1. The Pre-History of the London Filmmakers' Co-op
2. The Foundation of the London Filmmakers' Co-op
3. The American Underground Film
4. A New Generation: The London Arts Lab
5. A New Constitution
The London Filmmakers Co-op evolved out of a film club called Cinema 65, which in turn was based on a film society called Cinema 61. The origin of Cinema 61 can be traced back to Hendon where the poet Bob Cobbing co-founded the HAT film club in 1953. HAT stood for Hendon Arts Together, a local arts organisation. So historically, one could argue that the HATfilm society was the blueprint for the London Filmmakers’ Co-op.
HAT film clubwas a loose yet regular film society modelled on the traditional pre-war ciné club. It focused on the presentation and critical discussion of film. The programme initially showed classic silent cinema for example Birth of a Nation, Alexander Nevsky and Rene Claire’s Le Million. But from the late ‘50s there was an increasing tendency towards the presentation of avant-garde film such as Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or and Un Chien Andalou.
In 1961 Cobbing re-launched the film club under the name of Cinema 61. The name Cinema 61 revealed not only the foundation year, 1961, but was also a play on Amos Vogel’s New York underground cinema called Cinema 16. Cobbing showed several Cinema 16 programmes including experimental films such as Willard Maas Geography of the Body.
In 1965 Cobbing moved to central London to work at the alternative bookshop Better Books. At Better Books he founded a new film club under the name Cinema 65. This was a decisive step since Cinema 65 marked the transition from the ‘50s amateur film society to the ‘60s film co-operative.
I was involved in the film society in Hendon to start with, called the Hendon Film Society again in 1954, it travelled around with me; wherever I moved, the film society went. It went to Bordeaux when I was teaching to Bordeaux, it went over to Finchley when I went into Finchley and it came to Better Books when I moved to Better Books. I can’t be absolutely sure about that but I am sure during ’65, probably earlier on, we were doing film screenings at Better Books.
Dusinberre: It began as a society called Cinema 65?
Cobbing: At that point it was called Cinema 65. So there you are, you have got it, Cinema 65.
Dusinberre: So Hendon Film Society became Cinema 65.
Cobbing: Hendon Film Society became Cinema 61 which I think was when I moved to Finchley. I called it Cinema 61 in Finchley and then when I moved to Better Books, Cinema 65. Basically the same organisation and lot of the same people were involved in it. A following that travelled with us wherever we went because, rather different from the film society, we were trying to track down what were called then, ‘underground’ films or ‘avant-garde’ film or ‘art’ film.
Dusinberre: Phillip Crick had been with you at Cinema 65, what was he doing at that time?
Cobbing: He and I, and John Collins for that matter, were associated with regional film societies. We were all involved in the London Federation of Film Societies and we were trying to push that into more diverse directions, and failing eventually. I think almost all of the things that happened in the Film Co-op start with Cinema 65, before we came to labour as it were. And really what happened was we changed the name as soon as (tape unclear) to Filmmakers’ Co-op.
Better Books was more than a mere bookshop. Once described as a ‘mini Arts Lab’ it served as stage, cinema and gallery. Its cross-disciplinary approach welcomed new art forms like assemblage, performance art, and radical poetry. Together with other alternative galleries such as 26 Kingly Street and Indica Bookshop, Better Books was one of the hot spots of the London underground scene.
There were so many people who came to Better Books. It was very definitely the meeting point for artists of all kinds in London at that time. And before we were even aware of it we had a …tape unclear …every other week. We might have …tape unclear …poetry reading another night and people showing film. There was always something going on. And we had exhibitions there and so people were constantly in for these activities and meeting each other and it was a very good period for sparking off ideas from one meeting to another.
However, why did Better Books become the meeting point for the London underground film scene when there were so many other galleries and bookshops? The answer lies in Better Books’ connection to the New York underground film culture. Better Books had established links with the New American Cinema as early as 1964 when the Belgian experimental film Festival Exprmntl in Knokke-le-Zoute brought over some of the most important American underground films and their makers.
It was in ‘64 that the American folks came through London and it was at that point that Flaming Creatures was banned at Knokke and the print was in fact dropped in London at Better Books because it could not get back to New York. All these little things. People like Barbara Rubin [American filmmaker, made Christmas on Earth etc] passed through London stopping at Better Books. It became a kind of hang out. These people passing through became to kind of instigate unknowingly, kind of an interest in this type of filmmaking which Bob Cobbing allowed to occur in the Better Books shop, things like the People Show that was happening there. And the only filmmaker in this country I could connect with was Jeff Keen in Brighton.
Dusinberre: That’s interesting. I think in your book you mention that disaffection with the Vietnam war at the time was really beginning, brought some of the Americans to or through London. I don’t know how causal that was whether there was in fact an increased flow because of this sort of political disaffection.
Dwoskin: No the political thing is less to do with it than one would assume. I think in ‘64 it was more the Knokke thing, and obviously London has always been the jumping off spot for Americans in particular going to Europe. Especially for Belgium, you had to go through London. (…tape Unclear… ) Belgium was this obscure thing, so London was the kind of pass through. Also at the time Mekas and P. Adams Sitney went to Italy and they also passed through London.
Dusinberre: That was a bit later, oh no, that was that first tour. There was an early one.
Dwoskin: In a way this was part of the ripples of this activity.
Dusinberre: Did you see that first program that Jonas got over in ‘64?
Dwoskin: No. I never saw it here.
Dusinberre: You did not see it here in London. No but I mean in terms of tracing the impact here in London? It doesn’t seem to have had nearly as great an impact as it did in early ‘68.
Dwoskin: No, it did not have any impact on London at all. I don’t think anyone saw it. I mean they knew that it came through or was around but I don’t think they saw the stuff. And of course the first move, the tour in 64, gave leave for many individual Americans like Goldman, Peter [Emmanuel] Goldman [American filmmaker, made Nightcrawlers, Pestilent City etc] and other people, to go to Europe, they always stopped in London. They had heard that Better Books was around and then they started showing their films there as they passed through.