The trouble with archives is their lack of completeness. The mal d’archive, the archive fever that troubled Freud as explicated by Derrida (1), is in part the anxiety of the imperative of completeness, the need to find the complete set, the original copy. But then once you’ve got that, where do you go? My personal collection of Cantrills Filmnotes was incomplete. In a box that had travelled from Melbourne ten years ago, I had a good run of back issues, given to me by the Cantrills (Arthur and Corinne) in lieu of payment for articles written for the magazine. From memory I had thought I had close to a full set, but memory and the archive, and memory of the archive, are different things. I retrieved the box from the cupboard: there were large and significant gaps, particularly the early years. The first decade, the 1970s, were very slim. The anxiety of incompleteness and the anxiety of forgetting: more symptoms of the archive fever? Where might a complete set exist in London, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom? How could I make sure not to miss anything, some crucial detail from those missing issues? As a complete list of contents is available on the Cantrills’ website http://www.arthurandcorinnecantrill.com/contents.html, gaps in my collection became larger and more anxiety inducing with the knowledge of what they include and what I might be missing. The trouble with archives.
I eventually located a complete set of Cantrills Filmnotes at the British Film Institute (BFI) library. But the archive anxiety didn’t abate: a complete set of what, exactly? Cantrills Filmnotes now claims to be “a review of independent film and video, with emphasis on experimental film, video art, digital media, and associated work in performance and installation art” (2). With hindsight, and with the status and perceived gravitas afforded the magazine through its consistency and survival for close to 30 years from 1971–2000, it is tempting to expect it to provide something close to a comprehensive documentation of such practice over those years. But does it? Should it?
As a unique collection of specific material, Cantrills Filmnotes is indeed something of an archive in itself. But each issue is also an object, an artefact with design and dimension: an intelligent object, not just a collection of information. Its form tells us something about the times it represents just as much as the material within. It would be an incomplete text without the sum of these elements. Born in a time and practice of physical media-specificity, its own specificity as a physical, analogue media object is significant, telling us much about its efficacy. It is a text object, a paper container of consistent fixed dimension and layout, from an age before such terms became remediated. It is a remnant of a time when “layout” meant something physical involving a cutting-board, craft knife, Cow Gum, and so on; just as “editing” involved the physicality of cutting in both films and magazines.
The physicality of Cantrills Filmnotes is something that is immediately apparent when browsing it in the BFI library. The library has the first 20 issues bound in a single volume. The first issue is photocopied foolscap (13 by 8 inches), but from issue 2 onwards the magazine took on the 8 by 10.5 inch format that it would maintain for the rest of its life: a landscape 1.33 ratio, like that of 16mm film. The bound volume in the BFI library is the size of the subsequent issues, which means that issue 1 has been folded along the edges to be accommodated by the binding. In addition to this, it is in portrait format for this first issue. As a result, the experience of reading it is quite interactive, requiring the reader to physically turn the volume and unfold each page.
The first issue of Cantrills Filmnotes (March 1971) arrived looking like a homemade ’zine with its vigorous late ’60s radicalism and an agenda of sorts. The Cantrills set out their “stall” with a cover featuring an image from Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1926); two manifestoes: a contemporary one written by the Cantrills, and the other historical, Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto”; a piece about the Cantrills’ expanded cinema work; an article about New American Cinema, which includes a letter from Robert Nelson (on red paper). This was a clear pronouncement of the Cantrills position in Australia, and where, by turn, their Australia was to be positioned in the international artists’ film scene. While the currently prevalent nomenclature of “artists’ moving image” was then an unfamiliar term, the presence of Duchamp indicates their affiliation with art (as well as with anti-art, Dada, and the importance of context). As a declaration of intent the edition’s strapline is unambiguous: “an irregular publication in which Arthur & Corinne Cantrill print anything on cinema which interests them”. In their “Cinema Manifesto” (written a year earlier in 1970) they declare “WE’VE EXHAUSTED THE HUMAN SITUATION as film material [their capitals]”, while they rail against East European existentialist cinema, pointing out that Freud and Marx are dead. In the process, they mix hard modernism (“the form is the content, as in music”), with an enlightenment ethos to “regenerate” “man’s” “ability to see”. The anti-narrative imperative (“our films have no story”) is not the kind of dialectical tactic exemplified by such a contemporary as British-based film polemicist Peter Gidal, but necessary “because the stories have been told and retold”. Narrative is not opposed as an illusionist subjugation device of a hegemonic dominant cinema. Instead, they offer to “wrap our film frames around the world and warm it up a little”. A certain Dr H. C. “Nugget” Coombs, then Chairman of the Australia Council, is quoted as finding their statement “frightening in its arrogance and its fanaticism”, an opinion that they reproduce, apparently not without some pride.
