Making History 1999
Three months after the
unification of the Lux the B.F.I. published 'A History Of Experimental Film
and Video' by Al Rees the '...first major history of avant-garde film and
video to be published in more than twenty years.' 18
Rees' history is roughly half general overview of the cinematic Avant-Garde
canon and half a chronology of the specifically British Avant-Garde
film and video 1966-98. In December '98 the Lux staged a three day retrospective
of 'expanded cinema' to celebrate the forthcoming publication.
Rees himself is a key figure in the British Avant-Garde, yet the History is
written objectively, and Rees never really acknowledges his own involvement
in the events he documents. His activities span over twenty years, and he
now links three of the most influential agencies in the sector as a Senior
Research Fellow at the Royal College of Art, Chairman of the selection panel
for Visual Arts Artists Film and Video at the Arts Council of England and
of course as a theorist published by the BFI.
As chairman of the Visual Arts Artists Film and Video committee Rees is now
working with fellow panel members including the Artists George Barber, Simon
Robertshaw and Gillian Wearing, and most interestingly for my story, the theorist/filmmaker
Laura Mulvey, author of the highly influential 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative
Rees also served on the Artists Film Sub-Commitee of the Arts Council from
1978-85, and so was responsible , with his fellow eight / ten panel members,
for selecting which 50-60 filmmakers would be awarded production finance for
those years, and this would include practically every British film/video maker
that is cited in his history from the mid-seventies to the late eighties.
Rees therefore actually helped make the work he historicises.
Back in 1979 as a member of the Exhibition Committee of the major Hayward
Gallery/Arts Council exhibition Film as Film, Formal Experiment In Film 1910-1975
Rees devised a pull out schematic chronology of the development of formal
experimentation in film 20
which integrated the English Structuralist Avant-Garde into Avant-Garde film
history. The final section of this chronology is called the '1970s And Beyond'
, and in it Rees declares :
'Film has gained increasing autonomy as an artistic practice, partly through
the establishment of film departments in art schools and universities and
in increased state funding for independent cinema.' 21
Beyond the seventies Rees worked to extend his chronology into the present,
he became the writer of his own history, and he worked for the increasing
autonomy of film as an artistic practice.
But something happened in in the early '90's which did not fit into Rees'
chronology, although in his new book he gives it 65 words.
Actually it didn't fit into anybody's chronology.