Reel Time performed by Annabel Nicolson at the London Film-makers' Co-operative.
Annabel Nicolson first performed her seminal film performance Reel Time at the London Filmmakers' Co-operative in 1973.
A key figure in the expanded cinema events which were emerging from the Co-op at this time, Nicolson had already been showing film performances and installations at Gallery House and Filmaktion at the Walker Art Gallery earlier in the year.Reel Time might be seen as a culmination of these earlier experiments. Sharing the formalist, or 'structural' concerns and practices of many of her Co-op contemporaries, Nicolson's Reel Time explores the material physicality of the film strip in relation to the film projector. However, Nicolson did this by the addition of a further piece of apparatus, more readily associated to female domestic work, that of the sewing machine.
Seated at the centre of the room, Nicolson guided a film strip through the unthreaded needle of the sewing machine, which punctured the film. The sewing machine, which was hand operated by Nicolson, started to destroy the film strip, which depicted an image filmed earlier of Nicolson at the sewing machine. The disintegrating film strip was passed in a circular journey between the sewing machine and a film projector, showing the projected image of Nicolson as it was slowly obliterated by the needle punctures. At the same time another projector projected a beam of pure light onto Nicolson so that her shadow is cast as a large silhouette on the adjacent wall. The performance was accompanied by two readers reciting snatches of instruction for threading a sewing machine and threading a projector. The performance ended when the film eventually broke and can no longer be threaded through the projector. In many performances of Reel Time the audience participated to help pass the disintegrating film strip between the sewing machine and the projector.
Reel Time successfully epitomised the 'Structural' filmmaking interest in foregrounding the live, 'real-time', event of the film projection process, in comparison to the on-screen film image which projected a'retrospective event'. Nicolson's cast shadow and her presence at the centre of the room referred to her active presence in 'real time', whilst the image beside it on the wall referred to an earlier period of 'film time', when the footage was shot. Nicolson's elegant interplay between these two temporal states and her exposure of the normally hidden roles of the projector and the fragility of the film material, was much praised at the time, the film writer Deke Dusinberre perceived it as 'another important piece in establishing the role of the projector in an expanded cinema context.' However, there are other possible readings now being explored concerning Reel Time's expression of a specifically female identity; explicit in the gendered technology of the sewing machine and the artist's destruction of her own image. Thus Reel Time could be considered an important precursor to the more consciously feminist filmmaking which emerged towards the end of the decade, of which Nicolson, as a founder member of the womans film distribution group Circles, played a strongly involved part.
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