6.02 The Most Active Filmmakers

Introduction: In this content analysis I count and tabulate the people that have shown the most works in Exploding Cinema 1992 - 1997. This will show both the number of different works shown and repeat showings of the same work. The hypothesis is that these filmmakers are most significant, at least in part, by reason of their commitment to repeated showings at Exploding Cinema.

Any broader movement of cultural producers is remembered, or represented historically, by a number of works selected as exemplary from all that were produced. This selection is often known as a canon. A certain paradox is that a canon usually refers to a past historical formation decided through the mediation of a critical apparatus. As this programme of research is active in making historical representations the study of such intensities may contribute to what we may call a pre-canonic formation. This is a set or pattern of works that would be offered up to the broader social processes of legitimation. Canon formation is assumed to be part of a broader hegemonic struggle and is not as predictable or fixed a process as we might assume.

Background and context: Canon formation in commercial cinema is something that is a struggle between an intellectual group of critics, who are ideally independent of the film industry, and the broad paying publics which may either be a broad popular or a narrow cult following.[1] In spite of the reference to the primacy of the judgement of the audience in Exploding Cinema their judgement can only contribute to the canonisation process in the limited form of spontaneous applause as the films are not usually available as commodities through any form of distribution.[2] Prior to a show the audience do not even know what movies they are coming to see, as they are not mentioned on the publicity. Nor does the audience register its evaluation of the works in any formal or measured way. There is only the spontaneous applause followed by a general buzz of comment. This may be followed by an individual approach if the filmmaker is present.[3]

Other film group organisers, who are regularly in the Exploding Cinema audience, will pick up 'favourites' to show in their own venues. So although the 'audience decides', according to Exploding Cinema rhetoric, these judgements are, with few exceptions, in the ephemeral form of oral discourse and memory. Generally there is an absence of any critical writing.[4]

There are the occasional films that create an almost tangible effect in the whole crowd watching - perhaps the mutual recognition of a film which captures a new form of representation, not yet seen in mainstream media or which validates the subculture of the audience in a new way. These moments are occasionally documented. An example is the 'Dead Dog' film by Victoria Kirkwood, which is discussed by Duncan and Donal in Loo How's' 1994 documentary.[5]

Apart from the intensity of production measured by this content analysis there are some other processes which contribute to what I have called a pre-canon formation. These are two: selections for tour and the selection for a compilation video.

The Tour selections. Two European tours in 1994 and 1995 have lists which are not derived from open access contributions quite in the way that the regular shows are. Many of the films are selected favorites from the past year or so. These are useful in indicating some of the collective's favorites even if the actual tours would have a limited direct influence.

The Vacuum compilation video (1996). Clearly a compilation video is a selective mechanism in a pre-canon formation. It is currently one of the only sources to which people might go to find works shown at Exploding Cinema. This is a selection made by the collective sub-group that put together Vacuum.[6]

Method: I made an alphabetical list of the approximately 650 filmmakers with the films they had shown at Exploding Cinema from 1992 to June 1998[7]. This list included the cryptic details that were listed in the show programmes. The few shows without programmes will not have the films shown listed, so this is not a complete list of all films shown. It may in fact also contain a few films that were listed but not shown.

I then selected the filmmakers who had shown more than three films, subtracted all the people who had been collective members and re-listed them in order of the number of works shown.[8] This was complicated by the repeat showings of films. Assuming that repeats are due to popularity I have indicated the number of repeat showings in brackets. I assumed that the fine ordering of the final listing would not be significant, it would be more like a broad net in which would be caught the most active filmmakers showing at Exploding Cinema.

This produces a pre-canonic selection which has been chosen by an index of commitment to showing work at Exploding Cinema rather than because of any supposed aesthetic superiority. This approach to canon formation is sympathetic with the Exploding Cinema ethic of inclusivity. Dates were also included so that the rough period over which the filmmakers were active in Exploding is made clear.

Before giving the results I will consider some unitisation problems. There is an assumption that making many films shows a commitment to the process and to the underground context. A weakness of this assumption is of reducing all films to a unitary value. For instance, I have not taken a film's length into account. This gives an advantage to people who make short films. Steven Houston, the founder of Exploding Cinema in 1991, is perhaps the main victim of these shortcomings, compounded by the lack of early records when he was active. Records which do exist record him showing just one film but that was of 30 minutes and could have been a major work which took years to make.[9]

The works listed left out performance, which is an important part of the unique ethos of an Exploding Cinema show.[10] However performances were listed if they clearly included an element of projection.[11] Other exclusions are the loops and other decor.[12] If the loops had counted as films then Caroline Kennedy would have scored relatively higher as she is an enthusiastic maker of loops.

