10.0f  Filmmakers and Performers: 1992 - 1997

In quantitative terms the statistics of Exploding Cinema productivity are without doubt impressive: Twenty-five filmmakers in the collective have shown about 207 films in the period 1992 - 1997. 25 filmmakers, who were not in the collective and had shown four or more films at Exploding Cinema, had in total shown 212 films in the same period.[1] A further 23 filmmakers had shown three films each. Altogether over a thousand films have been shown by around seven hundred filmmakers in the period for which records were available.

With a couple of exceptions,[2] I have not studied the filmmakers in person in this research programme.[3] However a thumbnail sketch may be of interest here in the form of an extract from an email sent to me when I was doing the programming:

I would like to come down and see the screening, but I am on limited budget. I live in rented accommodation and the rent is phenomenal, and my latest project has come entirely out of my pocket, so money is tight at the moment to say the least. I will try though; having The Reckoning screened is a first for me.

Later: I won't be able to make it to the screening I'm afraid. I cannot arrange transport and I cannot get Friday evening off work. I only work two frigging hours, I've offered to lick my bosses boots clean, even the souls but 'no'. If you can give me some feedback I'd be very grateful. Nathan Hughes.[4]

In this chapter I will first consider the range of subject matter covered by the films shown by extracting genre self-descriptors from the captions given in the programmes.[5]

A listing of the filmmakers and their films that have been recorded in the programmes has been compiled and will be bound separately.[6] In the content analysis chapter I have made an analysis of the filmmakers from this list that have shown most frequently.

An important aspect of Exploding Cinema shows is the inclusion of live performance. This is one of the elements that give it a connection to the musichall tradition and early cinema history. A section on the performers comprises the second part of this section.

Analysis of film types:

I made a list of the self-descriptors of works extracted from the short texts found in the programmes. These are the nearest we get to a consistent description of each film shown. Often cryptic and sometimes ironic, the captions are written by the programmer of the show who will often view the work, at least in part, before the show, or question the filmmaker as to the movies content. In an estimated 10 - 20% of cases, the captions are based on a written description supplied by the filmmaker.

These descriptors tend to extend and play with the terms of existing cinematic taxonomies. Particularly using labels that are in circulation in the underground dialect. New categories could arise out of a discursive relationship with an audience over time. Presently these self-descriptors rely on the terminology of existing genres but may also be ironic or playful usages.

They indicate a wide range of filmmaking styles and approaches. At the same time we should note that work that falls outside the existing terminology might not find an adequate label. Duncan Reekie's rant poems, with slides or video as counterpoint, do not have an obvious existing cinematic category. Jenet Thomas's digitally animated or collaged narratives with their strange anti-aesthetic hover between kitsch, and a sort of protected naivety.[7] Other works mix genre in innovative ways.

One of the values of Exploding Cinema is exactly this boundary hopping which may seem to negate the utility of this sort of analysis which tends to draw representation back to existing verbal categories. A value of underground films is that they evade normative taxonomic definition. But I would argue that the conventional descriptors need to be at least listed to allow the uncategorisable to be critically appreciated by default or for the linguistic aporia which hover vertiginously around the unnamed to announce the problematic of their inherent tension. A tension that is generated by the lack of symmetry between the world of words and the world of things and their relations.

Along with the paucity of critical response to the work shown, there has been little attempt to develop a new critical language to describe and appreciate this body of work beyond what occurs in these captions and some short early reviews. Without this critical mediation the work has its cultural effect only directly through the experience that the viewers have watching the film. The value of any discourse in response to such experiences may lay claim to an unmediated authenticity - there are no preconceptions set up by critical previews or advertising. But this may also be seen as a romantic and naive position which basically leaves this whole area of work undefended and vulnerable to easy marginalisation and for the most part, as there is no archive, plain extinction.

Exploding Cinema genres 1992 - 1997

Animation         (11); abstract; audio visual; buried history; campaign film (2); celebration; chiller; classic pastiche; collage (see montage); comedy (2); cult classics (2); cyber glam; deviant; dance video; documentary (10); dream sequence; epic story; fantasy; film noir (2); found footage (3); Gothik terror; hallucinatory (2); hard-core experimental; home movie (3);         holiday movie (3); horror, kitchen sink; independent short film (2); interview; legendary; lesbian vampires; light patterns; L.A. trippy; melodrama, fifties; montage, collage (2); musical (2); musical medley; mystery shocker; narrative (2); nostalgia; opera for film; parody, gross; performance poetry; philosophical tirade; pop promo/music video (2); porno pastiche (2); propaganda; public info film spoof; psychological thriller; road movie(2); sado-masochistic; sci-fi shocker; scratch video; scratched film; short film; student film; Super 8 epic; surreal; techno pagan meditation; terror; trash biker classic; video sampling; wedding video (3); western (2); work in progress.[8]

Clearly the films shown cover a lot of ground both in reflecting mainstream genres and amateur genres such as wedding videos, holiday movies or home movies. There are also underground categories like trash or scratch and cult sub-genre crossovers like 'lesbian vampires'. Animation and documentary are the most popular genre descriptors. They are general umbrella terms that occupy neutral territory in underground critical polarities.