The second issue continues in a materialist vein, including a 16mm strip taped oto the contents page (this is still intact in the BFI Library copy). It develops the arguments of the first issue into a long article about handmade film, including a discussion of Australian filmmakers Fred Harden and Albie Thoms whose practice is related to the work of Antonin Artaud. This is then followed by a piece about Artaud and cinema (on yellow paper). They also write about their homemade materialist film Harry Hooton (1970), both a tribute to its eponymous libertarian Anarcho-Technocrat poet and an application of his dictum that “art is the communication of emotion to matter” (on red paper).
The approach of the earliest issues, with chunky hand drawn titles, typewritten pages and strident self-determination, falls somewhere between hippy anarchist tract and the stance of the later punk fanzines. Their politics however are expressed almost exclusively within or relative to the realms of filmmaking practice. In this way the Cantrills themselves become exemplars of self-determination as a self-sustaining enterprise, while also encouraging others to do the same. As 1971 progresses, other filmmakers start to contribute – alongside the Cantrills’ own writings on their own work, other filmmakers and the local film scene – particularly Australian artists such as Michael Lee, Fred Harden, Hugh McSpedden, and Aggy Read. The D.I.Y. approach continues throughout 1971 and for an “irregular” magazine, Cantrills Filmnotes appears with remarkable frequency, notching up six issues in its first year.
With its arresting cover featuring the stylised image of a pistol pointed straight at the reader’s head, issue 7 (February 1972) exemplifies a particular kind of political alignment as the Cantrills parallel the politics of art, revolution and film. Taking on the question of what this practice is in their editorial “Alternative Cinema – Art? Entertainment? Communication?”, the Cantrills dismiss the “artist” tag as class-based and promote “films made as an unselfconscious creative act”; they interview John Phillips about his film Red Red? Red; and then, putting their politics where their mouths are, so to speak, the remainder of the issue becomes a practical guide to D.I.Y. film. This part of the issue includes a piece about scratch removal, and a kit for making handmade films that includes black film, junk film, a small sheet of Letraset, and a sheet of orange filter inside the rear cover. In a way, the magazine itself becomes a kind of expanded film.
Issue 8 continues with a concern for “film art politics” and a cover satirising an ongoing struggle with local censors to have filmmaking recognised as an artistic practice, and therefore become exempt from the processes of registration and censorship. These issues are dealt with alongside complaints about the “uninformed” criticism of experimental films. However, as the issue progresses it moves into a section about “personal” film, and specifically new works by Chris Tillam, Peter Tammer and Aggy Read. Later on page 21, a slogan reads, “I FILM, THEREFORE I AM”, suggesting that for the Cantrills filming has a fundamental relationship to existence. Supplanting the Cartesian cogito, the act of filmmaking becomes the evidence of and reason for existence.
Over the next 29 years the Cantrills would encourage many others of a similar disposition, if not necessarily like-mindedness, to populate the magazine with their writings about both their own and other people’s work. I would be one of them.
My first encounter with Cantrills Filmnotes came in 1988, soon after arriving in Australia from London: first in bookshops around Melbourne, then by regularly observing Corinne Cantrill’s direct sales technique at places like the State Film Theatre in East Melbourne. By this time the magazine had matured into a substantial, twice-yearly publication and Arthur and Corinne had established themselves as something of an institution. This was reinforced by the magazine’s title, which immediately reminded me of old-fashioned perennial almanacs such as Wisden or Whitaker’s. To me, they seemed to be as august as those publications.
My relationship with the magazine properly started in 1990 when I was asked by Corinne to write about my work. This resulted in the article “Notes From the Undergrowth” (issue 63/64, December 1990), scoring me the added privilege of an image from my work on the cover. To be afforded what seemed to me like immediate and unconditional acceptance was enormously encouraging, particularly as my work hadn’t received any particular recognition back home in the United Kingdom, and as I had only recently begun to make new work since arriving in Australia. In retrospect, however, this shouldn’t have surprised me. Browsing through back issues of the magazine it is clear that their intention was neither to reproduce the status quo nor to canonise – far from it. And while primarily concerned with what we might call experimental film, Cantrills Filmnotes is surprisingly broad in terms of the range of work it covered; alongside film, video and sound performance were also regularly featured. The imperative seemed to give exposure to independent voices, to encourage young talent, and support the local scenes. A common theme throughout is a healthy suspicion about the structure, motives and ethics of funding bodies, notwithstanding the fact that Cantrills Filmnotes often received Australian Film Commission support. The space that the Cantrills would dedicate to individuals was generous and reflected their favouring of self-determined activity. The contributors were invited to be involved in the layout and typesetting of their text, with the Cantrills providing arm’s length guidance. Corinne was a considerate editor, and Arthur pretty much perfected the art of making frame enlargements from 16mm and super 8 film.
