between women. british women filmmakers in 1990s london
A program curated by Sarah Pucill in collaboration with Karola Gramann and Kinothek Asta Nielsen. The idea was born in conversation at the Festival Courtisane in Ghent 2021.
The screening series showcases films from the 90s by UK artists in London through the lens of my own films and those of my mentor and then partner Sandra Lahire who sadly died in 2001. Fellow filmmakers will be screened as part of an inter-dialogue between films which were being produced in and around the London Film-Makers' Co-op. This includes filmmakers who shared an inspirational field with Sandra, and separately for my own practice, London based filmmakers who were working alongside Sandra Lahire’s practice such as Anna Thew, Tina Keane, and Ruth Novaczek and Lis Rhodes are included here, where connections between practices can be gleaned. Filmmaker associates I have included for my own practice include here Jayne Parker, Nina Danino, Tanya Syed and Sarah Turner, where various connections might be drawn or not. Whilst my films and Sandra’s emerged in quite different contexts and so a different tempo and pace, there are nonetheless some parallels such as the attention to micro and close up shots of the body, the use of animation and photo-montage where the body appears. In general a thematic of a body possibly in crisis, the body as feminist protest, able to eat or not, and a drawing out of states of anxiety and pain along with pleasure and passion.
The thematics of a feminist and queer gaze connects many of the films and the filmmakers whose work and lives intersected. Additionally central to the significance of the films, is a concern with form where, as experimental post structuralists, conventional filmmaking is not only broken down but is re-built into new modes of expression that privilege a re-invention of film language, a letting loose of the austerity of pure Structuralist filmmaking that dominated the London scene in 70s. These post structuralist film makers wished instead to luxuriate in the possibilities of employing image, word and story in order to navigate a critique of mainstream capitalist patriarchal ideology. Almost all these films were made on celluloid 16mm.
The thematic of ‘between women’ prevails in the selection of films, which is the cornerstone of feminist activism and theory as well as being potentially queer.
thu 31/08 20:30 | between women. pt 1: struggle and strength (screening at dff)
A focus on the politics of the body runs through each of these short films, which are marked by their directness and simplicity in their rhythmic mode of address. Arrows (1984), You be Mother (1990), She Wanted Green Lawns (1989), and Chameleon (1990) as ‘first’ films carry something of a fearless and unselfconscious joy of urgent expression. Yet, all the films here possess an inventive use of film language, as part of an examination of a body politic. Sometimes the meanings or questions are manifest as in Arrows which punctures conventional gender politics of the body to pieces quite literally. In other films the line of enquiry is more obliquely laid out as in You be Mother, Milk and Glass (1993), K (1989), and Chameleon which operate and speak through a visuality as a form of silence, where silencing is part of what is being shown. In all these works techniques of animation, performance, and cinematic choreography serve to undo how we normally think about what we see. The last four films put words to work in ways that counter or couple what is screened, with a certain toughness that is strong enough to tell the truth. The edits cut with razer precision in A Tale Part Told (1991), She Wanted Green Lawns, and 50:50 (1998) and additionally in Running Light (1996) the final film, word play successfully attacks all that is presented as rational in capitalist structuring of human bodies.
A program in collaboration with Kinothek Asta Nielsen. Curated by Sarah Pucill (film selection) and Karola Gramann. Thanks to Sarah Pucill, LUX (London, Hanan Coumal) and Light Cone (Paris, Miguel Armas) for providing the analogue and digital prints of this program. In the presence of Sarah Pucill and Karola Gramann.
D: Sandra Lahire, digital, color, sound, 15 min, 1984
You Be Mother
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, color, sound, 7 min, 1990
Milk and Glass
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min, 1993
D: Jayne Parker, 16mm, b&w, sound, 13 min, 1989
D: Tanya Syed, 16mm, b&w, sound, 4 min, 1990
A Tale Part Told
D: Sarah Turner, digital, color, sound, 3 min, 1991
She Wanted Green Lawns
D: Sarah Turner, digital, b&w, sound, 4 min, 1989
D: Ruth Novaczek, digital, color, sound, 6 min, 1998
D: Lis Rhodes, digital, b&w, sound, 15 min, 1996
thu 07/09 20:30 | between women. pt 2: death, mourning and beauty (screening at pupille)
In each of these finely tuned works, a feast of visual and aural delight combines a synthesis between word, image, sound and music. Each film displays a virtuosity of composition that is a defining characteristic of a ‘hands on’ 16mm filmmaking indicative of the London Film-Makers' Co-op. In Lady Lazarus (1991), Night Dances (1995) and Behind Closed Doors (1988) the use of an optical printer literally constructs the film frame by frame to effect double-exposure (super-imposition) and as well as slowing or stilling the image.
