Swingeing London

Date: 13 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

13-19 April 2007
Filmhuis Den Haag

For a few years after the Beatles first shook Britain out of the Dark Ages, it seemed like London was the place to be. Maybe the seeds of this cultural Renaissance were sown a little earlier, towards the end of the 1950s with the Free Cinema movement, and British Pop Art, first seen in “This Is Tomorrow” at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956. Artist Richard Hamilton, who had created the iconic collage “Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” for that exhibition, produced a series of prints titled “Swingeing London”, which reproduced a newspaper photo of his hip gallerist Robert Fraser handcuffed to Mick Jagger following their arrest for drug possession in 1967. By this time, England’s capital city had been characterised as ‘Swinging London’ by Time Magazine, and the artist’s satirical play on words references the severity of the sentence bestowed on Fraser by the fearful establishment.

At the end of the decade, Hamilton collaborated with filmmaker James Scott on an eponymous self-portrait that perfectly encapsulates the artist’s spirit and sources of inspiration. The exuberant film is featured in this season which explores the embryonic counterculture that developed as ‘flower power’ blossomed and faded. As counterpoint to the feature films screening in the “Swinging London” series, “Swingeing London” excavates the underground.

It took the presence of a few key Americans in London to really get things cooking. William Burroughs lived in London from 1966-74, and had already made Towers Open Fire together with exploitation film distributor Antony Balch. The film remains the purest cinematic realisation of Burroughs’ distinct writing style. New Yorker Stephen Dwoskin was one of the founding members of the London Film-Makers Cooperative, and his fellow countryman Peter Gidal was a central figure of that organisation throughout the 1970s. Kenneth Anger lived in London after exiling himself from the US in 1967, a move prompted in part by his opposition (and fear) of the war in Vietnam, the same motive that brought Carolee Schneemann across the Atlantic. Another part-time Brit was Yoko Ono, who often resided in the apartment of artist John Latham, and famously bagged herself a Beatle.

With a little encouragement, the English shook off their innate reserve and embraced the new freedom and prosperity that modern life had to offer. London played host to several indicative and fundamental gatherings of the tribes – the International Poetry Congress at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965 (featuring Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Trocchi, documented in Peter Whitehead’s amazing verité Wholly Communion), the Destruction in Art Symposium (very little footage circulates from this 1966 performance series), and the Dialectics of Liberation psychology conference of 1967 (captured in the documentary Anatomy of Violence by Peter Davis). The music scene was a central focus, with concerts such as the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream Festival at Alexandra Palace (1967) and the free Rolling Stones show in Hyde Park (1969).

As portable 16mm equipment made cinema a more affordable and impulsive medium, many of these events were documented on film. As in the USA, where Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Bruce Conner and others were already using cinema as a mode of personal artistic impression, British filmmakers soon moved in this direction. Inspired by a similar organisation in New York, the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative was founded by a group of enthusiasts in 1966. Initially a film society that met in the basement of the progressive Better Books shop to view the classics of world cinema (this is before alternative distribution circuits, vhs or dvd), the LFMC soon developed into a dynamic centre for the exploration of film as an art medium under the guidance of Dwoskin, Gidal, Malcolm Le Grice and others.

During this formative period ‘underground films’ were often to be seen projected before or during concerts by bands such as the Pink Floyd or Soft Machine at the UFO (Unlimited Freak Out) club or at all-night raves in the dilapidated Roundhouse. Artists Mark Boyle and Joan Hills (of the Boyle Family) formed the Sensual Laboratory, developing their experimental slide shows, which were already being performed in an art context, into full-blown complements to psychedelic rock concerts. Unlike the American light shows, Boyle and Hills’ visuals operated independently of the music, rather than being a synchronous, visual accompaniment to it.

Photographer John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, a legendary figure on the London scene, was a founder member of IT (the counterculture newspaper International Times), UFO, the Notting Hill Festival and the London Free School. Despite this central organising role, he spent the Summer of Love in jail for marijuana possession. The recently rediscovered short film Poem for Hoppy shows Soft Machine and the Sensual Laboratory collaborating on an improvised howl of support.

