avant-home cinema

danni zuvela reviews the shoot shoot shoot dvd

Dresden Dynamo

Dresden Dynamo

FOR SOME AVANT-GARDE FILM ENTHUSIASTS, THE IDEA OF A DVD PRESENTATION OF THE HISTORIC WORKS OF THE LONDON FILMMAKERS’ CO-OPERATIVE IS SOMEWHAT PERVERSE. AFTER ALL, IN A GENRE KNOWN FOR ITS OBSESSIVES AND PURISTS, THIS WAS AN ARTISTIC CLIQUE WHOSE MEDIUM-SPECIFIC FOCUS BORDERED ON THE HARDCORE. THE LFMC’S OUTPUT IS FAMED FOR ITS RIGOROUS ATTENTION TO THE MATERIALS OF CINEMA, PARTICULARLY CELLULOID AND THE CINEMATIC APPARATUS.

In breaking down the apparatus into film strip, projector beam and screen, some members of the LFMC took a ‘performative turn’, exploring, in Expanded Cinema happenings, the ‘event’ of cinema and the effects of the filmmaker/artist’s intervention in it. The intensity of attention on the film material itself produced a remarkable body of works and attendant body of theory around ‘structural-materialist film’, a uniquely British school within the international avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s which examined, in minute detail, aspects of exposure, duration, the film strip and the film surface.

We can safely assume, then, that a DVD of work that so intransigently constituted around celluloid reality was always going to have an uphill task convincing the purists. The central question that the production of a contemporary format collection of works whose essence is very much located in another medium was always going to be, ‘how does it work’? The SSS DVD seems to suggest that the answer is, ‘with mixed results.’

Many of the works retain their incredibly rich enunciative power about film itself in the domestic presentation format, and the smaller screen even enhances the analytic possibilities of some of the films on this DVD. Almost all the output of the LFMC can be described as a visual ‘study’ of some sort, attesting to both the availability of the Co-op’s optical printer and the art-school backgrounds and lack of film industry ambition characteristic of LFMC members. The interrogation of movement in Malcolm Le Grice’s Little Dog For Roger (1967), with its Muybridgean fixation on the energetic bounding motions of a small dog, is not noticeably diminished by the digital re-presentation. Jeff Keen’s fun Pop art film Marvo Movie (1967) is faded but remains a kinetic delight powered by hyperactive montage and seductive concrete poetry soundtrack.

The incredible energy and incandescence of Lis Rhodes’ Dresden Dynamo (1971) and Mike Leggett’s Shepherd’s Bush (1971, see RT79, p22), however, are muted in this context. The digital images of these extraordinary experiments (Dresden Dynamo with Letraset directly applied to the film, Shepherd’s Bush with the exposure limits of the new step-printer) are somehow less physical and exuberant than their film ‘originals.’ Even so, the phenomenological address of these films, with their droning, reverberant soundtracks, is so potent that the DVD experience is still quite exhilarating. Taken together with Marvo Movie and Marilyn Halford’s playful Footsteps (showing the filmmaker playing the game known as ‘statues’ in Australia), these films lend some support to the nascent conversation around European structuralist film that is challenging the usual ‘dry formalist’ characterisation of this work, and asserting the existence of more affirmative, even spectacular artistic urges.

It’s important to note that the DVD, like most, does not come with public exhibition rights. For any audience in anything but the home setting to be shown this deeply filmic work from the digital format would amount to a travesty. Given the extensive 16mm holdings and accessibility of the National Film and Sound Archive’s Film and Video Lending Collection, which includes some beautiful new prints of films from the LFMC decade in question, it would be a double travesty for any Australian exhibitor to screen off the DVD.

It’s worth remembering, at this point, the violence committed by the By Brakhage DVD on the rentals of that filmmaker’s prints from various film institutions which previously had depended on those rentals for key income. (It is not yet known how the DVD of Shoot Shoot Shoot has affected print rentals of LFMC films from the primary UK experimental film distributor, LUX, though that institution has shifted its attention in recent years away from distribution activities.)

Avant-garde film on DVD, it would seem, is something of a double-edged sword for avant-garde cinema: on the one hand, it is now undeniably denting the income of certain institutions, which were originally set up by filmmakers to support and nurture distribution and exhibition, and making it harder for educators to justify the costs associated with screening 16mm prints in their courses.

On the other hand, DVDs provide unrivalled convenience of access on a format that can open budding cinephiles to the discovery of 16mm’s unique specificity. As many have pointed out, it’s not just postures of willful self-alienation that have kept avant-garde film largely languishing in obscurity. Questions of access have long blighted the wider understanding of experimental cinema and while these are not entirely resolved with the concession to home entertainment DVD, they are at least acknowledged.

The release of the Shoot Shoot Shoot DVD, with its extensive catalogue notes in English and in French, should also begin to correct the international lack of visibility of the British avant-garde cinema, so long dominated by the canonical Americans. The DVD has been produced for home use, and seen in that context, it is hard to imagine a more ideal introduction to this complex national avant-garde cinema. Contextualised with the notes, the body of works collected on the DVD offers an invigorating tour through an intellectually vibrant cinematic decade, and a critical window, before the onset of the putative ‘post-medium condition’, onto a fascinating field of art practice.

SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT: British Avant-Garde Film of the 1960s and 1970s, 120mins, bilingual English/French booklet by project curator Mark Webber; contains the following films: At The Academy (Guy Sherwin 1974), Little Dog For Roger (Malcolm Le Grice 1967), Shepherd’s Bush (Mike Leggett 1971), Hall (Peter Gidal 1968-69), Dirty (Stephen Dwoskin 1965-67), Marvo Movie (Jeff Keen 1967), Broadwalk (William Raban 1972), Fforest Bay II (Chris Welsby 1973), Slides (Annabel Nicolson 1970), Film No. 1 (David Crosswaite 1971), Dresden Dynamo (Lis Rhodes 1971), Footsteps (Marilyn Halford 1974), Leading Light (John Smith 1975). DVD PAL Region free. Publisher: LUX/ Re:Voir

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 21

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2007