Results:

Filmmakers who have shown most films:[13]

(+N) indicates repeat showings

George Barber                 15 (+4)                      1992/98

Andrew Copeman               15 (+5)                      1992/95

Arthur Lager                   11 (+5)                      1994/98

Alan Dein                         10 (+3)                      1992/95

Mark Video                       7   (+4)                    1992/95

Dick Jewel                       6   (+4)                    1992/93

Andrew Kotting               6   (+2)                    1992/98

Ken McDonald                   7                                  1992/93

Paul Murray                     5   (+4)                    1992/93

John Coffey                     6                                  1995/98

Martin Hedley                 4   (+4)                    1992/95

Lovely Movies                 6                                  1994/98

Nick G.Smith                   6                                  1992/95

David Leister                 5                                  1992/98

Gordon Mason                   5                                  1993/95

Paul Synott                     5                                  1993/95

Pascael Baes                   4                                  1992

James de Carteret         4                                  1994/5

David Fanning                 4                                  1995/98

Halloween Society         4                                  1993/96

Rob Ryan                           4                                  1995/97

Small World                     4                                  1995

Victoria Kirkwood         3   (+4)                    1993/95

Guy Edmonds                     3   (+2)                    1995/98

Michelle Gallipeau       3   (+3)                    1992/94

 

Sixty four filmmakers had shown three or more films from 1992 to June 1998 (Counting groups as one). Twenty one of these had produced just three films and a further twenty two had been or are members of the collective.  A further twenty-three names of filmmakers who had shown two films, or whose films had been shown repeatedly, were added by cross-reference with Vacuum and the two tour lists. Of these only two had been members of the collective. Vacuum yielded two, the 1995 tour list seventeen and the 1994 tour list a further eight. This implies about eighty-seven filmmakers who should be considered as significant in this period by reason of their commitment to this showing format.[14] 

Analysis & Interpretation: The future understanding of any broad collective phenomena, which produces a great mass of materials, must be mediated through a selection of material. It is only the participants who can experience the full range of works especially as they are not archived. A canon for my purposes is a selection of typical materials, which convey some, or most of the important or memorable qualities of a broad phenomenon. Of course the word canon also has a meaning of 'all that was best' from a particular genre, period or movement and there is perhaps an element of this in the selections made for Vacuum and the tour lists. Further a canon has a connotation of arising from a process of validation by authoritative critics, curators or historians. The lack of literary response to the films shown helps to focus our attention on the fact that the critical response to over 1000 films by hundreds of people over six years has been oral. And the effects of these works have been disseminated through oral culture. We can only talk of a critical discourse if this can be theorised as an almost entirely oral phenomena. This oral response is difficult to track, especially in retrospect. Few traces are left by such an organic social process.

Much of what has been shown at Exploding Cinema is already lost to posterity unless a large amount of funding was to be found for this purpose in the next few years. Super 8 films in particular often exist in a single copy which is vulnerable. Some collections are kept of show copies, mostly on VHS, by both the older Exploding collective members and other film group organisers. But as far as I know these are not catalogued and have come about by a process of attrition rather than by an organised process of acquisition.

These are often films that are left uncollected by filmmakers - a process that does not favour the more organised filmmaker who supplies a return envelop or collects her film in person at the screening. If archiving is to be attempted an important issue is to decide what is most important to collect. The lists of the most frequently shown filmmakers, largely derived from objective data, may be a useful part of such a debate.

The energy that people put in is largely sustained through inner drives to communicate. At best this is a deeply perceived need to give form to something, which is otherwise not being adequately expressed. Such creative urges underlie the most vibrant and useful productions of culture. Of course such needs may also be incoherent or driven by neurosis and may drive filmmakers to repeat cliches and encourage those who are drawn by romantic notions of the identity of artist or filmmaker.[15] But the noise in any such an arena should not deafen us to such phenomena as crucial well springs of culture.

The historical value of such phenomena is not just to be seen in the production of a few stars, or the technical or aesthetic innovations that spin off, but is rather in the general and largely oral discourse generated. A discourse whose value is in its autonomy from mechanistic vested interests. How, then, can a historical representation be derived from the process of apparently dissipated oral critical discourse?

The more we seek after origins the more social creativity becomes obscured and the more the movements of a living culture are negated by the canon. (Howard Slater, 2000)

These processes of communication in which people produce 'statements' from which agreements on cultural commonalities and symbols are reached by informal oral communications underpin the spheres of meaning that comprises our social realities.

