This film and video series presents a liminal and critical pop that recognises the seduction of consumer culture whilst also keeping a critical distance from it. Eight sessions, structured chronologically, are screened every Wednesday and Thursday in August, spanning from the mid 1950s, from the time Pop Art was forged, until the decline of punk, which could be characterised as politicised pop.
Seduction and Resistance. At the Limits of Pop nuances the customary narrative on Pop Art while also complicating its genealogy. Accepted accounts uphold how the movement emerged from the rejection of abstraction and subjectivism that predominated the art scenes in Europe and the USA after the war. It is often repeated that this depletion gave rise to objective and figurative art, open to the everyday and the popular, delving into mass media iconography with fascination; nevertheless, behind these Pop Art myths an alternative genealogy exists, which gains more visibility if we take the UK as a reference point, as opposed to the USA, and the stance of artists such as Richard Hamilton, rather than Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. From this perspective, pop materialised not solely from the aesthetic fluctuations that mapped out the history of art, but also from a complex interweaving of social, intellectual and political developments prone to being explored from other perspectives, such as social history, gender theories and cultural studies.
The appearance of a new and marginalised youth culture that surfaced at the same tempo as the bodies moving between the post-war ruins, the investigation into the perceptual and cognitive dimension of the image, the exploration of how consumption changed space and social relationships and the analysis of television violence, these are some of the themes explored in the series, where pop, rather than simply being a movement, is an observatory for evaluating the surrounding culture and a strategic workshop for intervening in the public sphere.
6 August - 7:00 p.m.
The Other England: the Attraction of Popular Culture
Karel Reisz and Toni Richardson. Momma Don’t Allow
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: hard disk, 1956, b/w, sound. 22 min.
Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta. Nice Time
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: hard disk, 1957, b/w, Original version, subtitled. 17 min.
Karel Reisz. We are the Lambeth Boys
Original format: 35 mm film, screening format: hard disk, 1958, b/w, Original version, subtitled. 53 min.
The lesser-known side to Free Cinema in Britain was documentary, a genre that also cast the spotlight on its main directors before they went on to produce fiction films. Two of the directors from this movement, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, provided two insights into the youth culture of time. Momma Don’t Allow is a documentary about Wood Green jazz club in London, a venue for young working class men and women to spend their evenings, while Reisz painted a collective portrait of a group of young people in the London borough of Lambeth that was devoid of sensationalism. With support from the British Film Institute, similar to Reisz and Richardson, Swiss film-makers Alain Tanner and Claude Goretta used a hidden camera to shoot the Piccadilly Circus night life, offering a mishmash of signs dominated by neon adverts, billboards, film posters and the lure of erotic shows to form a lucid counterpoint to the alienated world of work.
7 August - 7:00 p.m.
The Collage of the Public Sphere
Stan Vanderbeek. Science Friction
Original format: 16mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1959, b/w and colour, sound, 9 min.
Stan Vanderbeek. A la Mode
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1959, b/w, sound, 7 min.
Bruce Conner. A Movie
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1958, b/w, sound, 10 min.
Bruce Conner. Marilyn Times Five
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1968-1973, b/w, sound, 13 min.
Arthur Lipsett. 21-87
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1964, b/w, sound, 9 min.
Arthur Lipsett. Free Fall
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: SP Betacam, 1964, b/w, sound, 9 min.
Working between the end of the 1950s and the end of the 1960s, the film-makers that articulate this session adopted a core strategy in Pop Art: the use of found footage. Bruce Conner, a pioneer among these artists and possibly the one with the greatest influence, used documentary and fragments from B movies in A Movie, a compendium of visual motifs from commercial cinema that included an abundance of images depicting violence and sex to fracture its narrative frameworks. Conner highlighted the sexuality of the film image in Marilyn Times Five, a fragment of erotic film repeated over and over, stressing the grainy image and blurring the contours of the model’s body, with the final product simultaneously evoking plenitude and the loss of desire. Vanderbeek’s and Lipsett’s collages remark on the affectively loaded images of mass culture in tones that go from satire to reverence in relation to the human face and human gestures.
13 August - 7:00 p.m.
The Culture of Abundance
The Dziga Vertov Group. Schick. Aftershave Commercial
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: DVD, 1971, colour, sound, 1 min.
Jean-Luc Godard. A Married Woman
Original format: 35 mm film, screening format: Digital Betacam, 1964, colour, sound, 94 min.
Fascinated and repelled in equal measure by the affluence that materialised after the Second World War, in the early part of his career Godard approached the colonisation of daily life through fashion, advertising, cinema icons and consumerism. Famous aspects include the scene in Pierrot le fou, where partygoers hold a conversation quoting advertising slogans, or the frequent comparisons between the main character in Two or Three Things I Know About Her, a housewife, occasional prostitute and advertising target. A Married Woman reflects variations on both themes: the colonisation of everyday life through media images and the equivalence between people and merchandise. The session is concluded with a commercial filmed by Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin during their participation in the collective Dziga Vertov.
14 August - 7:00 p.m.
Stars, Superstars and Everyday Life: The Factory of Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol. Elvis at Ferus
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1963, b/w, 4 min.
Marie Menken. Andy Warhol
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1965, colour, 10 min.
Andy Warhol. Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort of
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16 mm film, 1963, b/w, sound, 81 min.