Only one film is described as 'horror'. Perhaps this is surprising, as this is a leading pop trash genre of the commercial feature film. Only two are labelled as 'porno' and both of those are pastiche. Notable because the underground still has its Sixties US image for exploring sex taboos and we might expect more sexual 'transgression'.

The descriptors do indicate how the films shown at Exploding Cinema seem to embrace popular references and show a great diversity of approaches to filmmaking that find their place within the show. It is perhaps remarkable how little repetition of descriptors occurs.

Some further illustration of the films shown in the first year or so is available from the reviews published in the programmes of that time period. A selection from these reviews is included HERE. A thorough analysis of the films shown may not be possible until a collection of at least a representative sample is made. For now at least the list is presented as an image or as literary device which as I have noted is resonant with the Exploding style of discourse.

 

Performance at Exploding Cinema:

The range of performers has been as diverse as the movie material and has included: Performance art in the European tradition by Ronald Fraser-Munro who did at least five performances[9], Andre Stitt[10], Hermine and Ian Hinchliffe[11]; Singing by Jenny Marr and Mongolian singing by Cat Von Trapp; Music by The Murphys, Bing Selfish, DogRack, Dave Powell and many others; Live painting by Wendy Chandler; Percussive sculpture by Wendy Welder; Sound Sculptures from Lepke B. and the Bohman Brothers; Dance by Yasunari Maeda; Poetry by Vanessa Richards and Poets of the Machine; Prose readings by Stuart Home.[12]

The Exploding Cinema collective has provided Duncan Reekie's 'Theatre of Sad' group performances and a short lived collective member Vanessa Woolf once put on her ambitious 25min musical 'Supermover', an extravagant 'rock music time machine'.

Performance has been a category problem as many include projected work of all types and some projected works include a live element. It is not possible to make these sorts of distinctions from the extant records. Both Duncan Reekie and Jenet Thomas regularly do projected works with a live voice-over. But it seemed confusing to include straight performance (without projection) within a list of film - the main focus of the Exploding Cinema effort. Nonetheless performance is much more than a distraction for the audience. The merging of live performance with movies underlines the close relation between the live performer and the historical resonance of the musichall, circus and early silent film.

If the filmmaker is present the films are backed up by her live presence. One's perceptual framework is changed when a poorly made movie is followed with an interview with the maker who turns out to be a teenager making his first film. After he has talked about his work process the film can be seen within a different frame. This constitutes another kind of live presence.

The role of MC can become that of a performer and this has been discussed in some depth in a previous section. The MC is an intermediary or a medium. The audience are themselves celebrated as rowdy, as 'active', as being a part of the process and can often be performers in their own right.

From another point of view it is the diversity of media that strikes one again and again in the process of classification of Exploding Cinema material, whether we look at the genres of projected works or performance. In terms of my thesis about the discourse function of Exploding Cinema as forum, this diversity may be crucial. Always undercutting any simplistic notions of language and communication as a cut and dried system. For cultures as dominated by their alphabets as the Europeans have been, the notion that language is essentially literary must be almost primal.

A detailed description of performances by Andre Stitt and Steven Houston, and games with the audience was related in the interview I recorded with Jennet Thomas:

I don't think Andre Stitt had been that long in the group. But he said that he was going to do a performance. He was fairly well known for getting up to some strange things. And of courseÉ what was nice about (Las Casas is that) people did come and they watched the shows, and they would eat, they would have a nice big vegetarian meal and they would sit down.

 Andrŕ came along on stage, and took all his clothes off and got out all these jars of mustard and ketchup and I think these frankfurters as well and then proceeded to shove the frankfurters up his arse. And then squirt the mustard up his arse and put the mustard on the frankfurters and did the same thing withÉ the tomato sauce and mayonnaise as well, and shoving this anywhere he could. And it was sort of flying all over the place. It was very alarming, and he was shouting as well at the same time, and there was some kind of sound track, and possibly the projection going as well. It was quite a shock for people that had come to have a nice vegetarian meal and see some super eight films.

