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Reviewed by:
  • Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age
  • Mike Leggett
Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age by Malcolm Le Grice. British Film Institute, London, U.K., 2001. 484 pp. Paper. ISBN 0-85170-873-0.

In Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age, Malcolm Le Grice is sparing in his use of the term "new media." This wins my undying gratitude, and in this revealing and thorough book there is much else to challenge such tropes associated with the tools of expression and communication. His engagement with the institutions of cinema and the visual arts has infected many others over the years, but he is far from obsessive about the "features" that media technologies, new or old, can offer to the "creative" person. Le Grice is intent upon re-examining the exchanges that occur, the economy that can exist, in the [End Page 159] spaces that we call the filmic or cinematic experience.

Throughout a production period from the early 1960s to the present, as a filmmaker, television program maker and painter, Le Grice has kept a track of his thoughts and expressed them through a series of published articles and an earlier book (Abstract Film and Beyond, 1976) [1]. Collected together here for the first time, the articles provide access to a series of discourses that excited and stimulated, for many of us, the production of a group of films that, in moving through a range of descriptors, became known more widely as structural materialist (though this term risks misleading audiences) [2].

Thoughts into action was the rhetoric put into practice by the London Film-makers Co-op group, of which Le Grice was a founder, chief negotiator and ambassador. In the face of a film and cinema industry run by Hollywood, television dominated by ratings and a gallery culture still coming to terms with the "conceptual and art," the discourse this work produced was not based on criticism but the polemics concerning film.

Le Grice was able to maintain a sense of investigation, an air of the provisional. The range of articles he produced from the 1960s to 2000 (and the present) fed the minds of magazine and journal readers [3], together with fellow filmmakers at the co-op and elsewhere, in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. The common intention was the pursuit of a rational creative process separated from narrative form at best and Hollywood melodrama at worst. The articles on film appeared between 1970 and 1980—most are reprinted here with only minor editing, providing the background that progresses towards the major summarizing article, "Towards Temporal Economy." It was "an ambitious attempt to synthesise a range of concepts and ideas at the same time promoting the debate about experimental film practice among the—largely hostile—critical academics then in the ascendancy within the British Film Institute and Screen" (p. 7). Fittingly, it was published by Screen in 1980.

The context of the times is only occasionally hinted at. This was the period when the left in Britain, as elsewhere, was factionalizing, when the anarco-libertarianism of the "alternative culture" at the beginning of the period was becoming the "counter-culture" of the 1980s, when enclosures were being thrown up and redoubts being built from where to insult the neighbors. Allies were recruited from France mostly, to stiffen the resolve of the cultural shock troops and, as Le Grice confesses in his Introduction, "I did my duty reading Metz, Lacan et al." (p. 2), along with the earlier luminaries of 19th- and 20th-century thought. This helps uncover the layers contained in the text, which rather than reading as an argument instead reveals the processes of deliberation occurring as Le Grice's own work and that of others develops.

"Almost by habit now I begin an article with a health warning. The reader should know that firstly I am a film, video and digital artist. My theoretical work is almost completely based on the issues I have encountered in analysing my work and understanding its relationship to other artists, culture, technology and society" (p. 297). Written comfortably in the first person, the anthology of essays (with one excerpt from his previous book) is organized...


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