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 was influenced by a variety of historical institutions: the pre-war London film society, the 30s film co-operative such as the Worker’s Film Association and even the new wave of art house cinema in the ‘60s, such as the Nouvelle Vague. However, the closest was the New York Filmmakers’ Co-op. Founded in 1962 by Jonas Mekas the New York Co-op was the first to apply the co-operative principle to experimental film production.
The direct rapport between London and New York made possible the formation of a London Film Co-op prior to continental Europe and countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland.
However crucial was the New York model for the London Co-op, there was also a strong resentment of the Americans amongst the British. In the exhibition catalogue Live in Your Head, Rosetta Brooks raises the question of the ‘inferiority complex’ of the British towards American artists, who seemed to represent yet another form of cultural imperialism.
Durgnat: The people who deeply resented the American influx, in a way they were wrong. I think the reason behind that was it was an era for an influx of draft-outs who were finding themselves really having to hustle for money in England and hustle in a New York style in England. That was fairly nasty and self-defeating and very often fake, and it was very difficult for English people to sort out who was fake and who wasn’t. Either gifted people who were unreliable or people that were not gifted and unreliable.
Dusinberre: Were there so many Americans at that time?
Durgnat: It was a flood. I mean people would suddenly appear and say I have been talking to Miles [Barry Miles – founder of Indica Bookshop, IT co-editor; later biographer of Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles et al.] and he sent us over and we are going to join the film Co-op and take over. There were a lot of problems. Or they were staggering about drunk with Acid, because that could not help. The acid really was the (tape unclear) taken every taken morning without a manner. And people who had been functioning well a year previously and now were very flakey.
Under these circumstances it was important for the British underground film to develop its own aesthetic and declare its independence from the American experimental film scene.
Durgnat: And one of the things we were always trying to do was to see if there was anything specifically English by way of avant-garde and we had a lot of difficulty finding it. The French films were in everybody’s consciousness but they were so difficult to imitate. Films like Blood of a Poet that everybody thought about had had a massive budget. And it was really the American films that showed that you could actually do a film fairly quickly. So they became the model.
It is true that the New York Filmmakers’ Co-operative was a kind of blueprint for other experimental film distributors. But it would be wrong to speak of a general ‘New York Co-operisation’ in the UK. There were significant differences. When New York was divided into various institutions like the New York Filmmakers’ Co-op, The New American Cinema Group and the Anthology Film Archives and those offering practical workshops like the Millenium Film Workshop, the London Co-op sought to combine presentation, distribution and production.
Of course, this created a conflict between those who saw the main function of the Co-op in the presentation of film and those who wanted it to be primarily a workshop-based organisation. This dispute was divided along generational lines, too: the original Co-op consisted of an older generation, Bob Cobbing and Raymond Durgnat, whereas the younger artists and film students were increasingly interested in experimenting with filmmaking. Steve Dwoskin remembers a meeting in January 1967.
Dwoskin: As I mention in the book [Film Is, 1975] one big call meeting of so-called English filmmakers, but the sort of function of the Co-operative (Tape unclear). I think forty people appeared at this call meeting. At this point we had a constitution for the Co-op and had a few odd films. We actually bought some films like the Hy Hirsch films. We used Better Books money, the film club’s money to get something. Goldman left his prints here, so this sort of began, but it was all American films and these English guys came and most of them said if you don’t have equipment we are not going to help you. They were sort of carrying on this film school tradition, we want to make films, they actually hadn’t made, they wanted the material goods. The Co-op can’t be a workshop. But they were very loud about not having equipment. And we worked more on the premise that if anybody wants to make films they can make them somehow, and the important thing was to would show them.