Looking back, it is striking how Cantrills Filmnotes maintained a local but not parochial viewpoint. It offers a representation of an Australian moving image culture that other organs concerned with more mainstream “art-house” film – which in Australia often seemed to me to equate to a Eurocentric cinephilia (represented largely by a journal whose title was not far off being a translation of Cahiers du Cinéma) – would never touch. And while the majority of the artists and works featured were necessarily local, these become increasingly interspersed with international features. While the international material was often, but far from exclusively, American, these international developments were presented as parallel practices, with no suggestion that local filmmakers were beholden to any particular outside influence. It is interesting to note, particularly from my current perspective, the scant coverage given to British work in the magazine, particularly when one considers the level of activity around the London Filmmakers’ Co-op in the 1970s. It is as though while much of Australian culture was still importing its models, Cantrills Filmnotes had the confidence to present its field without any kind of cultural apologetics. Most issues of the magazine exemplify this in one way or another, but an issue I turned to almost at random seems significant in this regard. It was published a year after I had left art school and was then just getting to know the local UK scene. As such it represents a parallel Australian universe to my British one, and features writing by people who I would later come to know in Australia as significant personalities on the local scene.
Produced after the Cantrills had travelled to Germany, Holland, Paris and Japan, issue 43/44 (February 1984) features people that they had met in those places. It also contains an editorial statement bemoaning the state of experimental film exhibition in Australia, which compares unfavourably with what they experienced in Europe and Japan. The issue includes in-depth interviews with, and articles by, such diverse figures as Yann Beauvais, Ulises Carrión, Akihiko Morishita and Marina Abramovic. But in spite of their criticisms of the local infrastructure, the issue makes it clear that there was no shortage of individuals in Australia producing comparable work to their overseas contemporaries. This issue presented a view of an internationally situated practice, featuring works by Michael Lee, Stelarc and Vikki Riley described and analysed by such astute observers as Adrian Martin. Martin’s piece “Video: The Ghost in the Machine” is as vital a critique of 1980s video as I’ve read anywhere. As a one-time child of the London video-art scene, I read his article (on behalf of the “Metacritical Video Collective” – terrific name!), even now 26 years later, as refreshingly unorthodox, bringing together locals such as Philip Brophy and Randall and Bendinelli with Brian Eno, Nam June Paik, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, via Rosalind Krauss, Raymond Bellour and Stuart Marshall. Martin’s article may be exceptional but it is not an exception. This and subsequent issues of Cantrills Filmnotes describe a local culture as urgent and vibrant as anything in New York, London, Paris, Berlin… If it weren’t for Cantrills Filmnotes it is doubtful whether any of this would have been documented at all, let alone quite so comprehensively.
My own relationship with Cantrills Filmnotes became closer the more I became involved with Super 8, both as a filmmaker and as administrator of the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group, during the early 1990s. The group, with its open ethos and increasing profile as a platform for “experimental” film practice, could be seen as representing exactly the kind of activity that the Cantrills had championed over the years. They took to the group as both active participants and organisers (Corinne was elected onto the committee). They also published numerous articles by or about people associated with the group in Cantrills Filmnotes. They had always found space for members of the group in the magazine. For example, Adrian Martin had earlier paid homage to the group’s founder Bill Mousoulis (“In Memoriam Small Movies”, Issue 49/50, April 1988). In the 1990s, I wrote mostly about local super 8 filmmakers among other artists for the magazine. The July 1992 issue (67/68) was all but dedicated to Melbourne Super 8 filmmakers, featuring a piece about the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group written by me and 15 articles by or about the work of individual members. This confirms both the Cantrills’ high regard for the group and its work and their commitment to the kinds of practice it represented: fiercely self-determined and independent.
Their commitment to the idea and possibilities of a radical and independent moving image practice never wavered during the magazine’s 29-year history. It was one of the very few magazines in the world dedicated to this area of work: pre-dating Millennium Film Journal (USA) by seven years; preceding the London Filmmakers’ Co-op’s Undercut by ten years and outliving it by another ten. At the time of its first publication, Cantrills Filmnotes’ closest contemporaries would probably have been the Jonas Mekas-edited Film Culture (USA) and Afterimage (USA), while on the local scene Filmnews (Sydney) had a much broader generic scope (3).
