Serge Bard, Eric Baudelaire, Ericka Beckman, Cinema Action, Patrick Deval, Lav Diaz, Mati Diop, Stephen Dwoskin, Luke Fowler, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Johan Grimonprez, Marc Karlin, Stuart Marshall, Anne-Marie Miéville, Pere Portabella, Yvonne Rainer, Jackie Raynal, Anne Charlotte Robertson, Helke Sander, Jon Sanders, James Scott, Albert Serra, Leslie Thornton, Humphry Trevelyan
Curated by Dan Kidner
‘The Inoperative Community’ is an exhibition of experimental narrative film and video that address ideas of community and the shifting nature of social relations. It draws on work made since 1968 for cinema, television and the gallery, reflecting the overlapping and entangled histories of these sites. The exhibition’s title is borrowed from Jean-Luc Nancy’s 1983 essay of the same name, and while this connection did not determine the selection of works, they all bear witness in their own way to what Nancy characterised as the ‘dissolution, the dislocation, or the conflagration of community’. Many concern the limits of political activism and the fate of left political subcultures, and all use narrative as a means to explore social and political issues.
Encompassing over fifty hours of material the exhibition can be navigated by means of a printed or downloadable programme. Each visitor will only be able to see a fraction of the works on offer, but connections can be made between works on any particular course through the exhibition, which has been designed to accommodate both prolonged viewing and shorter visits. A screening room will show five daily programmes, in a more structured approach to the exhibition’s historical and political framework. These begin with an Anglo-French focus before expanding to include international filmmakers reflecting on the radical political movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
The exhibition focuses on a period that could be described as the long 1970s (1968-84) – all the works were either made during this time, or reflect on the radical social and political movements of the era. The defiant video installation about the Aids crisis, Journal of the Plague Year (1984) by Stuart Marshall (1949–93, UK) has been specially restored for the exhibition. Also included is a new edit – within an installation designed for the exhibition – of Peggy and Fred in Hell (1984–2015) by Leslie Thornton (b. 1951, USA), featuring footage shot whilst in residence at Raven Row; and newly available reels from the epic Five Year Diary (1981–97) by Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949–2012, USA), preserved by the Harvard Film Archive, will be screened for the first time in the UK.
Extended gallery opening hours: 11am-7pm, Wednesday to Sunday
Sheffield Hallam University Thursday, 13 June 2013 from 10:30 to 18:00 (BST) Sheffield, United Kingdom
“We want to make films that unnerve, that shake assumptions, that threaten, that do not soft-sell” Robert Kramer, ‘Newsreel’ Film Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Winter, 1968-69), p.46, University of California Press
The late ’60s and ’70s saw the development of documentary film collectives in the UK that addressed the burning political issues of their day. They developed radical forms of independent film production and distribution prior to digital or the web and produced a large body of work, from short agitational cinetracts to sophisticated essayistic features.
The symposium seeks to re-ignite the work of this radical wave, to ask how they engaged with politics and film and how this might inform politically engaged filmmaking today. It will feature films, and filmmakers, from the ’70s generation alongside radicals of today.
Keynote Speaker: Federico Rossin (Critic and Curator)
Panelists include: Holly Aylett (Vertigo and ‘In the Spirit of Marc Karlin’ project) · Luke Fowler (Artist, Turner Prize Nominee 2012) · Lina Gopaul and David Lawson (Black Audio Film Collective/Smoking Dog Films) · Ann Gueddes (Founder of Cinema Action) · Dan Kidner (Writer and Curator, recently published ‘Working Together: Notes on British Film Collectives in the 1970s’) · Christine Molloy (Artist, Desperate Optimists) · David Panos (Artist, Jarman Award Winner 2011) · Steve Sprung (Cinema Action/Poster Film Collective/Lusia Films)
RELATED TICKETED SHEFFIELD DOC/FEST SCREENINGS:
Wednesday 12 June · 18:45 · Showroom 2
‘The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott‘ (2012) by Luke Fowler
Thursday 13 June · 20:45 · Sheffield Library Theatre
‘The Stuart Hall Project‘ (2012) by John Akomfrah
The symposium is supported by: Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Institute of Arts, Art and Design Research Centre, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Producers: Virginia Heath, Esther Johnson, Steve Sprung
Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org · +44 (0)114 225 6918
The Berwick Street Collective’s Nightcleaners (1975) was filmed to support an attempt by the women’s movement to unionise London’s night cleaners. Shot in black and white, and punctuated with sections of black leader, Nightcleaners fuses political documentary with a rigorous reflection on the materiality of film and the problems of representing struggle. Here is a short scene.
The collective was founded by Marc Karlin, Humphry Treveleyan, Richard Mordaunt and James Scott. During the filming of Nightcleaners they were joined by artist Mary Kelly. Here is a bio from the early 1970s out of the archive.
Humphry Treveleyan and Marc Karlin were both members of Cinema Action, the left-wing film collective, in the late 1960s but both left dissatisfied with the group’s formal commitment to film-making. With Nightcleaners, those expecting a didactic film, found one that was nuanced and exploratory, both in terms of form and working class representation. The film used black spacing which slowly draws contemplation from the viewer and the fragmented soundtrack, together with time lapse sequences, applied pressure on the image, questioning its ability to record actuality. At the time, Screen journal declared it undoubtedly the most ‘important political film to have been made in this country’ and predicted it ‘to provide a basis for a new direction in British film-making’ . Claire Johnston’s Jump Cut review proclaimed Nightcleaners was ‘redefining the struggle for revolutionary cinema’.
