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
BFI Southbank Guide, April 2015
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?