Across each film the subject of death operates, whether it is suicide (Lady Lazarus), mourning a death (Night Dances & Behind Closed Doors), or a strange combination (The Whirlpool (1997)). A sense of orientation being upturned because of a death prevails between each work, whilst at the same time something of a parent-daughter-lover chord speaks between time-frames: In Lady Lazarus the charge of pain is theatricalised as self harm by a tomato ketchup cut thumb, in Whirlpool piano playing and dancing underwater speak to and from each other, in Night Dances, two women dance on a boat to connect with each other and a dead mother, and in Behind Closed Doors a mother’s naked dead body (the filmmaker) is dragged from the under the water by her daughter. The flow of water and light, umbilical and musical chord, all dance together as poetry of words, and images. The female-to-female relation speaks from within; In Lady Lazarus a feminist love of poetry that will resist patriarchy at the cost of a death, in Night Dances mourning and love are celebrated in a night of fireworks, and in The Whirlpool a slow unseen death from a love of art.
A female to female connection pulls with a string between time frames in each work. The work of the aesthetic is central; offering an overcoming, a transformation through film poetry.
A program in collaboration with Kinothek Asta Nielsen. Curated by Sarah Pucill (film selection) and Karola Gramann. Thanks to Light Cone (Paris, Miguel Armas), Anna Thew and LUX (London, Hanan Coumal) for providing the prints and files for this program. In the presence of Sarah Pucill and Karola Gramann.
Behind Closed Doors
D: Anna Thew, 16mm, color, sound, 14 min, 1988
D: Sandra Lahire, digital from 16mm, color, sound, 25 min, 1991
D: Sandra Lahire, digital from 16mm, color, sound, 15 min, 1995
D: Jayne Parker, digital from 16mm file, color, sound, 9 min, 1997
fri 08/09 15:30 | between women. pt 3: deviant beauty (screening at pupille)
The films of the third programme navigate territories of deviancy. Each film has an energy of movement; the lifting and falling of a ski elevator (Eerie (1992)), a woman hanging up-side-down (Deviant Beauty (1996) & Swollen Stigma (1997)), hair growing (Backcomb (1995)) or a smooth mobile camera that cuts between otherwise continuous movement to create imaginary in-between spaces (Salamander (1994) & Chameleon (1990)) or the rushing movement of camera and voice, and song in Stabat Mater (1990). Or, more simply a drive on the road that won’t stop (50:50 (1998)). Each film foregrounds a female-to-female relation of excitement and energy, between the sexual and spiritual, and in each an individually constructed film voice is articulated through idiosyncratic imaginative and singular formal invention.
In Eerie, “a magical film loop, combining a Berlin lesbian decadence with falling in love in a cable car, high above the slopes of Mount Pilatus. Inspired by German expressionist filmmaking, with in-camera dissolves.” (Sandra Lahire). Deviant Beauty, “an androgynous woman’s surreal journey through the carnivalesque. DB embodies spectator, erotica, sexuality, death and decay. It questions our expectations of and pleasure in the image, against the death and emptiness that lies beneath the alluring surface.” (Tina Keane) Swollen Stigma “suggests a sexual tumescence polymorphously displaced onto imagery of unfolding flowers, plucking, deflowering, and coming with red petal juices. A precise edge of pleasure/pain is evoked by the woman tonguing flower orifices and pinpointing nerve endings on her own skin. Swollen macro shots of her eye's pupil fuse the viewer with the woman who has visions of her phantom, a fragile doll-like woman.” (Sandra Lahire). Stabat Mater, “opens and closes with two sung laments, then launches into a breathless torrent of words and phrases, a re-reading of the eternal feminine of Joyce’s Ulysses, which echoes the exultant/feverish swoop of the camera through a Mediterranean landscape.” (Jo Comino). Salamander "is set in a fast food take-away, at a roundabout where the excess of traffic, light and sound forces us into dream space. Projections of desire and place are carved into this nocturnal city." (Tanya Syed). Drive She Said, “the European twin of 50:50, set to Rachid Taha’s song ‘Ya Rayah' [...], is a short road movie exploring themes of exile and belonging. ‘Drive she said, just drive, drive to the end of the road and roads that have no end’” (Ruth Novaczek). In Backcomb “the demonic is unleashed on domestic space. It takes the form of two of femininity’s mildest tokens, hair and embroidery, that serve here in the creation of a sexualised queer surrealist experience.“( Ruby Rich)
A program in collaboration with Kinothek Asta Nielsen. Curated by Sarah Pucill (film selection) and Karola Gramann. Thanks to Light Cone (Paris, Miguel Armas) and LUX (London, Hanan Coumal) for providing the prints and files for this program. In the presence of Sarah Pucill and Karola Gramann.
