all in the process

keith gallasch sees the films of mike leggett

Mike Leggett filming Ian Breakwell in Unword

Mike Leggett filming Ian Breakwell in Unword

Mike Leggett filming Ian Breakwell in Unword

ONE OF SEVERAL PLEASURES TO BE HAD AT THE SCREENING OF FILMS BY MIKE LEGGETT AT ACP WAS THE SHOWING OF AN EARLY WORK FROM HIS UNWORD SERIES. THESE FILM ENGAGEMENTS WITH PERFORMANCE WORKS SERVE AS ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS AND CREATIVE ACTS IN THEIR OWN RIGHT.

In 1969-70 in London, Bristol and Swansea, Leggett filmed Ian Breakwell in performance as the artist moved amidst huge swathes of inscribed material. The black and white shots with their photographic image intensity, staccato editing and sharply shifting perspectives against an instructional voiceover (language lessons and eyesight tests) create a curious visual rhythm but leave an incredibly strong mental imprint of the performance. Leggett filmed each performance, projected the footage as part of the subsequent one, and filmed that one in turn.

Leggett explains in his catalogue that the rhythm of the screening was not the result of editing: “The projection of the footage was on a Spectro stop frame analysis projector (a scientific examination tool) running at two frames per second.” In 2003 he and Breakwell “digitally reconstructed the Unword film at 2 frames per second, with a married soundtrack of the compilation tape.” Leggett’s Unword series covers the years 1969-2003. He tells me he has put them on DVD for study or reference.

The other highlight of the night was Shepherd’s Bush (1971, 16mm, 15 mins), a remarkable film which begins in black (has the lamp blown?, you think), the soundtrack pulses mechanically, the black lightens to grey to slowly reveal barely discernable movement across rough ground, brightening to a glaring white, erasing the image, the beat intensifying. It’s a truly invasive, curiously beautiful sonic experience and a spooky exercise in visual denial but one nonetheless conveying a frantic sense of momentum. The process has been described as simple (“a forward tracking movement was printed at every available grade in the printer’s grey scale”, John Du Cane, Catalog of British Avant Garde Art, London, 1971), but the effect is profound.

The creative representation of performance on film or video can be interpretatively problematic but in Unword, in Wade Marynowsky’s Autonomous Improvisations v1 (page 24) and in some, if not all, of the Castelluci films (Tragedia Endogonidia: video memory by Cristiano Carloni & Stefano Franceschetti) screened in Sydney and Melbourne in 2006 (RT74, p37), documentation is transcended and the spirit of the work retained and furthered.

A Program of Films by Mike Leggett, hosted by Louise Curham, Lucas Ihlein, Teaching and Learning Cinema, Australian Centre for Photography, April 28.

Mike Leggett’s Shepherd’s Bush appears on the Shoot Shoot Shoot DVD Vol 1, British Avant Garde Film 1966-76, featuring films from the London Filmmakers’ Cooperative available through OtherFilm Bazaar, www.otherfilm.org. The late Ian Breakwell’s own films have recently been released on the BFI British Artists’ Films DVD series.

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 22

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2007