makers’ Co-op



The girl Chewing Gum
Still from  16 mm film The Girl Chewing Gum 1976 courtesy of the artist

Tate Britain recently celebrated 50 years of the London Film-makers’ Cooperative with a screening of six films and a display of archive material.  I was struck by their manifesto which defined film “as language, as poem, as instrument of passion and logic” but against “the gimmick, the kitsh, the chi-chi, the B-feature worship”.  This gives a flavour of some artists’ aversion to the dominant pop art movement at the time. Although the exhibition closed some time ago, many of the most significant films are viewable online.

John Smith   The Girl Chewing Gum, 1976 (excerpt)

This off-the-wall ground-breaking film was the best thing in this exhibition. It is based on the conceit of passers by in a Hackney street  apparently responding to instructions of a mildly hectoring but encouraging film director. “Come on look at me…good” . The commentary takes a more surreal turn as a zoom to a clock face is accompanied by the director calling out “Now the clock to move to jerkily towards me”.  Like all his work this wryly amusing take also offers deeper insights – in this case into the illusory nature of film.

Malcolm Le Grice   Threshold, 1976

Multiple recycled and distorted versions of a short sequence of activity around a border post using red and green filters of different strengths to give the migrants and guards a dream-like aura and to emphasise the blood-chlorophyll /stop-go/ death-life binary oppositional symbolic load. Visually captivating and politically relevant as much of our current crisis is about the unconscious fear that boundaries generate- a fundamental  concept so brilliantly illuminated through the the seminal ethnographic work  Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas.

Lis Rhodes  Dresden Dynamo, 1971

This startling “optical sound” experience is an experimental abstract 16mm film work that predates the Vasulka’s similar video-generated Machine Vision but has the same visceral impact. Letraset and letratone is directly applied to the celluloid and then fed through filters to produce the final version. The sound track is generated by the film itself and this is uncannily like the drone of WW2 bombers. You feel the phalanx of planes, the cascading of bombs and the snapping of the Dresden firestorm. As Tacita Dean would say “Bring back celluloid as there is something more authentic about it than digital film.”

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