Monday, November 19, 2012 at 7:30pm
Tony Bicât's Skinflicker + Arthur Johns's Solarflares Burn for You

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented by William Fowler

Tony Bicât, 16mm, 1972, 47 mins

Solarflares Burn for You
Arthur Johns, 16mm, 1973, 9 mins

The changes in consciousness and developments in 16mm technology seen during the 1960s had an enormous impact on creative independent filmmaking internationally, introducing new possibilities and inspiring artists and filmmakers far and wide into the next decade. In the UK, the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative and its members—with their focus on the very materiality of film celluloid—would come to represent the most visible body of work coming out of that country at that time. But they do not tell the whole story.

System-based approaches to narrative, collage, the merging of metaphysical concerns with notions of formal reflexivity, plus the introduction of theatrical and performance art elements all provided other ways of making and derailing cinema. Names such as Peter Whitehead, Lutz Becker, Bruce Lacey, Denys Irving, Laura Mulvey, Derek Boshier, and many others besides represent a variety of different approaches and modes of experimentation. Together they constitute something of an alternative history to British experimental film.

Like many others from that history who were practicing in the creative firmament of the early 1970s, Tony Bicât and Arthur Johns did not become long-term artist filmmakers. Instead for a brief time they pushed the limits of both their chosen medium and also the viewer, throwing down gauntlets for others to pick-up or simply be astonished by.

Bicât came from a theatrical background and had with David Hare formed the Portable Theatre, presenting political, frequently confrontational plays in non-theatre venues. Skinflicker presents three dissidents and their plan to commit a revolutionary act on film—the film we are watching. They kidnap a government minister, leaving his wife and son unconscious or possibly dead, and then threaten their political prisoner with extreme violence while reading out prepared indictments of the society that he represents. Shot with powerful, grubby directness, Bicât’s film is chilling in its presentation of violent political action, dissecting its rationale, its consequences, and its co-option with brave, unrelenting verve.

Arthur Johns, in contrast, had initially been a painter at the Royal College of Art, before taking to film at the end of the 1960s, exploring personal documentary and the sensational and experiential qualities of color. Solarflares Burn for You is a psychedelic odyssey. Its throbs to the sound of a specially-composed soundtrack by Soft Machine's Robert Wyatt and takes us from the metropolitan center of London to the rural outskirts of Cornwall, veering along the way between day-glo pink skies, tangerine fields, and acid-yellow roads. The British landscape has never looked so extraordinary.

These films present just two examples of a broader, dynamic and distinctly varied history of British experimental film beyond the Co-op movement, a history that is lesser-known even in the UK. They offer sign-posts to new ways of working and retain a very particular power to this day. - WF

William Fowler is Curator of Artists’ Moving Image at the BFI National Archive.

Tickets - $7, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.