D: Sandra Lahire, digital from 16mm, b&w, sound, 1 min, 1992
D: Tina Keane, digital, color, sound, 10 min, 1996
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, color, sound, 20 min, 1997
D: Nina Danino, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min, 1990
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, color, sound, 6 min, 1995
D: Tanya Syed, 16mm, color, sound, 12 min, 1994
Drive She Said
D: Ruth Novaczek, digital, color, sound, 4 min, 1998
sat 09/09 14:30 | between women. pt 4: sarah pucill. vertical time (screening at dff)
The program consists of three films made by Sarah Pucill in which both SP and the filmmaker Sandra Lahire appear. The final film Double Exposure is presented here as a world premiere. After the film there will be a conversation between the filmmaker and Margherita Sprio (Reader at Westminster School of Arts, College of Design, Creative and Digital Industries, University of Westminster).
A crossing of time-frames is present in each film, most especially in Cast (1999) where I carry Sandra’s body into the sea as if I knew her imminent death was approaching. Cast creates a claustrophobic and haunting space where people and things invade worlds in which they do not normally belong. Lifeless dolls are heaped inside drawers, dolled-up life size figures lie motionless on a windy beach at the water’s edge; a chair rocks in an empty room, a mirror reflects and observes, and a chest of drawers is caressed by the sea. Stages of Mourning (2003), ritualised through performance to camera, is a journey of bereavement. In as much as this is a meditation on coming to terms with loss, the film is an exploration of how our relationship with the dead is made different through film. The film examines two aspects to ‘stage’, both a journey of grief, associated with something intensely internal, and as a physical platform upon which theatre is ‘played’ to an audience, something ostensibly external, and fictional. Double Exposure (2023) continues the re-staging of earlier photo tableaux taken of the filmmaker with Sandra Lahire before her death that she explored in Stages Of Mourning, but here it is after 22 years. Set inside an otherwise quiet studio, black and white Surrealist interior scenarios are played out with picture frames, chairs, and a dining table, whilst street sounds from outside are heard as I re- position my body inside the celluloid projections of myself and Lahire. These inner walls of photographs from another time, are re-lived through posed living tableaux as if in stilled time; the still and moving merge also with out-takes from Stages of Mourning. Contrasting this, the start and end, that bookend the film, show an open space of 16mm film that bleeds colour over a sea, sky and sun, as well as a half collapsed pier in Brighton from the 2001 fire. In a further layer, I voice quotes from a text Sandra was writing at the time the photos were made. In line with Sandra's written voice, the film reflects upon the unconscious and memory in relation to the camera and psyche. Quotes from the painter Georgio de Chirico’s and poet Sylvia Plath’s reflect upon reflect upon the enigma of the psyche and the aesthetic, as part of a politics of the body, as exposed or protected. As a meditation on time I visit both myself then and Sandra then. "Following a methodology employed in Pucill’s inspired films (Magic Mirror (2013) and Confessions to the Mirror (2016)), here Lahire’s performance to camera, piano playing and writing from an unfinished text collaborate with the filmmaker who, explores the potential to be present through a performance to camera with Lahire within the space-time frame of film." (Theo Gordon)
A program in collaboration with Kinothek Asta Nielsen. Curated by Sarah Pucill (film selection) and Karola Gramann. Thanks to Sarah Pucill, Francisco Algarín Navarro, as well as LUX (London, Hanan Coumal) and Light Cone (Paris, Miguel Armas) for providing the analogue and digital prints of this program. In the presence of Sarah Pucill and Karola Gramann.
