10.0C Politics and Policies: 1991 - 1999


The Exploding Cinema seems never to have held or promoted any particular political ideology - except that which is broadly implied by the collectivism of the practice and the traditions of the underground, which are left-libertarian or anarchist. Different members of the collective will support such ideologies to different extents.

The Exploding Cinema does have an implied political stance through alliance and contextual preferences. Instead of seeking the ICA as a context for its activity it would in preference choose much rougher and more low-culture surroundings like those of the Cultures of Resistance in a squatted factory on Tower Bridge Road or the Hatcham Social Club, an old workingmen's club in New Cross.[1]

It is also a model of open collectivist action promoting 'no' budget films within a general underground ethos of oppositional creativity.[2] The political implication of open access is that it would allow the occasional viewpoints to be shown that would never get through the mainstream filters. A point I have already argued in some detail.

Apart from the sort of politics implied in its practice Exploding Cinema has made more explicitly political actions:

1.  The programmes contain texts that are written in a colloquial style of polemic, the rant, and are often unsigned.[3] It should be pointed out that the programme is open house for contributions from collective members. Whilst they do not represent collective policy, taken as a whole they do represent the political ethos within which the collective operates. These rants also take other forms such as the graphic poster[4] or the populist list of likes and dislikes. There are also straight adverts for key events in the counter cultural calendar.[5]

2.  The promotion of Undercurrents.[6] This is an annual compilation of alternative news footage. Selections of this are shown within the shows. Duncan and Thomas have been keen to launch Undercurrents each year whereas others, whilst not opposing it, do not see this as important business for Exploding.

3.  Shows of videos from the Exploding collections have been shown twice at the Anarchist Bookfair at Conway Hall[7] (1997 & 1999) eliciting widespread support form the collective. One show was put on at Hackney Anarchy week (1996) and another at the 'Cultures of Resistance' show (1999).[8] This alone could be used to place Exploding within the counter cultural spectrum of anarchist ideas.

4. The organising of networking and discussion amongst the independent film groups. 'Pow Wows', organised by Duncan, have been a part of each Volcano! Festival from 1996. The first Pow Wow was at Farringdon in August 1994: Here is a description of the Pow Wow used in the publicity:

Calling all film/video makers, all media subversives, all chill out visualists, all electronic image makers, all collectives, all anti-artists, all careerists, all funders, all academics, all media students, all bedroom animators, all workshops, all T.V. professionals, all avant-gardists, all home camcorder users, all cinema ushers, all no-budget feature fans, all art patrons, all perverts...



5.  Interventions into the world of elite art and film have been on the agenda since 1992. The first record of this is in the minutes of a meeting on the 18th of October 1992 in which there was mention of the need for 'interventions at the film festival'.

From 1995 - 1997 there was a public critique of the term 'independence' and the exclusive practices of the establishment through engagement with events at the ICA. A definition of 'independent' film and video was expressed in an ICA showcase of Independent Film, the ICA Biennale, in 1995.[9] At a debate, at this event, members of the Exploding Cinema questioned just how 'independent' the selection was. The work shown consisted almost exclusively of films funded by the establishment.

In an account of this first intervention at the ICA in 1995, John Wyver is quoted saying there is no independent film culture outside of TV. This was contradicted by Duncan. Wyver then referred to Exploding Cinema type activity as 'bedroom cinema'.[10]


In the catalogue essay for the third ICA Biennial of 'Independent' Film and Video the guest 'curator' John Wyver states that 'In the mid-1990s in Britain there is no independent film and video culture'.

This comes as a shock to the EXPLODING CINEMA (London), THE HALLOWEEN SOCIETY (London), LOOPHOLE CINEMA (London), THE KINO CLUB (London), PEEPING TOMS (London), VISION COLLISION (Manchester), EXPLODING CINEMA (Brighton), THE FREAK SHOW (Brighton), SMALL WORLD (Oxford) and all the other UNDERGROUND media groups and NO BUDGET film/video makers who have created the thriving DIY cinema circuit.