After his release, Hoppy turned to the new medium of video, using one of the earliest Sony Portapaks. Working together with the TVX collective, he attracted the attention of the BBC and was invited into the studios of Television Centre to perform a live videomix happening with a group of artists, musicians and freaks. Videospace was not broadcast, but a surviving excerpt demonstrates some of the visual invention and playful creativity that took place at this unique event. Lutz Becker also experimented with the new video technology, creating feedback loops for Horizon, a work covered in detail in Gene Youngblood’s book “Expanded Cinema” but rarely seen today.

Though psychedelia dominated the pop scene, few films made in England in the sixties could truly be described as psychedelic. Mare’s Tail is a prime exception – a long, strange trip into inner space made by maverick filmmaker and photographer David Larcher. Mare’s Tail is a two and a half hour, abstract journey deep within. It was the first film shown in the cinema at the New Arts Lab (aka the Institute for Research in Art and Technology), where it ran for two successful weeks.

The original Arts Lab, on Drury Lane in the heart of Covent Garden, had been established by Jim Haynes and Jack Henry Moore in 1967. Incorporating a café, bookstore, gallery, theatre and cinema within a single building, the Arts Lab provided a venue and meeting point for different artistic groups. Haynes, another American who galvanised London’s counterculture, was also a co-founder of International Times and the Amsterdam based sexual freedom newspaper SUCK! All scenes feed into eachother.

The naïveté and optimism of this underground explosion didn’t last for long. In the US, Woodstock failed to live up to its promise and Altamont turned the hippie dream into a homicidal nightmare. England had Phun City and the Isle of Wight Festivals: No fatalities, but they were disastrously organised and showed that the idealistic hopes of the sixties generation were unsustainable without some form of structure to balance the spontaneity. As the ‘white heat of technology’ cooled down, unemployment set in and, during the seventies, glitter was liberally applied to cover the cracks in the youth culture.

SWINGEING LONDON 1: Sat 14 Apr & Tue 17 Apr 2007
SWINGEING LONDON 2: Sun 15 Apr & Wed 18 Apr 2007
SWINGEING LONDON 3: Sun 15 Apr & Thur 19 Apr 2007
SWINGEING LONDON 4: Fri 13 Apr & Mon 16 Apr 2007

SWINGEING LONDON is curated by Mark Webber.

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Swingeing London 4

Date: 13 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

Friday 13 April 2007, at 9pm

Filmhuis Den Haag

Introduction by Mark Webber

Boyle Family, UK, 1967, 16mm, colour, sound, 4 min
(shown on video)
An improvised performance, by Soft Machine and the Sensual Laboratory, in protest against John Hopkins’ conviction for marijuana possession.

“Mark Boyle and Joan Hills lived in and around Ladbroke Grove in the middle 1960s, organising events and making sculptures that attempted to present reality as it is. The events included various projection pieces presenting physical and chemical change: boiling water, burning slides and bodily fluids that led to them being asked by Hoppy to do a presentation at the first night of the UFO club, where their liquid light of exploding colours became the main visual accompaniment to the bands that performed there. Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix, the underground scene and psychedelic lightshows exploded out of UFO, across London and around the world.” (Portobello Film Festival)

Fred Drummond, UK, 1969, 16mm, colour, silent, 15 min
(double screen projection)
Maja Replicate is a freewheeling collage of disparate materials assembled through visual and technical improvisation in the LFMC workshop.

“A multi-coloured reprint using diary material, found footage of a male and female scientist (much decayed), Claudette Colbert from Siren of Atlantis, a glamorous model and a film of the Phun City festival. The structure, a conglomeration of fades, stills, repeats, loops and slipping footage was the result of a process of physical rapport with the film co-op printing machine. Basically an over-ripe colour concoction. I enjoyed making it!” (Fred Drummond)

David Crosswaite, UK, 1971, 16mm, b/w & colour, sound, 5 min
(double screen projection)
Driven by a live recording of “Crossroads” by Cream, Choke is a positive/negative, Pop Art explosion across two screens. The title takes a dig at Coke, whose huge neon sign at Piccadilly Circus provides most of the raw material, which is dynamically animated, superimposed, mirrored and inverted.