The revolution failed to materialise and Nightcleaners remained firmly underground. Naturally being a collective project, Nightcleaners seeps many histories and it remains a complicated assignment to gain an exact understanding of the creative intentions of the film from those involved. To this day tensions linger, as you can witness from the exchanges between feminist writer Sheila Rowbotham, a campaigner with the Cleaners Action Group at the time, and Humphry Teveleyan in the Q&A.
That is not to say Nightcleaners ever went away. Indeed, Mike Sperlinger, LUX’s Assistant Director, states from 2002 onwards the film had regular screenings with many different audiences, striking a political chord particularly in a time where the erosion of the trade unions of the 1980s has noticeably come home to roost. Mike also observes a renewed interest in materialist film practises in oppositional film over the past ten years and Humphry Trevelyan adds the film has been adopted recently by the Occupy movement with a screening at UCL.
Nightcleaners (1974) and it’s ‘sequel’ 36′ to 77′ (1978) will soon be released by LUX on DVD.
This Q&A is chaired by Picture This director Dan Kidner with Mike Sperlinger and Humphry Treveleyan and poses the question; does a film need to explore form as well as content to be political?
The Serpent (1997) is a drama-documentary about Rupert Murdoch. Borrowing from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Karlin
tells the tale of commuter Michael Deakin (Nicholas Farrell), self appointed archangel, who falls asleep on his train and dreams of ridding Britain of the Dark Prince (Rupert Murdoch). The Voice of Reason stops him and not only exposes the futility of Deakin’s quest but confronts us, the silent majority, with our complicity in Murdoch’s rise to power.
Karlin guides us through the labyrinth of Murdoch’s psyche. Firstly ‘The Museum of the Fall’, a fable-like archive containing artefacts of Murdoch’s empire, where human sculptures display tabloid headlines that alter with the public mood, and where page three girls reveal the industrialisation of sex. Secondly, the telling silence that greets Murdoch’s 1989 address at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, where he calls for increased deregulation of television in the face of censorship. The Voice of Reason indicates to Deakin, “this is the silence of democrats … and the Dark Prince could bathe in that silence”
Karlin’s film is a stinging indictment on the Left’s failure to counter Murdoch’s increasing influence in the British media since the late 1960s, and consequently reveals the Left’s tendency to create their own monsters (Murdoch) in order to conceal their guilt. As Karlin remarks in an interview before his death, “In a way you could say it is a very healthy part of British democracy, whereby you invite the wolf who doesn’t disguise himself at all. But if you are going to invite the wolf, then you better start shaping up and debating.” Fifteen years later, over to you Lord Justice Leveson…
The Q&A is chaired by Picture This’ Dan Kidner, with Holly Aylett and Karlin’s cinematographer Jonathan Bloom.
Between Times (1993) looks at the fate of the British Left in the wake of Thatcherism. Over a cup of tea, A, the socialist, and Z, the post-modernist, investigate what now constitutes the men and women, individuals or collectives, who saw themselves as being the agency of change, i.e. until then the working class.
After the 1992 General Election defeat, the British Left were in a state of paralysis. Like today, the Left, swamped by the loudly proclaimed ‘end of history’ so often twinned with the death of Socialism, were searching for a viable alternative to the entrenched neo-liberal ideology.
In light of this, the film reveals the tension that existed between the ‘working class’ and the ‘political class’ in the early 1990s after a decade of shifting class perceptions and individual aspirations. From his notebooks at the time Karlin writes, ‘the subjects feel ill at ease in the political class’ tightly constructed corset or straight-jacket. Political language and culture does not correspond to the subject’s intimate and intuitive understanding of itself and its circumstances’.
Between Times explores the need for alternatives, new spaces and new realities that socialism, particularly the British bureaucratic variant, tended to exclude and abandon. ‘A’ notes, ‘we are taking a second breath’ and inhales fresh optimism from the Thurcroft miners attempt to buy their colliery from British Coal. To ‘Z’, however, this is just temporary turbulence. ‘Z’ used to believe these incidents added up to an organised, articulated political project, that each image was part of a continuing narrative, but now, he has come to distrust the Left’s history and its propensity to cling to, what he now believes to be, disparate imagery.
Between Times Fax © The Marc Karlin Archive
The Q&A includes Kodwo Eshun, artist, theorist and co-founder of the Otolith Group, Steve Sprung, filmmaker and editor of Between Times, and Picture This’ director Dan Kidner.
This month Picture This, in association with the research project “In the Spirit of Marc Karlin”, held an exhibition and screening programme focusing on the work of British filmmaker Marc Karlin (1943-99). Marc Karlin is an important but neglected figure within the British film avant-garde of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Arnolfini, hosted a weekend of screenings and talks which began with the seminal, Nightcleaners (1974). Shot in black and white, and punctuated with sections of black leader, Nightcleaners fuses political documentary with a rigorous reflection on the materiality of film and the problems of representing struggle. The programme continued with three films that Karlin made for television in the 1980s and 90s. For Memory (1986), features E.P. Thompson, and explores historical memory, Between Times (1993) looks at the fate of the British Left in the wake of Thatcherism, and The Serpent (1997) is a drama-documentary about Rupert Murdoch told through the lens of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Each film brilliantly captures the mood of the left in Britain through the 80s and 90s, whilst the aesthetic and political issues, and questions, they raise remain relevant and urgent.
The weekend ended with a round table discussion with contributors Holly Aylett, Jonathan Bloom, Kodwo Eshun, Luke Fowler, Andy Robson, Sheila Rowbotham, Steve Sprung and hosted by Dan Kidner.Picture This presents Marc Karlin, Roundtable discussion.
The audio from the weekend’s Q&As will soon be up.