A Century of Artists’ Film in Britain at the Tate Britain

May 2003 – August 2004

If you need a reminder of how low an opinion Britain has of experimental film, push past the crowds queuing to see Bridget Riley at the Tate, and find a hidden-away room in the depths of the building. The gallery is currently playing host to a 15-month season showcasing film and video work made by British or British-based artists in the last century. And whilst it is at times spectacular, and at others bemusing, you do wish the whole thing was being much more heralded.

But rather than moaning, it’s better to revel in visual experiments that you might previously have only read about. The programme changes every 3 months, and runs for the whole day. This first helping is an excellent bombardment of an introduction to what pictures can do. Kenneth Anger’s subcultural wanders inspire the confusion all the books say they will – his "Invocation of my demon brother" (1963) is 12 minutes of devilish rage in your eyes and ears. It may look very 60s, but avoids that being a weakness by its coming straight after a artistic soulmate in Chris Cunningham’s "Come To Daddy" music video (1997). The section they are placed in is entitled "Invocations," and is a dark and chilling trip into film’s ability to torment the imagination.

What might most inspire viewers new to these kinds of multi-layered moving images is the bravery of the artists. Whilst the Hollywood system rumbled on, and the British Film Industry slowly crippled itself, they devoted themselves to pushing the medium forward – and right on our doorstep. The London Filmmakers’ Cooperative in the 60s, and Filmaktion in the 70s, were devoted to making watching films a democratic event. Both bodies were linked through the talismanic figure of British film art, William Raban. There’s even more of his classic work to come in future programmes, but right now, his "Angles of Incidence" (1973) is an elementary into each individual part of a projected image, and the ways the viewer’s mood makes the experience of watching similarly disjointed. His more recent "Island Race" (1995) is more sedate, a beautiful eye cast on London’s industrial past times.

All sounds a bit avant-garde? Well, it is. But it’s nothing to be scared of. Ignore the mess of words avant-garde theory throws at you, and instead sit and let the vast range of rapid visions move you. In particular, look out for the "New Romantic" and "Interior Drama" sections – lushness and vivid spectacle to set your emotions racing.