Portable Cinema

Last weekend, Tuesy discovered that a little cinema had appeared in the arcade below her flat in Cardiff, and we ended up spending a hefty chunk of our weekend inside it.The Portable Cinema Project was arranged by Jennie Savage (and curated by Victoria Tillotson) as part of a broader Arcades Project, inspired by Walter Benjamin’s unfinished study of Parisian life, a “monumental ruin” which lavished its attention on the covered arcades that Benjamin saw as emblematic of modern consumer society. The Portable Cinema took up residence in an empty shop for the weekend and screened an eclectic series of documentaries that represent responses to urban modernity. Cardiff has some beautiful Victorian arcades which offer a well-preserved array of boutiques, coffee shops, delis, bookshops and other specialist shops that might appear to be a “lost world” plateau cut off from the Subways, Starbuckses and Argoses of the… OK, that’s too much. Let’s just say they’re very attractive places to shop, and they now signal nostalgic safety rather than oppressive and soul-destroying consumption.

This rather makeshift arthouse cinema might not have been the most comfortable space, but it was certainly an intimate and surprising thing to stumble across on a shopping trip. The programme was a mix of orthodox genre fixtures such as Chronique d’un été (1960) and The Man With a Movie Camera (1929) and experimental shorts by William Raban, Peter Cusack (both in attendance), Stan Brakhage, Margaret Tait, Cordelia Swann, Mayling To, Guy Sherwin and more.

One of the delights on offer was John Smith‘s The Girl Chewing Gum, a wonderful short that entertains like a Monty Python sketch, but deconstructs like a Godard sequence. The set-up is a fixed camera position in a busy street. Smith‘s voice-over appears to be directing the scene, ordering a figure to enter at the right of the frame, face the camera or cross the road with a particular gait. It quickly becomes clear that he is not directing the action at all, but describing it as if he had some kind of control over the unsuspecting participants and passing cars. The mismatch between the status of image and soundtrack, ironically created through the perfect co-ordination of instruction and action, always raises a laugh, but it poses the same questions about the authenticity and manipulation of documentary shooting as most of the more canonical films with which it shared the playbill.


4 thoughts on “Portable Cinema

  1. Sounds like it a fantastic little programme of experimental cinema. Did you catch the Raban or Sherwin films? I’ve been meaning to check out their work for a while (Chris Welsby, too, for that matter), but haven’t quite made the effort yet.

    I’m going to pick up the LUX DVD collection of British structuralist film from the 1960s/70s (‘Shoot Shoot Shoot’) when in London next, then work chronologically from there…



  2. It was a great find. I caught this one by Raban:

    “William Raban
    AUTUMN SCENES UK, 1979, silent, colour, 25 mins, 16mm
    The film is in three parts, each one exploring the fragmentary experience of perception by resorting to various forms of temporal and spatial dislocation.
Concrete Fall and Fergus Walking are both filmed from a moving viewpoint, and the camera motion is ‘converted’ through simple editing and printing procedures to register subtle depths in space, the layering between foreground and infinity. In Packeted Passages I filmed with two synchronised cameras and fused the two views in the printing stage into one disintegrated screen space. W.R.”

    And this one by Sherwin:

    “Guy Sherwin
    UNDER THE FREEWAY USA, 1995, sound, colour, 16 mins, 16mm
    First film in the ongoing Freeway Series.
”Street-life at a busy intersection beneath a freeway in San Francisco. An urban landscape film with an underlying formal structure.
Under the Freeway results from a trip Sherwin made to San Francisco during 1995. The space of the film is a public one; an intersection of streets in a poor neighbourhood, dominated by the overhead freeway of the title. The camera is static, although not confined to a single viewpoint, and this elicits a quiet attention from the viewer.
Under the Freeway presents us with urban life at the sharp end, its on-the-street detail unseen by those rushing by overhead. Under the freeway life proceeds at a different pace – in its examination of the cityscape the film offers space and time to observe city life, one’s sense of closeness to, or distance from the reality represented controlled in part by the coming and going of the sound. The framing offers continually interesting compositions in deep space as well as an evolving sense of the film’s complex urban location. It is tempting to see, in the pace of the shots and the pace of the actions filmed, a critique of both life in the world of the freeway, and of its customary film or television representation.” – Nick Collins. notes for an Arts Council screening, Tate Gallery 1997
FREEWAY SERIES (works in progress). beginning with Under the Freeway 1995 this is a group of films, some of which use multiple projection formats, set around Freeway 101 in San Francisco.
AFTER THER FREEWAY incorporates film shot in 1997 after the freeway had been partly demolished. For 2 or more screens
BAY BRIDGE FROM EMBARCADERO uses 3 screens for cinema projection or gallery installation (2004)”

    I loved the Sherwin, and it reminded me almost precisely of News From Home, but without any voice-over: it looked like mostly long-lens shooting if I remember right. Just similarly muted glimpses of “the everyday” (I know you’re getting fed up of that phrase) around the underside of a freeway – it’s one of those non-spaces where there seems to be a lot going on. But it was great to sit by the projector and hear it whirr. I always like that.

    I have to admit myself and my partner found the Raban film really tough. The first part is beautiful, with swirling jump-cuts around a demolition site. It has this very totalised rust-and-concrete colour scheme that transforms makes a pile of rubble look fascinating. The final part oscillates, flickers even, between two cameras really rapidly, and is headache-inducing. It certainly does the job of making a supermarket look horrific and disorientating.

  3. Just realised you can’t edit comments here once you’ve made them, so just pretend I’ve noticed ALL the typos and would correct them if I could…

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