Peter Gidal

Room Film 1973


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Not on display

Peter Gidal born 1946
Film, 16mm, projection, colour and sound
Duration: 55min
Purchased 2016


Room Film 1973 1973 by the British filmmaker Peter Gidal consists of black and white footage of a barely perceptible interior, shot with a handheld camera at close range using a zoom in low light. At times certain forms are discernible (such as a lamp and a ceiling cornice) but there is no clear path taken by the camera’s eye. The constantly wavering image ensures no picture of the room as a whole is formed; the film’s subject is entirely fragmented by the camerawork. Lasting just under an hour, this silent film is cut into two-foot lengths (five seconds long, at sixteen frames per second), each of which is repeated once with splice bars clearly visible. The work is shown as a projection and was not produced in an edition.

The film is one of Gidal’s most widely recognised contributions to experimental filmmaking. It was praised by Gidal’s contemporaries, including Michael Snow and Jonas Mekas, both of whom admired the vacillating, grainy image as the camera explores the architecture and contents of the room. The historian D.N. Rodowick has argued that Room Film 1973 is evidence of the tension between minimalist and abstract expressionist tendencies in Gidal’s work, summarising that with this film, ‘Gidal explores the limits of image legibility through shifts of focus, exposure, framing – all of which operate to foreground the materiality of cinematic signification’ (Rodowick 1995, p.132).

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. He is equally known as a writer and theorist, in particular for Structural Film Anthology, in which his seminal essay ‘Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film’, first published in the November 1975 issue of Studio International, outlined his position in relation to avant-garde filmmaking internationally (see Peter Gidal (ed.), Structural Film Anthology, London 1976, pp.1–21).

Further reading
Deke Dusinberre, ‘Consistent Oxymoron: Peter Gidal’s Theoretical Strategy’, Screen, vol.8, no.2, Summer 1977, pp.79–88.
D.N. Rodowick, The Crisis of Political Modernism: Criticism and Ideology in Contemporary Film Criticism, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London 1995, p.132.
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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