Simon Hartog, UK, 1968, 16mm, colour, sound, 3 min
LFMC founder member Simon Hartog was one of the most politically aware filmmakers of the period. This early short film is an amusing piece of social commentary on mixed race relationships, which were hardly commonplace in the UK at that time, and has a soundtrack by The Troggs. The male character played by Omar Dop-Blondin, a Sengelese student fresh from the Paris 68 protests, and an associate of the London Black Panthers.

Stephen Dwoskin, UK, 1964-67, 16mm, b/w, sound, 14 min
Dwoskin’s early films were heavily influenced by Warhol, in both the visual content and extended duration. They typically consisted of long takes from a fixed or hand-held camera, with an attractive young woman as the only protagonist. Composer Gavin Bryars provided the soundtrack to Naissant and several others.

“Objective location: a bed; subjective location: in thoughts. Being with thoughts and the child to be born. Camera from three sides of the bed with three lenses working from bed level and standing level. Filmed in New York in 1964, completed in London 1967. Naissant presents being alone with one’s thoughts. Time and her inner thoughts are found out only by spending time with her in the film.” (Stephen Dwoskin)

John Hopkins / TVX, UK, 1970, 16mm, colour, sound, 15 min
(shown on video)
This recently rediscovered reel of early video image processing by John Hopkins and the TVX collective begins with a music “visualisation” made for the BBC to accompany the track “Scotland” by Area Code 615. The remaining footage is an excerpt from the Videospace happening which took place inside a BBC TV studio: an un-broadcast optical dub session which incorporated music, tape, film and feedback loops, lightshows, dancing, inflatables and live video mixing.

Lutz Becker, UK, 1968, 16mm, colour, sound, 5 min
Beginning in 1966, Lutz Becker and BBC engineer Ben Palmer collaborated on a sequence of works in their quest to create “electronic moving pictures”. The calligraphic forms seen in Horizon were generated by feedback loops between cameras and monitors, with colour added later on a conventional optical printer. The music was composed and performed by cellist Joy Hall.

John Bennett, UK, 1969, 16mm, colour, sound, 5 min
Papercity builds an impressionistic portrait of London through still photographs and timelapse footage. Views of the city rarely feature in experimental films of this period, but this semi-commercial production, funded by the British Film Institute, is an evocative study of everyday sights and activities.

Also Screening: Monday 16 April 2007, at 8:30pm

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Swingeing London 1

Date: 14 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

Saturday 14 April 2007, at 9:30pm
Filmhuis Den Haag

Antony Balch & William Burroughs, UK, 1963, 16mm, b/w, sound, 16 min
The remarkable Towers Open Fire was conceived by filmmaker and distributor Antony Balch and “Naked Lunch” author William Burroughs, and features appearances by their associates Ian Sommerville, Brion Gysin and Alexander Trocchi. Envisioned as a cinematic realisation of Burroughs’ key themes, such as the breakdown in control, the film contains rapid editing, flicker, strobing and extreme jump cuts that interrupt the narrative flow. A brief passage of hand painted colour was applied to each print (during Mikey Portman’s dance sequence), and the film includes footage of the prototype Dreamachine, designed by Gysin to stimulate the brain’s alpha waves and aid hallucination. The British Censor requested removal of some offensive language from the soundtrack but passed (or failed to notice) the shots of Balch masturbating, and of Burroughs shooting up.

