Dwoskin Project Blog #10: Everybody in The Place

Tenth in a series of monthly posts by Henry K. Miller from the Legacies of Stephen Dwoskin project based at the University of Reading

Henry K. Miller 1 Oct 2019

The Place, on Dukes Road, near Euston, was conceived as a space for the mixing of media. When it opened on 2 September 1969, it was primarily the home of the London School of Contemporary Dance, but was also associated with the Pierrot Players, a chamber music ensemble led by Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwhistle, and Music Now, a concert society which had been responsible for staging works by minimalist composers like Terry Riley. The venue’s coming was advertised in the ICA’s monthly programme with a list of activities:

  • New Paintings
  • New Music
  • Contemporary Dance on Stage
  • Contemporary Dance on Film
  • Drama
  • Explorations in Time, Space, Movement (Mechanical and otherwise)
  • Events, Happenings
  • Good Food and Wine

It was a few months later, in January 1970, that The Place became a leading venue for film, when it became the occasional home of the New Cinema Club. This had been launched in 1967 by Derek Hill, a film critic who had earlier established the Short Film Service, a specialized distributor. Like the storied Film Society of the interwar decades, the New Cinema Club, which grew out of the SFS, brought to London screens the films that the art-house distributors would not touch and the censors would not permit – often European, as was the core art-house tradition, but also American films, independent or underground.

Its early programmes in 1967–8 included works by American filmmakers Stephen Dwoskin either knew or would come to know including Andy Warhol, Robert KramerShirley Clarke, and Emile De Antonio. At first the NCC changed location with almost every screening, before settling—mostly—at the ICA after the institute’s move to its present location on the Mall in the spring of 1968. It was there in February 1969 that Dwoskin had his first retrospective, at that point all shorts, and in May the programme was taken on by the NCC at the same venue, under the title ‘An Evening with Steve Dwoskin’, which would become a regular event over the next year.

Blurb for ‘An Evening with Steve Dwoskin’ from the New Cinema Club programme, April–June 1969

Blurb for ‘An Evening with Steve Dwoskin’ from the New Cinema Club programme, April–June 1969

The NCC’s first programmes at The Place were designated a Forbidden Film Festival and included footage of the Living Theatre as well as Godard’s One Plus One, uncut. By that time the NCC was running films three times a week at three venues, and the Dwoskin Evenings had moved to the New Arts Lab, home of the London Film-Makers’ Co-op, not far away in Robert Street, Camden. Dwoskin’s films were then in Co-op distribution, but that was soon to change with the emergence of The Other Cinema, the second screening organization to use The Place, just a month after the New Cinema Club began using it.

The Other Cinema, then run out of Peter Whitehead’s flat, had various glittering names attached to it at this early stage in its life, but was largely led by a young journalist, Nick Hart-Williams, who had worked at the ICA, and a recent Essex graduate, Peter Sainsbury. Its aims were not unlike those of the New Cinema Club —to exhibit films even the art-house cinemas ignored— but with a stronger emphasis on distribution. As of 1971, Dwoskin’s new films went into The Other Cinema’s growing catalogue, and eventually, he became part of its council of management.

Flyer for the Festival of British Independents, 1970

Flyer for the Festival of British Independents, 1970

The Other Cinema’s first venture into exhibition, at The Place’s 260-seat theatre, came in February 1970, with Terry Whitmore, For Example, a Vietnam War documentary about a deserting US Marine; soon after came films by William Klein; and in April it had its first moderate hit with Straub and Huillet’s Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. By May 1970, when it mounted at The Place a month-long ‘Festival of British Independents’, The Other Cinema was putting on screenings five nights a week and claimed over a thousand members.

The front of the festival’s flyer mentioned as one of four premieres to be screened ‘Times Four’, by Steve Dwoskin. In the event Times For, as Dwoskin’s first feature-length film came to be titled, was not shown, and the festival instead hosted the debut screening of his first colour film, Moment. On 10 June, the date of the NCC’s latest ‘Evening with Steve Dwoskin’ at the New Arts Lab, the festival presented a programme of Dwoskin’s shorts, starting one hour later –an unusual clash raising a question about the number of prints he had had struck, or whether the two screenings used the same ones.

Time Out advert for the Festival of British Independents

The festival’s broad definition of independence covered James Scott’s films on artists, unconventional features such as Maurice Hatton’s Praise Marx and Pass the Ammunition, Patricia Holland’s The Hornsey Film, made about the student occupation of 1968, and Co-op filmmakers like Malcolm Le Grice and Peter Gidal. A one-off magazine published at the time of the festival, Independent Cinema, ran an article by Gidal on Dwoskin, opposite one by Dwoskin on Gidal.

The Other Cinema remained at The Place for the rest of the year before moving on; the New Cinema Club remained a while longer. In the summer of 1970 the regular Dwoskin Evenings were moved there, and in the autumn Times For, which in the event made its debut at the National Film Theatre, was shown at The Place by both The Other Cinema and by the New Cinema Club.

Blurb for Times For from the New Cinema Club programme, October–December 1970

It was also in the autumn of 1970 that the New Cinema Club mounted – albeit not at The Place but at the Sapphire Theatre in Wardour Street – one of the most popular screening programmes ever associated with Stephen Dwoskin, ‘Acts of Love’. This quadruple-bill, repeated many times over the next few years, consisted of Fuses, the legendary film by Carolee Schneemann (who had performed in Times For), Jean Genet’s Chant d’amour, Takahiko Iimura’s Love, and Dwoskin’s Moment. (The programme will be reconstructed at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image in February 2020.)

Logo used by The Place

All the while, The Place did become a space for the mixing of media, as intended. Sally Potter, a member of the Co-op who trained at the London School of Contemporary Dance, both shot and showed some of her early films there, including Combines a mixed film and dance piece that was staged in the summer of 1972.

The Legacies of Stephen Dwoskin project is based at the University of Reading and supported by the AHRC. Follow its progress on Twitter: @DwoskinProject

Henry K. Miller is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Reading, and editor of The Essential Raymond Durgnat.

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