10.0h  The Audience: [1]

The audience for Exploding Cinema ranges from commercial film professionals to eco-warrior type radicals. The connections with Reclaim the Streets, Undercurrents and the Anarchist Bookfair will define some of the audience but others will be less political, with an interest in film from any number of angles.

No audience surveys have been completed.[2] It is difficult to be an active member of the collective and spend the show talking to as many of the audience as possible. The tendency is to talk to people you know, the filmmakers and other underground film contacts, so one does not get to know sections of the audience who are on the edges of these scenes. I once set out to do an audience survey at the post Volcano event in 1998. The clipboard formality of the questionnaire clashed so much with the dark, loud, informal atmosphere I abandoned it.

The questionnaire is associated with marketing and this style of investigation is antithetical to the underground and to the informal atmosphere of an evening event. It is a methodology associated with the commercial world with associations of an invasion of privacy and a manufacture of 'need'. Perhaps the indeterminate nature of the audience is the whole point. It means that Exploding Cinema functions as a forum in which subcultures crossover or clash. It is a place where the commercial and professional mix and merge with the amateur. In short there were thought to be unacceptable costs involved with using a questionnaire methodology.

The Exploding Cinema events seem to cross-pollinate other areas of culture, or involve people lives that are not part of the 'no/lo budget' film scene. These oblique effects could easily be missed by even the most sophisticated survey. Firstly because effects are often subconscious and would not be easily articulated. Secondly because important effects might not be statistically widespread and so not register. The diffusion of democratic discourses is about the quality and innovativity of singular messages a well as the quantitative density that can be sensed in the general buzz of an audience.

Obtaining an audience profile for those who attend Exploding Cinema shows may be difficult to achieve on the basis of empirical evidence without destroying what you are studying. The problem of reducing the diversity of the audience profile in the attempt to label it is also a serious problem. The profile may also change over time, which implies a prolonged and costly study that again would tend to intrude into the 'atmosphere' and radically change it.

At the same time a central slogan of Exploding Cinema is 'The Audience Decides' and the aporia of research data on the audience is a place where further research may be needed.         

At the centre of my thesis are ideas about how the public realm and culture effect each other. I am interested finally in what comes up from the underground into the public realm and its effects on society as a whole. This is inevitably a set of communicative effects that is carried by the audience.

So the audience and how they take in what they experience, how they make use of it is something of an unknown at least in terms of empirical evidence.  This is partly because of the prior need to establish the nature of the phenomena under study on the basis of recognised, disciplined methodologies, but it is also because of methodological difficulties and the resource limitations of a self funded solo research programme.

I have approached the problem of the abstraction of the audience theoretically. Assuming that they adhere to the general models of communicative eloquence or coherence proposed by Habermas does bring up the problems of such universal modelling (see previous theory discussions).

One thing we do know about the Exploding Cinema audiences is that they are more or less active. They often will be drinking eating and talking through films. Sometimes they will even lose any balance of attention and the films can be sidelined. In minutes of the 5th May 1993 the club atmosphere in which people talk through all the films was noted.[3] Sometimes the audience would become drunk and too 'active'.[4]

It may also be fair to say that the Exploding Cinema and the Volcano network are to some extent their own audience. The Exploding Cinema Collective, the filmmakers who show their films and the audience are not separate. I would certainly expect the Exploding Cinema audience to include a higher percentage of practitioners and counter cultural types than you might find in a typical cinema audience. I could also expect a large part of any Exploding Cinema audience to be organically interrelated by complex network connections. Although it would also be a valid criticism that Exploding Cinema does too little to encourage further networking beyond what happens organically.[5] In contrast to the commercial culture at 'Peeping Toms', a Soho based film society for those working in the film industry, only a few of the Exploding audience declare needs for contacts. Although people do announce shows and events, and it may not be easy to meet the people you want to at an Exploding event, although they might be there.[6]

I did however take an artistic approach to 'capturing' the audience. On two or three occasions I videod portraits of members of the audience as they entered the venue. I then copied this onto VHS and showed it back to the audience in one of the intervals.[7]




[1] The audience has not been a focus of this research programme. It is to some extent an subject which was difficult to approach from my research position as a member of the collective.


[2] A few completed forms from an audience survey by Ghisli during the shows at the Loughborough Arms, were found in the archive at Colette's flat but turned out to contain little of use.


[3] It seems that there has always been ambivalence about this.


[4] A meeting after the 5th show at the Jugglers Arms (late May 1993) noted the 'stroppy' audience. Colette is reported saying: 'We lost control of the audience'.


[5] Organic networks are likely to reflect and reproduce prevailing social forces even if, as here, they have a certain underground style.


[6] Peeping Tom's was running regular monthly discussion meetings and screenings during the period that I was studying Exploding Cinema. I attended several meetings that had speakers and there would be opportunities for people to get up and declare their own talent for hire. The general ethos was one of supporting entry into the commercial sector.


[7] This reflected the genre of 'local topicals' that were common in cinemas up to the 1930's. The audience for local community activities, like carnivals or processions, were filmed and shown, uncut, to the cinema audience when they had been processed. The cinema would often announce 'come and see yourselves on the screen'. In the North West Film Archive these now constitute some of the most important early film records of working class life. From a paper by Maryann Gomes, director of the North West Film Archive, 'The Past as Present: the home movie as a cinema of record' (1999) m/s.