Friday, March 10, 2006
The Chemical Effect
Since the demise of the Lux Centre some five years ago, filmmakers have been meeting in odd corners of London and putting on good old fashioned screenings of experimental work. I say filmmakers quite pointedly as though the Lux Centre showed an eclectic mix of moving image work including installations and single screen film and digital pieces the post Lux screenings (many organised in conjunction with the small rump of the Lux that remained after the demise of Hoxton Square) seem to be driven by a desire to hear once more the clatter of celluloid through the gate.
Aside from the simple nostalgia for the glory days of the Gloucester Avenue Film CO-OP there are a number of factors at work. Partly the interest in film and especially structural film is being encouraged by the wider art-world's late realisation that film may have something to offer, this realisation is complimented by the efforts of many of those who have been associated with the critical contextualisation, teaching and funding of experimental filmmaking in the UK (David Curtis, All Rees, etc) to try and ensure some posterity for their life’s work and lastly of course there are the filmmakers themselves such as Guy Sherwin and Malcolm Le Grice who continue to screen (and in the case of the former make) work almost tirelessly. The last and most recent factor in this cinematic rehabilitation has been a supposed (re)discovery of film by a younger generation of artists who despite (or maybe because of) the ease and ubiquity of digital media have chosen instead to lock themselves in darkened rooms and fumble with film and chemicals.
Last night’s screening entitled the Chemical Effect at the Whitechapel Gallery was a showcase of such recent new film work. The auditorium was full with a mix of familiar faces from the old CO-OP scene and those probably just too young to have set a foot inside Gloucester Avenue before it became another trendy housing complex. Rather as if we were attending a service of some outlawed religion there seemed to be an air of collective anticipation as we waited to take part in some secret ritual.
Superficially we were not disappointed; recalling the days of the Hoxton Square Lux the heat was stifling and there was that reassuring 16mm whirr from the projection booth as latecomers and curators alike came in and out of the rear entrance. So much for the enviroment then, what of the work itself? This seemed oddly familiar almost as if someone had found a long lost cookbook for structural filmmakers and set about following the instructions. (now add two ounces of optical printing, mix in a dash of under and over exposure, hand print the film for 3 hours, add asynchronous sound etc).
In the post screening discussion Ian White tried to probe some of the issues around this filmic renaissance and its relationship with the past but there was a certain reluctance on the part of the filmmakers in the audience to engage. Some of the filmmakers spoke in an unaffected way about their work, as if history didn’t come into it, from others there was some regurgitation of structural filmmaking doctrine (“sound on a film tells you how to feel”) and even the utterance of the words profilmic not heard in polite company for many a year. On the part of some of the older members of the audience one was reminded of when children are indulged by their parents for in some sweet naïve way reflecting them. All in all one left in much need of a drink.