(Scratch Book, ed Light Cone org yann beauvais & Jean-Damien Collin, Paris 1997)
Translation Deke Dusinberre
This book is designed to celebrate experimental cinema in its diversity while paying tribute to one of the organizations that has most actively promoted and defended that cinema over the past fifteen years. It seeks to document Scratch’s specificity as a screening venue by presenting the viewpoints of critics and programmers as well as by republishing interviews with filmmakers (some now in French for the first time) which appeared in the ephemeral periodical, Scratch Revue. Also included are graphic and visual material constituting a kind of status report on experimental film.
Scratch represents the commitment of artists — in film and other visual media — to a practice too often undervalued. While the founding of the association responded to a need to reinvigorate the places where experimental films could be screened in Paris, it also denoted — if only by its name — a predisposition to openness and questioning. Far from being a sounding board for any given vanguard, Scratch wanted above all to be different, marginal, fringe: we kept our distance from official history, making our reservations and biases evident through our choice of programs. Scratch therefore represented, in the early years of its existence, an alternative approach to experimental cinema, unique in the deliberate eclecticism of its programming.
After all those years of organizing screenings at various venues, experimental cinema is now enjoying a marked renewal of interest in France, and so we thought it would be timely to review Scratch’s history as a way of taking another look at the personal history of filmmakers and the aesthetic issues raised by their films. This entails showing how alternative organizations conceived and run by artists — workshop-like affairs — can extend beyond their initial field or scope into other spheres, providing models for other contemporary art practices. Like all models, such organizations are just waiting to be superseded. All are highly mobile, allowing them to react rapidly as opportunities arise and to adapt their actions to circumstance, thereby leading to a diversity of projects and sites. Similar mobility and flexibility are now typical of various artists’ collectives and alternative film labs which do not promote a shared aesthetic, but rather provide a way of generating artistic projects that may take the form of « works » or « pieces » or even « events. » That was the role played by Scratch in the realm of experimental movies, based in a specific place yet in contact with other cities and countries. But the stakes are no longer the same. Scratch has a history from which it must free itself in order to envisage other modes of action in the current cinematic context.
Current developments in the visual arts and experimental film have lent support to the idea of producing a publication on Scratch, an idea that originated over dinner one summer evening as Jean-Damien Collin, Miles McKane and myself were discussing the problems encountered by the distribution and screening of films. The book would describe the road already covered even as it remained open to the present, avoiding any clannishness or partisanship; it would reveal and defend innovative initiatives and unknown (or under-known) filmmakers. Without realizing it, we were influenced by illustrious predecessors who had demonstrated their independence: members of the Close-Up collective in the 1930s and, later, the Fluxus collective (if either can be referred to as a collective). Our detachment from official history encouraged an openness to the new generation of filmmakers, an attitude shared by invited critics and programmers. In the 1980s that meant — as it does today — doing a lot of intensive groundwork in order to bring films, filmmakers, and audiences in contact with one another. This sheds light on our programming decisions — the presence or absence of given filmmakers — which were often designed as responses to other local venues, yet were sometimes totally independent of them. (Venues worth mentioning from those years include the regular screenings at the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Saint-Charles Ciné-Club, as well as occasional events such as FIAG, the Man Ray season, the Rouen festival, and other shows.) Scratch was therefore free to share its passion for a constantly evolving cinema. Its determination to remain independent seemed crucial insofar as it drew these films from the universities, the only place where such films were being made (in those days, schools of fine art showed no interest). Scratch’s decision to challenge history — faithful to a tradition firmly grounded in the visual arts — gave filmmakers a specific screening venue which presented itself as a public workshop or laboratory. As a venue for and by filmmakers, Scratch invited people to « work » their films through its projectors. The workshop aspect was evident in both the regularity of multi-screen projections and in installation events — the first event devised by Scratch simultaneously proposed installations and screenings. Scratch conceived of itself as a system for promoting exchange. The important thing was not being the first venue to show a given filmmaker, but to enable filmmakers to meet other filmmakers during screenings, or to establish a dialogue between artistic practices that remained far too divorced. One of the contradictions of experimental cinema is that it must simultaneously demonstrate its up-to-dateness and assert its past; this highly unusual situation (within the art scene) makes every filmmaker and every organization a vector and medium of history. Encouraging exchanges between filmmakers seemed of utmost importance to us in (re)establishing screening-and-distribution networks.
This logic of openness and dialogue governed the choice of texts for the book. Rather than just indulge in self-congratulation, we thought it important to call upon filmmakers, critics, curators and programmers who would stress the diverse approaches reflecting the varied publics reached by Scratch screenings. Hence the texts by Gilles Royannais, Nicolas Gautron and Marie-Pierre Duquoc celebrate both the works and the possibilities that Scratch offered them in selecting films and unpacking them. The same angle sheds light on the texts recounting our experiences in Brazil with Gloria Ferreira, and in Italy with Andrea Lissoni and Daniele Gasparinetti, all of whom reacted to the lack of screenings in their respective countries by expressing a desire to collaborate with Scratch. The project with Gloria came together in Rio, in a cycle of artists’ films and experimental movies from the 1970s, shown in the context of Brazilian cinema. The ongoing Italian project faithfully reflects Scratch’s approach by setting contemporary work within a transversal view of history. Both propositions revealed one of Scratch’s underlying characteristics, namely that programming should be perceived not only as a specific stage in the work of a filmmaker — seeing, comparing and confronting films with one another — but also as a place to shake things up. These two lines of approach have often driven our programming over the years, making it possible to create links and networks between filmmakers and programmers.
This faculty of openness is at the core of Scratch’s undertaking, somehow fueling our creativity at all levels. It involves presenting other images — Helga Fanderl, Anne-Marie Cornu, Marcelle Thirache — and making other voices heard. Jürgen Reble, Abigail Child, and Métamkine are a few examples among all those included in The Scratch Book. Discovering a new filmmaker or film is always a special moment, whether it be Mike Hoolboom, Vivian Ostrovsky or Luther Price. The types of sharing proposed by Scratch and by the book are designed to spark encounters, whether through a filmmaker’s photographs or a critique of an artist. They provide (oneself with) the means to see things differently. There’s no question of bringing this history to a close, but rather of celebrating experimental cinema as one of this century’s key artistic practices, a medium that straddles the other arts. This status obliges experimental cinema to constantly excite the associations promoting it, transforming them into transmitters of light.
We hope that this book, like the screenings, will create an irresistible desire to see the films, to program them in other places and other ways, and — who knows? — maybe to make more of them still.