Peter Gidal



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Not on display

Peter Gidal born 1946
Film, 16mm, projection, black and white
Duration: 10min
Purchased 2016


Clouds 1969 by the British filmmaker Peter Gidal is a film comprised of ten minutes of looped footage of the sky, shot with a handheld camera using a zoom to achieve close-up images. Aside from the amorphous shapes of the clouds, the only forms to appear in the film are an aeroplane flying overhead and the side of a building, and these only as fleeting glimpses. The formless image of the sky and the repetition of the footage on a loop prevent any clear narrative development within the film. The minimal soundtrack consists of a sustained oscillating sine wave, consistently audible throughout the film without progression or climax. The work is shown as a projection and was not produced in an edition. The subject of the film can be said to be the material qualities of film itself: the grain, the light, the shadow and inconsistencies in the print.

The critic and historian David Curtis has described Clouds as Gidal’s ‘first fully recognisable work’ (Curtis 2004, p.207). Although it was made while Gidal was still a student at the Royal College of Art in London (where he studied between 1968 and 1971), Clouds is representative of structuralist/materialist filmmaking, a term Gidal defined in his seminal essay ‘Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film’ (first published in the November 1975 issue of Studio International and reprinted in Peter Gidal (ed.), Structural Film Anthology, London 1976, pp.1–21). In contrast, Hall 1968–9 (Tate T14784) retains a rhythmic play of recognisable images, which places it closer to the American tradition and the early films of Andy Warhol. With Clouds Gidal refined his dialectical approach by foregrounding the material components of cinema, confounding the viewer’s desire to identify with an on-screen image and thus preventing any narrative development and resolution.

Gidal grew up in Switzerland and Mount Vernon, New York. From 1968 to 1971 he was a student at the Royal College of Art, London, where he was subsequently to teach advanced film studies until 1984. He became an active member of the London Film-makers’ Co-operative (the Co-op) in 1969 and was a cinema programmer there from 1971 to 1974, during which period he focused on work by British artists and filmmakers. Together with Malcolm LeGrice, Gidal is recognised as the driving force behind the Co-op in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the foremost exponent of British structural cinema.

Further reading
Deke Dusinberre, ‘Consistent Oxymoron: Peter Gidal’s Theoretical Strategy’, Screen, vol.8, no.2, Summer 1977, pp.79–88.
Peter Gidal, Materialist Film, London and New York 1989.
David Curtis, A History of Artists’ Film and Video in Britain, 1897–2004, London 2004, p.207.

Inga Fraser and George Clark
February 2015

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