“Society crumbles as the Stock Exchange crashes, members of the Board are raygun-zapped in their own boardroom, and a commando in the orgasm attack leaps through a window and decimates a family photo collection …” (Tony Rayns, Cinema Rising, 1972)

Peter Gidal, UK, 1969, 16mm, b/w, silent, 35 min
One of the major filmmakers and theorists of the 1970s, Gidal moved from New York to London in 1968, and his association with Andy Warhol’s Factory brought an air of authenticity to the LFMC. His cool, oppositional stance refuted narrative and representation, denying illusion and manipulation though visual codes, and his films moved towards a persistent denial of the photographic image. Heads is a silent series of tight, claustrophobically cropped portraits of artists, filmmakers, musicians and cultural activists. Some are London residents, others were just passing through. Charlie Watts, Bill West, Jane, John Blake, Linda Thorson, Marsha Hunt, Steve Dwoskin, Thelonious Monk, Peter Townsend, David Hockney, Marianne Faithful, Carol Garney-Lawson, David Gale, Richard Hamilton, Dieter Meier, Rufus Collins, Leslie Smith, Anita Pallenburgh, Claes Oldenburgh, Francis Bacon, Adrian Munsey, Carolee Schneeman, Andrew Garnett-Lawson, Jim Dine, Vivian, Prenai, Winston, Gregory Markopoulos, Rosie, Patrick Procktor and Francis Vaughan.

“Clinical subjectivity, a construct, a consciously, precisely set-up situation. 31 people’s faces: tight closeup (10:1 zoom lens head on stare). Movement happens against the strict construct. The realness is within the framework as set up and defined, a non-illusory use of film structure and film situation.” (Peter Gidal, 1970)

James Scott, UK, 1969, 16mm, colour, sound, 25 min
Richard Hamilton was a new kind of documentary on the arts, made by filmmaker James Scott in complete collaboration with Hamilton himself. Devoid of authoritative voiceover, the film presents samples of the artist’s work alongside reference materials, found footage, scenes from Hollywood features and news reports of the Jagger/Richards/Fraser drugs trial. Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Patricia Knight (in Sirk and Fuller’s long forgotten Shockproof) also put in appearances as the film traces the inspiration behind some of Hamilton’s signature paintings.

“We have to start with a rather peculiar premise – that I don’t like art films”, says Richard Hamilton at the beginning of this one. Images from the mass media have provided the inspiration for many of his paintings and Scott’s film presents some of this source material and shows how the artist has treated it. Despite its brevity, this brilliant and informative film – as much an extension of Hamilton’s work as a comment on it – is itself constructed as an epic viewing session, with an intermission advertising ice cream and Coca-Cola, a trailer for Desert Hawk with Yvonne De Carlo and, as an entirely appropriate pop art ending, Mr. Universe and Miss World striding off into a golden sky lit by the first rays of dawn.” (Konstantin Bazarov, Monthly Film Bulletin, 1971)

John Latham, UK, 1968, 16mm, colour, sound, 7 min
Talk Mr Bard consists of the crude and rapid animation of a seemingly endless succession of coloured paper discs. The homemade soundtrack is a chaotic college of radio fragments and interference. A tutor at Saint Martins School of Art, Latham organised a dinner party at which he invited friends to chew pages from Clement Greenberg’s book “Art and Culture”, which had been borrowed from the college library. The soggy paper was spat out and fermented in a mixture of sulphuric acid, sodium bicarbonate and yeast. When he eventually received an overdue notice from the library months later, Latham encased the remaining liquid in a glass teardrop, which he labelled “Essence of Greenberg” and returned. He lost his job, but had the last laugh some years later by selling the residue of the event to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Also screening: Tuesday 17 April 2007, at 8:30pm

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Swingeing London 2

Date: 15 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

Sunday 15 April 2007, at 5pm
Filmhuis Den Haag

Michael Nyman, UK, 1967, 16mm, b/w, sound, 5 min
Hyde Park, 16th July 1967: Thousands attended the Legalise Pot Rally, a love-in to demonstrate the need for a relaxation of England’s strict drug laws. Love Love Love, made by composer Michael Nyman, is a pixillated record of the event with an obligatory Beatles soundtrack. The film features poet Allen Ginsberg, playwright Heathcoate Williams and artist David Medalla (leader of performance group The Exploding Galaxy). The peaceful protest was organised by SOMA (Society of Mental Awareness), who, one week later, placed a full page notice to argue their case in the Times newspaper. The advertisement was paid for by Paul McCartney and signed by 65 luminaries from both the underground and the establishment. Widely assumed to be timed in protest against the recent conviction of Jagger and Richards, the advert was more directly prompted by the swingeing sentence passed on John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, who received nine months in prison for possession of a small quantity of pot.