Nevertheless undaunted by the non-existence of INDEPENDENT FILM AND VIDEO Wyver goes on to re-define it not as an economic or political practise but as a 'TRADITION', a tradition which is alive and kicking thanks to the benevolence of the state funding agencies and the enlightened television companiesƒ

Seems like the term INDEPENDENT as used by John Wyver and the ICA is open to interpretation.

Like ... 'INDEPENDENT' of no/low-budget film/video makers, 'INDEPENDENT' of all democratic access and consultation or 'INDEPENDENT' of box office or critical success. (efile: ICA 1995)[11]

Exploding had handed out flyers pointing out that only two of the 26 works selected had not received official funding and that no-one from the Biennale had attended any of the film club events that were thriving at the time.[12] In 1995 John Wyver said they would try to view work from the underground but two years later none of the groups had been contacted despite the fact that the Volcano festival had a high profile. The 1997 Biennale had the same high proportion of funded films.

What is not acceptable is that is that they represent the Biennale as being a showcase for the best British 'INDEPENDENT' film and video and tour this pap all over the country spreading the lie that the only way to make 'INDEPENDENT' film/ video is to apply to the state funding agencies or join the mainstream. (Reekie, 1998)

Many other texts in a similar vein were published in the show programmes.[13]

6. Alliances: Occasionally there are political issues, which threaten oppositional cultures in general. The Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 was one such. The Bill threatened to control raves, new age travellers, squatters and road protesters and was seen as a direct attack on the anarchic DIY culture.

The programme cover text of 23rd February 1994 proclaims: 'XPLODING SINEMA, KILL THE BILL, 'We Shall party on the beaches' speech bubble from image of Winston Churchill. The twenty-four-page programme has several pieces on the Criminal Justice Bill.[14] The back cover has an exploding policeman graphic with the punning caption: 'Kill the Bill'.

This is followed up in the following months by further texts published in the programmes including a 'Rant against Criminal Justice Act in olde Ranter style... signed Kerrence, ye bold flag-bearer and bard'.[15] A campaign of this sort does serve to give what is a diverse group of outsider cultures a common identity.  The CJA was not an immediate threat to Exploding Cinema but by taking part in the campaign it reinforced its underground identity.[16]

It is clear from the above examples that there are explicitly political actions and discourses that the Exploding Cinema has engaged in. The focus of this thesis is not to engage with these arguments in detail but to note them as part of the broad verbal and non-verbal, written and oral discourses that flow from and through the Exploding Cinema. It is the value of Exploding Cinema as a forum of democratic culture that is at stake here rather than the effectiveness or rightness of any particular argument or campaign.




[1] The Hatcham Social Club has a cabaret space with 1970s dÚcor. The series of shows there which started in June 2000 are at the time of writing still in progress every three months or so.


[2] The Exploding Cinema defined Underground for itself in a couple of its early programmes: see Underground definition (IP 18-6-92) and Avant-Garde / Underground (IP 15-5-93)

[3] Rants and Polemics:

'Fuck Off Avant Guardist' (30-7-92) & (17-12-92) A Poem/ rant/ manifesto by Duncan.

'Democratize Art!' (13-8-92) A rant against the passive audience.

'Bound for Freedom' (27-8-92) On plagiarism (NB Mailart crossover).

'Fuck the Future... We Want the Present' (20-3-93), A rant against the cultural establishment.

'Torchy Says' (15-5-93) A critique of the avant-garde, as a reply from an agony aunt.

'Dear Torchie' (29-5-93) A critique of funding, as above...

'I Never Met Derek Jarman' (19-3-94) ñTo the half deserted cinema, Where the skinheads speak Latin...î

'A Hierarchy is Not a Diversity...' (16-4-94) A critique of the use of terms like 'cultural diversity' or 'outreach'.

'We Are Not Your Apprentices' (9-11-96) Journalists difficulties with no-budget motivation.

'History is Written by Those with Pens' (29-5-97) Do it yourself culture.


[4] Graphic texts:

'Annoying Performance Artist' (13-2-93) A spoof magazine cover as advert, satirising performance art.

'Leisure, virtual reality' (26-7-93) An anti-work rant.

'BoysBoysBoys' (1-5-94) A satire on male violence.