During the almost 30-year run of Cantrills Filmnotes technology inevitably changed and the magazine’s core coverage of experimental film practice incorporated video and, later, digital multimedia. Nevertheless, the latter only received scant coverage. Over the course of ten years the magazine only featured work in digital multimedia by Troy Innocent and Dale Nason, Michael Buckley, and Simon Pockley. Rather than this representing a prejudice against new media, the magazine was providing a kind of corrective balance to what was happening elsewhere. Digital multimedia had become very much the state-approved media for artists’ practice by the mid-1990s, and millions of dollars were made available in a new age of government funding schemes. There were also plenty of sub-quangos eager to promote and publish this work. As ever, the Cantrills favoured the unfunded, the amateur, the practices that eschewed trends. In a blistering editorial for the final issue (an “octuple” issue, numbers 93-100, December 1999-January 2000, so numbered because they could hardly close on issue 93/94), they present a picture of a “climate of mediocrity”, a “mind-numbing” Australian film scene run by a government bureaucracy with capitalist imperatives and populated by over-hyped inconsequentialities. The conclusion was that for them “ART IS DEAD”. Topping all this was Australia Post’s withdrawal of the Surface Mail rate for printed matter. While this last straw may seem minor, mundane even, it is crucial to understanding Cantrills Filmnotes as a product of the culture of the tangible. The Cantrills’ world is not a virtual one, or one of information. Cantrills Filmnotes could only survive in a world where physical objects are transported from one place to another. It would never last in the information age and so its departure from the scene was absolutely timely, far preferable to attempting to conform to an ideologically-driven and contrived orthodoxy.
This article is published on a website that refers to itself as a journal. You are most probably reading this on a computer screen, or perhaps on some kind of portable handheld device; it is less likely that you printed it out on paper for portability. This is evidence of how far things have gone since Cantrills Filmnotes ceased publication. Just over ten years ago, back in late 1999/early 2000 such a future scenario wasn’t exactly unexpected, particularly among arts-based magazines. For example, Mesh, the journal of Experimenta Media Arts situated in Melbourne, published its first online issue in 1999. As if ten years ago, anticipating the decline in print publication that has only seriously impacted upon paper-based magazines and journals relatively recently, Arthur and Corinne Cantrill crammed issues 93–100 into the last Cantrills Filmnotes, and shut up shop. What was not anticipated ten years ago was the rise of Web 2.0 and social networks. If Cantrills Filmnotes was starting out now it is very unlikely that it would be published on paper. Given that its initially stated intent was to be “an irregular publication in which Arthur & Corinne Cantrill print anything on cinema which interests them”, it is more likely that it would be a blog. But this kind of imaginary remediation misses the essential point, which is to reiterate that Cantrills Filmnotes was born into a time of material and media specificity and could not, perhaps one might say should not, be expected to change. Such compromise would be anathema to the Cantrills.
As a record of a large number of people and practices over close to thirty years, Cantrills Filmnotes is a remarkable achievement and exists as a unique archive of that period. It supported and disseminated the reality and possibility of highly independent work and remained a thorn in the side of an establishment with which it had an on-off relationship. On those occasions when the magazine did acquire funding its editors admirably never shied away from biting the hand that fed it. The legacy of the practices documented in Cantrills Filmnotes continue, in one way or another, to this day, whether it is in the continuing materialist filmmaking practice of artists such as Dirk de Bruyn and Marcus Bergner, or the new generation of practitioners associated with the Brisbane-based OtherFilm Collective, which continues to push the agenda of an Australian experimental cinema practice. It is easy and perhaps lazy to characterise specific media and their associated practices as anachronistic. Whether through remediation, influence or continuation, practice remains contemporary through the very fact that it remains current, practiced. It may be consigned to history in the terms of funding policy or the technology industry, but at the level of practical material culture there is never a clean slate. On the ground, even in a post-postmodernist global media information age, digital technology can never completely supplant analogue. While the past is part of the present, there will always be a complex cross negotiation of forms, processes and media.
Writing for Cantrills Filmnotes played a crucial role in my writing practice. In writing about my own and others’ work, it often became a consideration of HOW one might write as much as WHAT one wrote. There wasn’t for me a template for writing, or a model for HOW to write (as much as I might have aspired to write like Deleuze and Guattari). In writing about one’s own and one’s immediate contemporaries’ work, the writing would often become first person reflective, anecdotal, and observational. When I started writing this piece I wasn’t sure how to approach it. It quickly became apparent that the way to approach it would be to imagine that I was writing it for Cantrills Filmnotes. As ever, the context has therefore determined the form.
- Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1996.
- Sydney-based filmmaker Albie Thoms wrote extensively on the local and international avant-garde film scene for publications such as Masque (Sydney) and Lumiere (Melbourne), as well as Afterimage. His writing was to be collected in a single volume, Polemics for a New Cinema, Wild and Woolley, Sydney, 1978.