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.