What was so shocking was that the mustard looked like puss and the tomato ketchup looked like blood.  And he was naked and covering himself in this, and it looked pretty unpleasant. You know, it did look fairly. . . and it stank as well. (JT)

 

I then asked her about a performance she had mentioned by Steven HoustonÉ

Yes. At Las Casas. He wrote quite interestingly, and he took slides from lifestyle magazines - very, very smart interiors. It was this narrative about a woman who felt that she was the centre of the world, but in fact it was kind of about an incredibly depressive state of mind, and sort of falseness. I played a part in this - I was speaking what he had written, with these slides being projected. And then he played his trumpet, and he was pretty good actually. He had written a little trumpet piece to go with this slide text performance thing. It would have been good it he did more actually. (JT)

 

We discussed the aspects of Vaudeville in Exploding shows especially in terms of audience participation. The raffle is the most mundane way of doing this and Exploding show almost always has a raffle with silly prizes. There have also been competitive games as well such as Utopian Bingo. In this version of the classic game of Bingo the point at which all the numbers are completed is reached by the whole audience at the same moment. In an ideal version many people in the audience simultaneously leap up to shout 'Bingo!' Jenet went on to describe a 'Seats Lotto' she organised at some of the Ritzy shows.

I did a floor plan of the cinema at the Ritzy and, I made an animationÉ of this little ball rolling around, and it would stop at one seat. You had to be aware of what seat you were in and what number and then stand up and wave your hand if the ball landed on your seat. So it was like an animation, but you kind of knew that it was a predetermined thing for people that came previously to the shows. So I did two versions of it, but if you came for more than a few shows, the same seat would win. So if you could remember where it was, you know, but we pretended that it was a random thing. The audience would do an odd double take...

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[1] This implies filmmakers who show regularly and are probably part of the overlapping networks of filmmakers and artists around the Exploding Cinema Collective.

 

[3] A case study of one group of filmmakers, Lovely Movies, who illustrate some of the key characteristics of the early Super 8 filmmaking shown at Exploding Cinema, was made but it is not written up here for reasons of space. A study of David Leister is included in an earlier chapter on historical provenance.

A self-description by Rosalind Grainger, a collective member between 1993 to 1995 is a unique text in the programmes and is worth quoting here.

ŮI started making videos last year in Sydney after attending adult education class in filmmaking for beginners. I chose video rather than film because it seemed less technical, cheaper and more immediate.

I managed to meet other people who had skills and equipment to share and were happy to let me be the director and writer. In a year we made four very low-budget productions (under £50). Obviously as we were beginners the quality of this early work is not good, but more importantly we were learning fast and not too dependent on others for favours.

'The Bastard in the Basement' was my most ambitious project. It had a budget of about £150, £90 of which was spent on the editing process. The rest of the money went on expenses (food/ petrol/ lighting hire). I still feel there are things I could have done better, but of course everyone says that. We were very lucky to be lent a camera and microphone for the day, saving about £100.

Although I would like to study film/video in a more formal setting, to do so can be extremely expensive and often it is difficult to get a place if you have the 'wrong' background (no previous art involvement, too old etc). I am therefore committed to learning through skill sharing and continuing to make as many very low budget productions as possible now I am back in London.Ó (IP: 11-9-93)

 

[4] Emails of 30th July and 3rd August 2000

 

[5] A selection from the reviews that were included in the early programmes is given in an appendix to give some more detailed idea of the content and style of the films.

 

[6] This list will be part of the archival materials, which will accompany the presentation of this thesis.

 

[7] Kitsch is never mentioned in the descriptors possibly because of its derogatory connotations in the underground context.

 

[8] Note: this list of descriptors is derived from fairly spontaneous labelling over a six-year period. It is not the same thing as a set of categories imposed by a critic, film theorist or web designer. See www.undergroundfilm.com   who use the following set of headings to organise their films: Action; Animation; B-Movie; Children; Comedy; Documentary;  Docu-drama; Drama; Experimental; Erotic; Horror; Interactive; International; Interview; Mocumentary; Music Video; Mystery; Narrative;

Other; Parody; Romance; Sci-Fi; Student; Thriller.

 

[9] 'Old Blue Eyes is Black' 13th August 1992; 'The Belgian Art Movement' 24th September 1992; 'April is the Cruellest Month' 17th April 1993; 'Monique de Pression sings' 26th July 1993; 'Goochu Goo' 7th August 1993.

 

[10] For an account of Andre Stitt's 'akshuns' from the late Seventies see his book, Small Time Life (Black Dog Press 2001). Stitt was an active member of the Exploding Cinema Collective 1992 - 94.

 

[11] Ian Hinchliffe is someone who has been an active performance artist since the Fifties and Sixties, when he worked with Jeff Nuttall amongst many others. He was also a founding member of the Brixton Artist's Collective (See Chapter 1).

 

[12] Other people who performed that I have gleaned from the files include: Suzanne Currid, Bruce Gilchrist, Ezra Carnegie, Mathew Guchan, David O'Kelly, Yasunari Maeda, Yvonne Houlton, Imal, Marisa Carr, Dave D. Craworth, Clare Pritchard, Ferenc Aszmann, Jurgen Olbrich, Annette Lovelife, The Amazing Bisecto Girls (Kerry and Maxine), Ambush, Jennifer Catalano, Pink Sly, Gagarin in Person, Tommy Tate. There must be many more that have gone unrecorded. Apologies for all omissions.