WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

BFI discovers rare works by moviemakers who made it big

Exhibition celebrates women, gay and black film-makers

16 February, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

From Catherine de Medicis Part 2: 1984, directed by Steven Chivers

THEY were the originators of a movement, the faces of the New Romantic period who’d tumble out of West End clubs in androgynous outfits, hair in all directions and faces done up.

The likes of Derek Jarman, John Maybury and Cerith Wyn Evans were all involved.

And now, thanks to a determined piece of detective work by an archive curator at the BFI on the South Bank, the underground films of the early 1980s have not only been saved for future generations but turned into an exhibition, hosted by the University of Westminster.

Described as “a rare chance to see early works by major artists and film-makers who successfully moved into the commercial world”’, the show, called This Is Now – Film And Video After Punk is hosted by the university in conjunction with the BFI and film arts group Lux. It runs to March 4.

Will Fowler has the enviable job of collating films and ensuring they are kept from decaying. The BFI has a store in Warwickshire which keeps film at minus five degrees, a temperature that stops them turning to dust, and a process that Will describes as “smelling very strongly of vinegar”.

The films are both from major studios and amateurs, and Will has a special interest in experimental and arts films. It is this that has drawn him into a three-year quest to capture and save the movies of the post-punk period.

“Because they were shown in unusual places, and often only one copy was ever made, they would not end up in distribution collections,” he says.

But rather than be a sticking point for the archivist, it was a challenge. He turned detective.

“We knew this scene was going on but there was nothing to browse through,” he adds.

“I knew they had showed some at the ICA, and they were mentioned in some brochures and posters. I had to pore through original documents, go though film lists of the time, and then try and track down the makers.

“Some were a little reluctant to show them – they weren’t sure if they were any good – while others had them locked in a cupboard at home somewhere or had lent them to friends years ago.

“I had to persuade many to find them and let me use them. It took three years and was quite an intense research project.”

From In Excelsis Deo: 1983, directed by Sophie Muller Sayle in some of the films, cast by their friends.

And the exhibition, which consists of four different screens and a host of poster and brochure material, shows the era was also marked by the rise of film-makers who were female, who were gay, and who were black, that is, groups under-represented before.

In the 1960s, London had a strong counter culture movement and part of this was the London Film-Makers Co-op.

“They had made quite a name for themselves,” he says. Later, in the post-punk era, this DIY attitude to making film continued.  “They did not want to follow what others had done,” he says. It meant they went back to shooting films on Super-8 cameras and pushed the technology as far as it could go.

“They have this marvellous DIY quality to them and they all wanted to see what they could with a basic technology,” he adds.

You can spot the likes of Leigh Bowery, Siouxsie Sioux and Alexei Sayle in some of the films, cast by their friends.

And the exhibition, which consists of four different screens and a host of poster and brochure material, shows the era was also marked by the rise of film-makers who were female, who were gay, and who were black, that is, groups under-represented before.

Share this story

Post a comment

,