'Explode the UK' (2-4-94) A plea for the spread of alternative media.

'Things that Art Students Say. Part 1'. (2-4-94) A satire of performance art.

'Representation Is Not Democracy' (28-3-97) Comment on election choice.

'You'll Enjoy These Other Exploding Features' (29-5-97) Pulp novel titles imagined as B movies.


[5] See IP 28-10-95 for an ad for the 'London DIY Gathering'.


[6] The Undercurrents alternative newsreel was founded in 1993 and is based in Oxford England. The first compilation came out in 1994. Since then they have released ten compilations each containing 12 - 15 short radical features directed by video activists involved in direct action campaigns. (from an Undercurrents flyer see archive), See also: www.undercurrents.org


[7]  The annual Anarchist Bookfair, held in London in October, is according to its organisers the largest regular annual gathering of anarchists in the world.


[8] 'Cultures Of Resistance' was a large show of counter culture artists in a squatted warehouse on the Tower Bridge Road in December 1999.


[9] This was the third such event.


[10] Minutes of 9-4-95. See also an article by Duncan Reekie, 'In Dependence' in Glossy Magazine (Vol 1 issue 2 OMSK, London, Spring 1998 p18). Also published as a letter in Filmwaves 4. See also minutes of 9-2-97. A longer version of the Glossy article is contained in efile: 'Magnet Article', August 1996


[11] See also IP 30-9-95 for a published text derived from this.


[12] 'Hats off to the L.F.F. and the ICA for screening the 'in-your-face, raw, sexy and sometimes sleazy'. DIRTY AND DANGEROUS package of AMERICAN Underground film and video. Those of us in the London Underground are most encouraged by this historic breakthrough and also by so many anti-art and revolutionary tracts for sale in the ICA Bookshop. No doubt this first 'transgressive' step against establishment values will be followed by a wave of RADICAL REFORMS... Open access screenings of British Underground film and video... The abolition of heirarchical work practises... Democratic collective management meetings attended by all staff including catering and cleaning staff... Common ownership of the Institutes resources... Scandalous, sleazy, sexy, happenings in the ICA toilets.


The truth is that all the radical action at the ICA stays firmly on the screen and the bookshelf, if you really want transgression join the LONDON NO BUDGET NO WAVE where hundreds of makers produce toxic gems despite the apathy and hostility of the LAUDNUM FILM FESTIVAL and the INSTITUTE of CO-OPTION AND APPROPRIATION. (efile: CLEAN AND SAFE. 1996)


[13] In addition the following references to texts in programmes further expand on the themes above.

'Dick Award LMFC November 1992' (17-12-92) A critique of LFMC award process

'Night of the Living Dead' (27-10-93) A critique of discussion of short film funding at the Metro

'Motor City Madness' (16-10-93) A report of Exploding Cinema on a panel at the Birmingham Film & Television Festival.

'£70 million' (11-6-95) A rant against the new lottery funding to film.

'Uncut My Throat, Puhleez' (30-9-95) A critique of 'Uncut' an ICA 'open screening' which turns out to be an extension of the LCP film school.

'And Then It Gets Weird' (30-9-95) The ICA tries to make a promotional video for itself by getting filmmakers to donate 5 seconds without pay - a cynical response.

'Dispose of All N.A.P.PYS.' (28-10-95) Against New Age entrepreneurs / professionals

'Make your hobby your career...' (25-11-95) Comment on Arts Council appropriation of radical art

'Mystery in Whitechapel' (cSeptember 1996) A critique of film/video section of the Whitechapel Open.


[14] See IP 12-11-94 for a text on The Criminal Justice Bill.


[15] IP 14-5-94


[16] See the following programmes for other such alliances:

An advert for London DIY Gathering with programme and an advert for the Stop the Arms Fair, blockade (28-10-95).

An advert for a public meeting opposing welfare cuts and an advert for the Reclaim the Streets march on 12th April, starting at Kennington Park (28-3-97).

Front cover text (1-5-97): 'I will escape from your bogus scam democracy into a realm of total and reckless abandon'. Inside there is an advert for a 'post election gathering of resistance' and an advert for the PinkLove Cabaret.