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 ‘provisions for liberal division of labour, and shared equipment and facilities’ was the main objective of the new Co-op constitution, which was established in 1968. It was to replace the previous constitution highlighting quote ‘screenings, distribution, newsletters and a quarterly magazine’ unquote. The new draft was completed by Malcolm Le Grice and Simon Hartog after a key meeting of the original Co-op members and the new Arts Lab-based filmmakers in March 1968.
Le Grice: And then we had a couple of large public meetings. One was at the Free University. Was it called the Free University?
Dusinberre: I believe that was called the Philadelphia Foundation building in which the Free University amongst other things…
Le Grice: It was in the East End somewhere. We had one meeting there and another one at the Arts Lab in the cinema and the one in the Arts Lab cinema was the one for which I produced the diagram for, plus something that went with the diagram, and we discussed that. And, at the end of it there was the agreement that we should form a constitution for the Co-op and Simon and I had were given the job of putting a constitution together, virtually. Simon and I worked on this and we produced the constitution and we got together and voted on the constitution, something like three weeks later or something with another mass meeting, and from that point I really made myself mainly responsible of getting the workshop together.
The new constitution introduced radical changes. It not only involved a re-structuring of the mode of film production and film presentation, but also it transformed the entire organisational apparatus. While the early Co-op was run by a loose and flexible team, the later Co-op was marked by more entrepreneurial characteristics, such as distribution policies, fees and most importantly, a paid secretary who would co-organise these elements and provide stabilisation for a very unstable organisation. The new secretary, the American Fluxus artist Carla Liss, was very influential since her connections with the New York Co-op helped to facilitate the distribution of American films in the UK.
Le Grice: David Curtis had met Carla, I think, Carla Liss, and Carla had pretty good relationship with Jonas Mekas and the American filmmakers and it was more or less made clear that provided Carla was employed to handle the distribution, the American filmmakers were willing to send over quite a lot of film for distribution here, but they were not going to do this unless they knew the person who was running the distribution.
The employment of a secretary caused outrage amongst the older members of the Co-op. Cobbing called for an ‘extraordinary general meeting’ but resigned in November 1968.
Cobbing: I took over the distribution side myself at that time because I was not in work and had time to spare and managed distribution from April ‘68 until November until December perhaps. And then the end of December ‘68 there was this talk about bringing Carla Liss over and paying her of course a distributor salary and as treasurer I just said we can’t afford it. I don’t know how they managed and where they got the money from.
Dusinberre: Somebody told me this was connected with a deal, in as much as the films that Sitney had brought over in the summer ‘68 were supposed to being put into the Co-op but.. .
Cobbing: All I know about that was that I was treasurer at the time and I suddenly found out that Carla Liss had been appointed without any reference whatsoever to the treasurer, I resigned. If it was discussed with the committee and there had been an agreement in the committee fair enough, but it had never been discussed with the committee; suddenly there was this established fact that she was there and was going to be paid and (tape unclear) and I got out.
Steve Dwoskin and Simon Hartog were the last of the original Co-op members to leave the new Co-op in 1969.
Dwoskin: That’s right, that’s when I stepped down as a chairman. Both Simon and I left the kind of committee. We felt there was nothing more to do. Because Simon was principally conducting the Cinim he had taken over from Phillip.
Dusinberre: And you were doing the design and production for?
Dwoskin: Yes. Malcolm more or less took over and decided to use the money for the workshop aspect and we were still arguing the point of distribution. Since there wasn’t an interest for distribution at this point. There was nothing we could do.
Dusinberre: There wasn’t any interest from within the Co-op for distribution or there wasn’t any interest outside?
Dwoskin: There wasn’t any interest amongst the filmmakers now growing (tape unclear) English filmmaking part in distribution because they hadn’t yet made the films as it were. So they were interested in optical printers and developing machines and that kind of workshop like Millennium is now; Millennium Workshop in New York. Of course they modelled a lot of the stuff on the original Millennium. So Simon and I didn’t find anything necessary that we could do. I mean we let them get on with it.
When the Drury Lane Arts Lab closed in November 1968, the new Co-op started to look for new premises. In October 1969 the Co-op re-opened as part of IRAT, the Institute for Research in Art and Technology, also known as the New Arts Lab, in Robert Street in Camden.
Le Grice: I became pretty evident that the Drury Lane thing was on its way out, Drury Lane, I think the lease was nearly out that was the first thing. Dave knew I think that the lease was running out. The second was simply the Co-op wanted to follow the workshop policy, there was no room in the Drury Lane Arts Lab for the workshop. The whole space was fully committed down there. So there wasn’t really a chance of setting up a workshop at Drury Lane. Pretty near impossible: there just wasn’t enough room. It was more positive than a kind of split. The people who were deeply involved in Drury Lane like Dave had got fed up with each other they have been fighting each other and so on because you know how it is if a place has not enough resources. But the split was more positive than that because people like myself and John Lifton [pioneering computer artist] and Hoppy [John Hopkins – founder of TVX] - I think Hoppy was involved then - were all concerned with setting up our real workshop facilities, which there just simply was not room enough for at the Arts Lab so we had a different concept. And Dave wanted to link into that and wanted to run a cinema without the interference from I guess Jim Haynes and Jack Moore. I guess, I mean you probably talked to Dave about his motives at this stage. I mean for me really it wasn’t a split from the Arts Lab, I mean my real contact to the Arts Lab anyway was with Dave, never with Jim Haynes, I hardly said two words to him all the time the place was open. The Co-op was never effectively inside the Arts Lab, it was only just that the film people who had been connected with the Arts Lab, had joined up with the Co-op and the screenings were there. But it is not true to say that the Co-op was ever in the Arts Lab.
Dusinberre: That’s interesting, so you saw yourself as a Co-op person rather than Arts Lab person.
Le Grice: I never really saw myself as an Arts Lab person. I accepted that the Co-op was the next direction. I suppose there was another thing: when we moved into Robert Street I was still very interested in the idea of a large Co-op open access workshop complex with performances, and I still am, I am still very interested in that but the practicality of that, the problem of doing it on small resources. It must have been summer of ‘69 that we did the Robert Street building, I guess. Myself, Dave’s brother [Duncan], Fred Drummond, we had done it pretty well solidly all that summer. We ripped out shafts and built walls. We did a lot of real physical work on that place and then after that I spent the whole winter ‘69 getting the workshop together. I mean the first equipment went in as early as September or October of that year but it was certainly not running efficiently until sort of February 1970, certainly the processing machine efficiently until then.
Le Grice’s workshops represented a new post-Fordian, collective form of film production. The transition of the Co-op from an amateur film context into an arts’ context, intensified the theoretical discourse around politics of representation. There was an aesthetic shift away from the essayist form of the ‘film poem’, towards a radically abstract, complex and challenging film form, which was later coined structuralist/materialist. By the mid ‘70s the experimental structural film movement came to an end, or rather, it gave way to a new generation of filmmakers who returned to a more cinematic language.
With its establishment at IRAT the nomadic Co-op by no means had reached an endpoint. However, the scope of this audio exhibition was to investigate the fragmented history of the London underground film scene. Deke Dusinberre’s recordings helped to provide some of the pieces missing from the puzzle. I hope that this audio documentary has presented a more complete picture of the early history of the London Filmmakers’ Co-op.