Peter Whitehead, UK, 1965, 16mm, b/w, sound, 33 min
The International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall is regarded as the defining moment that inaugurated London’s sixties adventure. Peter Whitehead’s crisply shot, b/w film, only a half hour long, is remarkably comprehensive in documenting key performances of the evening, and captures the tangible sense of expectation that must have permeated the atmosphere within the cavernous concert hall. Wholly Communion not only encapsulates this seminal moment in which the underground went public, but remains one of the few records of a whole generation of poets performing in their prime.

“The event began with Allen Ginsberg chanting and playing finger cymbals, performing a Hindu mantra which was described by The Times newspaper, as a “heavily amplified incomprehensible song to the accompaniment of a bell-like instrument”. Alexander Trocchi compered the evening, which consisted of four hours worth of readings and performances by Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Harry Fainlight, Adrian Mitchell, Michael Horovitz, Ernst Jandl, Christopher Logue, John Esam, Pete Brown, Anselm Hollo, George Macbeth, Simon Vinkenoog, Paulo Leonni, Daniel Richter, Spike Hawkins, and Tom McGrath, as well as the playing of tapes of, and by, William Burroughs. Poets who, although radically different in style, “showed their hatred of the narrow mind and heart, and joined in celebration of God-as-total-consciousness.” Despite being organized in a matter of days, a press conference announcing the event the previous week guaranteed an estimated audience of 7000 inside the venue, who had been invited to: “Come in fancy dress,” “Come with flowers,” and “Come.”” (Jack Sargeant)

Peter Davis, UK, 1967, 16mm, b/w, sound, 30 min
(shown on video)
The symposium on the Dialectics of Liberation and the Demystification of Violence, organised by R.D. Laing, experimental psychologist and author of “The Divided Self”, was structured like an academic conference with invited speakers, panel discussions and open meetings. Over 15 days at the Camden Roundhouse it covered subjects such as Black Power, Vietnam, personal liberty and the freedom of speech. Key lectures were released by the Institute of Phenomenological Studies on a series of 23 LP records. Anatomy of Violence features proclamations by Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Marcuse, Stokely Carmichael and Emmett Grogan, and a discussion group including Carolee Schneeman and auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger. Filmmaker Peter Davis later won an Academy Award for Hearts and Minds, his 1974 documentary on the Vietnam War.

Malcolm Le Grice, UK, 1970, 16mm b/w, sound, 15 min
Le Grice’s work developed through direct processing, printing and projection, gaining an understanding of the material and exploring duration while touching on aspects of spectacle and narrative, and using early computer imagery. Reign of the Vampire addresses contemporary paranoia about the military-industrial complex, the Vietnam War, and the suspected influence of American government’s intelligence agency in countercultural activities. It was the last of a group of works shown together under the collective title “How to Screw the CIA, or How to Screw the CIA ?”

