This selection of films followed simple criteria: all are 15 minutes or less and made in the UK in the 1980s. I chose them in order to see them for the first time. The day before, Emma Hedditch described Annabel Nicolson’s film of the Stock Exchange peace action in a conversation. It triggered the memory of a recent visit to the Occupy London tent site fresh in my mind. The thought of women dressed for the office lying down on a zebra crossing in that neighbourhood immediately became the guiding concept of this screening.
I wasn’t after a historical take on protest. Anything but. As someone who remembers the 1980s, I have no serious desire to revisit it. But I missed a lot, as you do, and films are meant to ‘capture’ something. Yes, this quirky mix of experiment, fantasy and documentary does capture something, but it wasn’t details of the past I missed: it is something of the future - what has become our now.
So I ask myself ‘what the hell do I mean’’ and realise I’ve answered no real questions here - except to identify whose ingenious use of Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights was ripped off by The Apprentice. But if I can suggest what is captured as a current surging through all these films, it is the power of doing. Take the time, take the streets, take the chance and lift.
Tina Keane, UK, 1982, 15 minutes
Hey Mack takes the insistent image of passing trucks, filmed from a pedestrian viewpoint, and sets them against the accapella vocals of New York no-wave girl band Disband. ‘The film is about the things that made the most impression on me on my first trip to New York: the trucks - how big they were…yet how toy-like - and going to see Disband perform. These women manage to survive in New York because of their humour and their wit and their extraordinary toughness.’ Tina Keane
Stock Exchange - Women’s Peace Action
Annabel Nicolson, UK, 1983, 1 minute excerpt
‘Some women had the idea of lying down in all the roads leading into the Stock Exchange area. We had a small meeting in someone’s house and planned a co-ordinated action for the following day. Groups of women were to lie down at the same time on each of these roads, causing all the traffic in and out to stop. The whole financial centre of the city was brought to a halt. It was so simple. Although this action is less known about than Greenham Common, because it was over in a short time, it was the same spirit at work. The strategy was so effective: a few women could achieve so much with such restraint. The whole of the Stock Exchange was brought to a standstill peacefully. Many of the actions of the time were beautiful in their simplicity. They were art forms in themselves.’ Annabel Nicolson
Keep Your Laws Off My Body
Zoe Leonard and Catherine Saalfield, USA, 1990, 13 minutes
Keep Your Laws Off My Body juxtaposes intimate images ‘at-home-with-a-lesbian-couple’, in contrast with monstrous footage of the police descending on an ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) demonstration at New York City Hall, 28th March 1989. The insistent, gloved and helmeted policemen intrude into the home and bedroom of the two women, the filmmakers. The casual, home-movie quality of these segments is emphasised by the sound of a movie projecton, only broken by the sirens of the demonstration.
Watch That Lift
Martine Lumbroso, UK, 1986, 13 minutes
November 1985 - for the first time in Britain women take part in a national Olympic Weight Lifting Championship. Christine Starling is a champion in her weight class (60-70kg). This portrait of a South East Londoner shows the passion and determination of a woman facing the challenge of competitive sports, albeit with the support of her husband and her coach. Christine is only one of many competitors joining escalating numbers of women in this exciting sport, long an enclave of males, but now a definite milestone of female athletic history.
The London Story
Sally Potter, UK, 1987, 15 minutes
Set to the music of Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, The London Story is a camp tale of espionage. Filmed on location, images of Whitehall and the Central Statistics Office form the back drop for the woman ‘spy’ (sunglasses and mink coat) and her collaborators, the Doorman and the Xerox man, who both work in the Cabinet Office. Through a series of ridiculous interviews and choreographed movements, the three spies embark on their undercover work to disrupt Britain’s decision on who its political allies are: Europe or the United States. Shot in vivid colour, this musical comedy takes a wry look at the absurdity of politics in general and the state of Thatcher’s Britain in the late 1980’s.