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, b&w, sound, 18min, 1999
Stages of Mourning
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, b&w, color, sound, 19 min, 2003
D: Sarah Pucill, dcp (orig. footage 16mm and digital), color and b&w, sound, 28 min, 2023 (world premiere)
tue 19/09 20:15 | between women. pt 5: aesthetic pain (screening at pupille)
Sandra’s second film Edge (1986) is an apt precursor to Johnny Panic (2000) which is Lahire’s most major and final film. Both films offer a trailblazing and unflinching attack on the patriarchy and capitalism. Both are best introduced by the filmmaker herself. On the issue of rights to use Sylvia Plath’s voice, Lahire succeeded where Hollywood production proposals failed. On Edge she writes: "War and violence against women in videos and on the news. This short, named after Sylvia Plath’s last poem, is about the woman who is a daughter; icy, perfected and petrified for the patriarchy. She is also a mother drawing her two children with her into this death-in-life." (Sandra Lahire). On Johnny Panic from a funding application: "Plath herself called her ‘Johnny Panic’ story ‘queer’. The film will use the strong central persona to identify with. Plath has re-invented herself into the off-duty medical secretary wandering through the mental hospital records as a night spirit. On the strength of ‘Lady Lazarus’, permission is given by Olwyn Hughes and Faber to use Plath’s auto-biographical story, ‘Johnny Panic’, photos and related poetry/parts of ‘The Bell Jar’. By use of film screen manipulation eg back-projections into panels of a life-size glass dome, her story and traces of her life are brought to us literally ‘on air’." (Sandra Lahire). The middle film Mirrored Measure (1996) may appear to be a misfit; my most minimal film, yet maybe it offers a pause from the rush. Nonetheless the film, whilst reduced and apparently tidy in its language, scrapes gently at anxiety, of dis-ease, a ‘covered-over’ pain, where order is expected but chaos and someone’s agony lies underneath – a suppressed anger. An idea of alcoholism in the home is suggested, a relationship with a mother.
Living on Air is Sylvia Plath's own description of the disembodied poet's imagination surviving. As in "Lady Lazarus", "Johnny Panic" will use the strong central persona to identify with. Plath has re-invented herself into the off-duty medical secretary wandering through the mental hospital records as a night spirit. Seven dreams of panic phobias emerge from the Clinic case-files kept by the poet who had herself been a mental patient in New York; Boston in the 1950s. The dreams are opticals and back-projections of New York signs and street-life gestures, which move in 3D in life-size Bell Jar panels. The film conjoins mental patients (some homeless) and so-called misfits, to subvert classifications, that control for the purposes of McCarthysim as well as psychiatric case-studies. Her dream 'thefts' parody stealing from secret FBI files in the contemporary climate of paranoia and surveillance around the scapegoating of the Rosenbergs. Their electrocution links with her fear of ECT as a memory eraser. Her hospital dream-bed is designed to look like a sacrificial alter as well as a turn of the century metal operating table.The film opens in the "Ether Dome" hospital in Massachusetts where Plath once worked and ends with the very last dream, 'the magicians daughter who does not flinch (Plath), as she receives knives thrown that narrowly miss her. This image dissolves ghost-like in one of the Ether Dome panels surrounding her. The viewer is confronted with her enigmatic gaze. (Sandra Lahire, 1998)
A program in collaboration with Kinothek Asta Nielsen. Curated by Sarah Pucill (film selection) and Karola Gramann. Thanks to Sarah Pucill, LUX (London, Hanan Coumal) and Ligth Cone (Paris, Miguel Armas) for providing the analogue and digital prints of this program. In the presence of Sarah Pucill and Karola Gramann.
D: Sandra Lahire, digital from 16mm, color, sound, 12 min, 1986
D: Sarah Pucill, 16mm, b&w, sound, 10 min, 1996
D: Sandra Lahire, digital from 16mm, color, sound, 46 min, 2000