8.06 Analysis of the main themes of the logbooks

The first job is to search for categories and patterns. I read through the 360 pages of notes in the three A4 logbooks. Each topic or theme that emerged was noted and the relevant page number recorded under that heading. Of course these are bound to be mainly themes that I imposed from the last three years of study but I am also aware that new patterns may emerge from this sort of data collection. Thirteen of these headings which I had noted did not get further entries. Eight of them had 8 - 30 pages entered as having relevant material. Some of these headings like 'contexts' were too broad and needed further sub-division. On the other hand, some of the unique categories could be moved together under a more general heading. In the end it was themes that were key to Exploding Cinema and that had not been covered by other aspects of the research, which I chose to write up and present here.

I have focused on three key themes: open access, the practicalities of financial independence, and identity formation. Other logbook material gets used in the narrative history chapter. In fact data generated by being a participant observer inevitably infuses the whole research thinking and writing.

a) Open Access - Ethos and Reality

Open access for filmmakers does not seem to lead to an influx of pornography, racism or other abusive materials that could cause offence in an open setting.

The North American underground broke taboos and relied on forbidden fruit for much of its appeal.[1] The Kino Kulture venue in London has tended to specialise in showing such 'transgressive' material.[2] This sort of material is not ideally suited to an open mixed show and it rarely appears on the Exploding Cinema screen. There is no explicit policy or guidelines on what is not acceptable; filmmakers just do not seem to offer material they themselves seem to perceive as unsuitable.[3]

This principle also applies to material that is not extreme in any sense. Much Video Art, especially that of a durational nature, which is increasingly popular in the contemporary gallery scene is unsuitable for a seated evening audience and does not often get sent in.

This is my experience of doing the programming for the second roof show in Peckham (15-08-98), derived from logbook notes:

'I phoned people on the database and hauled in a few oldies filmmakers who had show at Exploding Cinema in the past). Then things came at me from Colette who is the main number for information on the flyers.'[4]

The point is who can respond to open access? The films shown seem to be made by: Collective members; their friends; people who show regularly; people who get in touch through our web presence; students;[5] established film-makers in other fields who've made something that isn't destined for the mainstream.[6] By this account the reality of open access programming relies on the organic contacts that surround the programmer, the collective and the event itself as an ongoing institution - in that order.[7]

I suppose the policy of no selection might not be viable with a well-funded festival in a prestige venue that widely advertised 'no selection'. It might then get flooded with material. No-selection with Exploding Cinema is in the context of a localised network with the natural quantitative limits of human friendship. You can only maintain significant relationships with a limited number of people. But there are other forms of inertia that can limit the number of people wanting to show work. A passage from my logbook:

'A woman friend of Ian's.. who works on TV, had got pissed off with the lack of inventiveness on TV and had got together with friends and made her own programme. I suggested she should show it at Exploding but she said 'it wasn't our style'. I suggested we didn't have a style because we show whatever is given to us. She persisted that her group were into 'high production values'. I just repeated that didn't exclude her. But it seems that for her Exploding Cinema presented a context of retro, low production values as an aesthetic - which can help maintain the divide that it critiques.'[8]

It should be emphasised here that works with the highest production values have often been shown and have seemed to co-exist happily with rough-cut home produced material.[9]

A selection of sorts is made for tours, which fall outside of the main format. Although I was told that anyone who phoned up wanting to show a film in the period before a tour would be included[10] on the basis of the slogan 'Selection but no rejection'.[11]

The programmes of the smaller gigs are selected by whoever is organising them or whoever takes the initiative. This is an account of a less organised small event at the Anarchist Bookfair, October 1999:

'One of the collective had said we didn't need to make a programme (of films to show) but then just set up and showed his own programme of videos from 2.30 until 5.00pm. This was disconcerting as Damon, Stuart Pound and myself had brought along videos but didn't have a say.'[12]

It is not easy to influence the collective to do things which are not already within its normative practices. Opposition is often not vocalised and is felt only in the form of a mute resistance, often only expressed as pronounced lack of enthusiasm.[13] The normative style of Exploding Cinema decor has a brash retro pop/ camp style based on collections of slides made by the core collective. The style of decor does provide an upbeat atmosphere for a variety show and it would take quite a lot of energy to introduce something different.[14] I would almost feel that the identity of Exploding Cinema was being challenged. Perhaps it is not suprising that an inertia surrounds the specifics of the 'dÚcor' once it has been established as the house style.

When a new person joins they tacitly accept a set of ongoing practices some of which are highly specific although their fixity is invisible to those that have been engaged with them for years. In practice it is the core group that tend to maintain the house style. Do they in this way exert a kind of covert semiotic ownership?

'The inner group is embedded in a wider friendship network which comes to shows and embraces the core group but not the newer members who can never attain the (sub)cultural capital of the founding members.'[15]

'Exploding Cinema is open to all as long as you are determined, tough, energetic and not looking for a group that cares about you. You've got to be self-contained, able to take put-downs or people throwing wobblies, and the usual underground collective shit.'[16]

This is not a criticism of the core collective who in fact demonstrate enormous generosity, putting much voluntary work in whilst they were subsisting on the lowest of incomes. My point is just to compare the reality of the collective practice with the ideals of open access and peerness.

There are also advantages to be got by newcomers from this existing network as well as from the wider position that Exploding Cinema's reputation has built up in the USA and Germany. New members are quite welcome to use this network to their own advantage, although few seem to. [17] It should also be remembered that Exploding Cinema did nurture the groups who came together as the Volcano Festival from 1996.



[1] I watched a video called 'TV Ministry' by Mark Hejnar, which contained mimic mutilation amongst other 'extreme' imagery at Kino Kulture (18-4-98). See L1 p67/8. Kino Kulture was at 'The Horse Hospital', a venue behind Russell Square underground. At this time it was run by Ian White.


[2] For this aspect of the underground see Jack Sargeant's Death Tripping: the cinema of transgression (Creation Books 1995)


[3] See also L2 p204


[4] See L2 p153


[5] Who are sometimes taught by Exploders. E.g. Paul Tarrago taught the Strand Super 8 course during this period.


[6] E.g. Marks Saunders' home movie 'Swell' (VHS 10 mins) shown in Roof Show 2.


[7] 'We showed a film that two people had just turned up with - I wonder if we even got their details?' L2 p153. Such spontaneity was rare during the period of my study.


[8] L2 p167. This observation was noted at the Oval House (26-09-98) as part of the Volcano programme.


[9] Finally I wrote a text on the policy of no selection in the rant style of polemic favoured by group for the programme. See IP 4-6-99 & L3 p297. A follow up to this text was published the following year. See IP 4-8-2000.


[10] L3 p354


[11] The policy of inclusion is limited to the shows. See also L3 pp330 & 332


[12] L3 p340


[13] L1 p71


[14] L1 p79


[15] L1 p86


[16] L2 p177. At other times I felt more positive! See L3 p308 for a text I wrote which was published in the programme of 4-8-2000 p13 entitled 'Why Open Collective?'.


[17] See L1 p118 re network advantages. Reporting a meeting on 18th July 1998, Exploding collective can get put on the guest list of other film groups events. E.g. Colette and Duncan were on the 'Kentra' guest list. This is an upmarket event organised by Phillip Illson of Halloween Society that costs £9 for a ticket.