A significant number of Warhol’s films recreated the Hollywood narrative, projecting the abyss between idealised images shown on the big screen and his crass revamping of everyday environments through his participants, the majority of which lacked experience as actors. Thus Warhol destroyed the myths surrounding mass culture whilst also raising the profile of his actors to the realm of superstars. Tarzan and Jane Regained was shot over a weekend in the house of actor Dennis Hopper in Los Angeles, where Warhol travelled to install his exhibition in the Ferus Gallery. During his stay Warhol met Richard Hamilton and, like the British artist, attended the opening of the influential retrospective on Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum. This programme concludes with a brief shot of Warhol’s Elvis images in the Ferus gallery and the film-maker Marie Menken’s portrait of the artist, presented as a spasmodic and incessant machine in motion.
20 August - 7:00 p.m.
The Recreation of Popular Narrative: the Kuchar Brothers
Mike Kuchar. Sins of the Fleshapoids
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16mm film, 1965, colour, Original version, subtitled. 43 min.
George Kuchar. Corruption of the Damned
Original format: 16 mm film, screening format: 16mm film, 1965, colour, Original version, subtitled. 56 min.
Brothers Mike and George Kuchar began making delirious parodies of commercial cinema with an 8 mm camera at the end of the 1950s, when they we still teenagers, and were discovered by Ken Jacobs and Jonas Mekas at the beginning of the 1960s, after which point they became important exponents of the underground film movement in the USA through their work in a range of formats and genres. The deliberately amateur and excessive recreation of B movies reveals the absurdity of conventions in this type of cinema, yet at the same time it reflects a homage to its affective and stylistic outbursts, subsequently appreciated by other film-makers such as John Waters and Rainer W. Fassbinder.
21 August - 7:00 p.m.
The Other Side to Celebrity
Ira Schneider. The Rolling Stones Free Concert, 1969
Original format: video, screening format: Digital Betacam, 1969-2002, b/w, Original version, subtitled, 19 min.
Robert Frank. Cocksucker Blues
Original format: 35 mm film, screening format: Digital Betacam, 1972, b/w and colour, Original version, (English) 93 min.
NOTE: due to circumstances beyond our control, the film originally set to feature this session, Cocksucker Blues by Robert Frank (1972), has had to be replaced by:
Jean-Luc Godard. Sympathy for the Devil
Original Format: 35 mm film, screening format: DVD, 1968, color, VOSE, 95 min.
The exploration of the media star is one of the predominant themes in Pop; in the majority of cases the public face of the star is captured: reassuring, predictable, recognisable. The films in this session have a greater relationship with Richard Hamilton’s film negative of an ageing Bing Crosby in White Christmas, or Ray Johnson’s Elvis, which shows a melancholy face specked with paint that takes on the appearance of drops of blood. The Rolling Stones are given similar treatment: anti-idols, they live wrapped inside a halo of excess due to the suicide of Brian Jones and the disastrous 1969 concert in Altamont, California, where, as reflected by Ira Schneider, a young fan was stabbed to death. Robert Frank, meanwhile, made an intimate portrayal of their 1973 American tour. In contrast to the aura of the star, his film recreated a moment of prosaic tedium – the band were so incensed by Frank’s vision that they blocked its commercial distribution and also limited its screening time.
27 August - 7:00 p.m.
Punk and the Politics of Popular Music
Derek Jarman. Jubilee
Original format: 35 mm film, screening format: 35 mm film, 1978, colour, Original version, subtitled. 100 min.
Derek Jarman. T. G. Psychic Rally in Heaven 81
Original format: Super-8 film, screening format: hard disk, 1981, colour, sound, 9 min.
Jubilee is possibly the most complex film to come out of the explosion of punk, a movement that could be considered the incarnation of a late avatar of the most radical pop. Jubilee combines Derek Jarman’s interest in subcultures and his fascination with Renaissance literature, a twofold approach – towards contemporaneity and towards the past – also shared by artists such as Richard Hamilton, who would make versions of historical works by employing contemporary strategies. The framework of the action is a police state infested with criminality and corruption, where social welfare, like the future, has been liquidated, and entertainment multi-nationals pacify the population with punk music. The ambiguous vision of this music (an instrument of rebellion or just another commodity?) gives the film its complexity. The session is concluded with a hypnotic super-8 short film Jarman made for Throbbing Gristle, one of the most unassimilable bands to emerge from the decline of punk.
28 August - 7:00 p.m.
Television and the Mediation of Violence
Aldo Tambellini. Black TV
Original format: 16 mm, screening format: 16 mm. 1968, b/w, sound, 9 min.
James Nares. No Japs at My Funeral
Original format: video 3/4 inch, screening format: Blu-ray, 1980, colour, Original version, subtitled, 60 min.
Television concerned different artists insomuch as it was a tool for manipulation and a vehicle for the creation of a false consensus. Recurring themes in these considerations are the link to the medium with violence, the addiction to destruction and the virulence that emanates from the simplification of complex situations. Within the context of experimental culture in 1960s New York, Aldo Tambellini made one of his Black Films, a composition of two screens based on the montage of images filmed from a television set. James Nares’s No Japs at My Funeral involves a conversation between the director and an ex-IRA bomber, who explains the conditions that forged Republican resistance and the repression imposed by the British Army. The video shares the same circumstances that gave rise to Richard Hamilton’s work The Citizen (1983).