Conclusion: In some ways the whole idea of an orderly canon appears antithetical to the anarcho-democratic 'open access' ethos of Exploding Cinema. But this may be to misunderstand the idea of non-selection, which is to 'let the audience decide'. This shouldn't imply that the audience and the collective members couldn't still have their own aesthetic judgement. There are still standards but these are seen to be dynamic, in flux and resisting the closure that a canon implies. Any future consideration of this body of work must surely search out the singular films that impressed, as well as those filmmakers who showed a commitment to this forum.

A canon is assumed to be the best of an era but it may be that getting canonised is not such a pure competition of aesthetic quality.[16] There is also a large element of commitment, perseverance and getting to know the right people. The character of an era may well be better reflected by this crude charting of intensities than by the more esoteric process of critical filtering and gate keeping.

Canon formation could be part of a rational and open discourse rather than be formed through the selection of a few experts. There is no reason why such specialists could inform the debate. But even with a more rational canon formation there is the danger that a narrow obsession with canonised works will obscure the inclusive quality of Exploding Cinemas programming. A major part of the aesthetic pleasure of an Exploding Cinema experience is being an active part of a collective synaesthesia, rather than in discovering a great work by an individual artist. It is, at best, a dynamic bricollage of light, performance, ad hoc technology and camaraderie. At times its appears to either career along like a charabanc full of drunken day trippers or be rattling monotonously through a banal videoscape.

Whilst it is important to value all artists, a reasoned selection may be a useful or even necessary tool to understand and appreciate the work of a whole era.

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[1] Theories of canon formation are usually applied to the literary field and more recently in Women's and Queer studies. The two main references are:

Pierre Bourdieu's The Field of Cultural Production: essays on art and photography (Columbia UP 1993)  and,

John Guillory's Cultural Capital: the problem of literary canon formation (University of Chicago, 1993). Guillory says, "What a project of canon critique still lacks is an analysis of how the institutional site of canonical revision mediates its political effects in the social domain." p6.

In relation to visual culture see: Bill Mikulak's 'Mickey Meets Mondrian: cartoons enter the Museum of Modern Art' in Cinema Journal, University of Texas (V36 No 3 spring 1997 pp56 - 72). In relation to film see,

Adrian Martin's 'Light My Face: the geology and geography of film canons' in, Senses of Cinema Issue 14 June 2001  (www.senseofcinema.com)

 

[2] Exceptions are the film included in the compilation video Vacuum. See Chapter 10 for more details.

 

[3]  On 8th October 2001 the Exploding Cinema showed a film called 'The North Sea Circle' directed by Richard Coldman with Alexander Gorlizki (video 22 mins). This film got a strong positive response from the audience. Afterwards Jenet Thomas forwarded two emails to me as I knew Richard and she didn't have his number. These validating enquiries were passed on to Richard. An example of another form of response.

 

[4] Early programmes during 1993 did have a few cryptic reviews of the last programme but these were written by collective members. See Chapter 11.

 

[5] Loo How. Dir. 'How to Be a Successful Spectator' 1994.  At the time How was a student at the RCA.

Victoria Kirkwood's film 'Dead Dog' (Super 8, 3mins), was shown on four separate occasions from 20th March 1993 to 23rd February 1995.

 

[6] Vacuum was paid for by James Stevens but was mainly put together by Duncan Reekie and Colette Rouhier.

 

[7] A list updated to 1999 will be included with the thesis as part of the archive materials. The list to June 1998 used in this analysis will also be available.

 

[8] Collective members comprise 15 of the top 30 of filmmakers listed in this way showing from 32 to 5 works each. (These are listed in Summary Table 1)

 

[9] Steven Houston's 'That Stage' (video, 30mins) was shown on 18th June 1992 and at the Lido Show on 7th August 1993.

 

[10] Performances that do not declare an element of projection are discussed in Chapter 10.

 

[11] In this way Duncan Reekie, who has produced a long series of spoken work with slide performances, scores highly with content that is in the main not moving pictures.

 

[12] Caroline seems to have archived her Super 8 loops but I was, unfortunately unable to obtain a copy of them.

 

[13] This is only filmmakers showing from 1992 - June 1998. The list excludes collective members. See table

 

[14] This comparison with the selected tour lists showed that the intensity analysis did have a reasonable predictive value in that it included 60 - 75% of the filmmakers listed in the selected tour and Vacuum lists. Four of the six non-collective filmmakers listed in Vacuum appear on the intensity list. Out of 80 filmmakers on the 1995 tour selection 61 are listed on the intensity list. Out of 33 on the 1994 tour list 24 turn up on the intensity list.

 

[15] None-the-less certain widely recognised filmmakers, such as George Barber and Andrew Kotting, are included on this list.

 

[16] Let us remember here the previous discussion of Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge in Chapter Five.