“This film could be considered as a synthesis of the series. It is formally based on the permutative loop structure, superimposing a series of three pairs of image loops of different lengths with each other. The images include elements from all the previous parts of the series. The film sequences that make up the loops are chosen for their combination of semantic relationships, and abstract factors of movement. The soundtrack is constructed for the film, but independently, and has a similar loop structure.” (Malcolm Le Grice)

Also Screening: Wednesday 18 April 2007, at 8:30pm

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Swingeing London 3

Date: 15 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

Sunday 15 April 2007, at 9:30pm
Filmhuis Den Haag

David Larcher, UK, 1969, 16mm, colour, sound, 143 min
An extended, personal journey which, through an accumulation of visual information, builds into a treatise on the experience of seeing. Its loose, indefinable structure explores new possibilities for perception and narrative. Reinforcing the idea of the mythopoeic discourse and the historically romantic view of the artist-filmmaker, Mare’s Tail is a legend, consisting of layers of sounds and images that reveal each other over an extended period. It’s a personal vision, an aggregation of experience, memories and moments overlaid with indecipherable intonations and altered musics. The collected footage is extensively manipulated, through refilming, superimposition or chemical treatment. The film does not demand constant attention: the viewer may slip in and out as it runs its course, though persistence is rewarded by experience after the full projection has been endured.

Mare’s Tail is an epic flight into inner space. It is a two-and-a-half-hour visual accumulation in colour, the filmmaker’s personal odyssey, which becomes the odyssey of each of us. It is a man’s life transposed into a visual realm, a realm of spirits and demons, which unravel as mystical totalities until reality fragments. Every movement begins a journey. There are spots before your eyes, as when you look at the sun that flames and burns. We look at distant moving forms and flash through them. We drift through suns; a piece of earth phases over the moon. A face, your face, his face, a face that looks and splits into shapes that form new shapes that we rediscover as tiny monolithic monuments. A profile as a full face. The moon again, the flesh, the child, the room and the waves become part of a hieroglyphic language … Mare’s Tail is an important film because it expresses life. It follows Paul Klee’s idea that a visually expressive piece adds ‘more spirit to the seen’ and also ‘makes secret visions visible’. Like other serious films and works of art, it keeps on seeking and seeing, as the filmmaker does, as the artist does. It follows the transience of life and nature, studying things closely, moving into vast space, coming in close again. The course it follows is profoundly real and profoundly personal: Larcher’s trip becomes our trip to experience. It cannot be watched impatiently, with expectation; it is no good looking for generalization, condensation, complication or implication.” (Stephen Dwoskin, Film Is, 1975)

Also Screening: Thursday 19 April 2007, at 8:30pm

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Swingeing London on Tour

Date: 25 April 2007 | Season: Swingeing London

A Touring Programme from Filmhuis Den Haag

Wednesday 25 April 2007, Utrecht ‘t Hoogt
Sunday 29 April 2007, Rotterdam Lantaren/Venster
Tuesday 8—Wednesday 9 May 2007, Amsterdam Filmmuseum
Monday 14 May 2007, Arnhem Filmhuis

Soon after the Beatles first shook England out of the Dark Ages, it seemed like “Swinging London” was the place to be. The cultural Renaissance that had begun in the late 1950s, with the Free Cinema movement and British Pop Art, exploded across the nation and for a few years it seemed that anything was possible. Under the surface of the mainstream, an underground counterculture challenged the conventions of music, literature, art and filmmaking.

This programme shows how the influence of American Beat culture prompted British experimentation with media, ranging from the appearance of William Burroughs in Towers Open Fire to an unseen psychedelic happening inside the BBC TV studios. The films date from a time when artists created a new language of looking, and include music by Soft Machine, the Beatles and the Troggs.

Antony Balch & William Burroughs, Towers Open Fire, UK, 1963, 16 min
Michael Nyman, Love Love Love, UK, 1967, 5 min
Boyle Family, Poem for Hoppy, UK, 1967, 4 min
John Hopkins / TVX, Videospace Reel, UK, 1970, 15 min
Stephen Dwoskin, Naissant, UK, 1964-67, 14 min
John Latham, Talk Mr Bard, UK, 1968, 7 min
Simon Hartog, Soul in a White Room, UK, 1968, 3 min
Malcolm Le Grice, Reign of the Vampire, UK, 1970, 15 min

SWINGEING LONDON is curated by Mark Webber and takes its title from Richard Hamilton’s series of prints depicting Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser on their way to court, where they were convicted for the possession of illegal substances.