Stephen Dwoskin + Robert Kramer, France, 1991, Betacam SP or digital
In the first Essay Film Festival Prelude we present the rarely screened series of video letters exchanged between the filmmakers Robert Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin made between February and June 1991.
Steve Dwoskin on the video letters: “It was more like writing, in that you didn’t have to involve anyone else in it. Not including editing was again like doing a written letter – you don’t really edit your letters when you write to friends – so the idea was simply to just do whatever we could in the camera.”
Robert Kramer on the video letters: “I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the letter, and where to start and how to do it. I would plan this whole thing out. There’s a lot of that feeling which does merge film and performance. I like the tension that’s in that situation and try and work it all out physically. It’s another way of thinking about mise en scene.”
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
Here is a fascinating excerpt from the audio commentary track on the British Film Institute’s Dual Format Edition of Riddles Of The Sphinx (Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1977). In this sequence, Mulvey recalls the technique of re-filming found footage material using a motion analyser projector borrowed from Marc Karlin while he was filming 36′ to 77′ (known then as Nightcleaners Part 2) with the Berwick Street Film Collective.
Avant-Garde Film: Motion Studies by Scott MacDonald (Cambridge Film Classics:1993)
Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s visually accomplished and intellectually rigorous Riddles of the Sphinx is one of the most important avant-garde films to have emerged from Britain during the 1970s. The second collaboration between Mulvey and Wollen, both of whom are recognised as seminal figures in the field of film theory, Riddles of the Sphinx explores issues of female representation, the place of motherhood within society and the relationship between mother and daughter. Composed of a number of discrete sections, many of which are shot as continuous circular pans, the film takes place in a range of domestic and public spaces, shot in locations which include Malcolm LeGrice’s kitchen and Stephen Dwoskin’s bedroom. BFI