Volume 1 - Issue 7 - Editorial

Vertigo 7 appears at a particularly febrile moment in British film culture. We know about the £90 million worth of lottery funds invested in commercial film franchises, we know about Chancellor Brown’s tax breaks for British film-makers. Even the word ‘renaissance’ is becoming currency when British cinema is debated; at this year’s Venice Film Festival there was a major showcase event entitled ‘The British Renaissance’. But, at home, it’s a word loaded with ambiguities that demand real political will to resolve, particularly when it comes to distribution and exhibition in the UK, as Steve MacIntyre, Sally Hibbin and Chris Chandler discuss. Although the recent commercial franchise awards include some recognition of this issue it remains a fair question to ask, where are all these new British films going to be shown?

This issue of Vertigo is poised somewhere between the experience of a sense of loss at possibilities contracting – the closure of numerous independent cinemas, such as the Lumiere – and the acknowledgment of other possibilities opening up – the launch of the new Lux Centre, for example. It’s an uneasy mixture but a symptomatic one; a sense of constriction remains frustratingly at the heart of current optimism about British film. The Lux Centre, as Sarah Turner explores in these pages, is a real opportunity for new work in many fields to be shown and debated. Vertigo wholeheartedly supports this crucial venture – and not just in word. In November, we are presenting 4 new films at the Lux Centre; Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit's The Falconer, Chris Marker's Level Five, Shane Meadow's Small Time and John Sander’s Painted Angels. Each one representing a cinema that Vertigo would like to see expanding.

Another question that needs to posed is: into what sort of cultural climate will new British films be released? As two leading film critics – one American, Jonathan Rosenbaum, one British, Jonathan Romney – assert in this issue, the film critic’s task of covering cinema broadly as well as deeply, of evaluating, and historicizing, has been largely reduced to being one of ‘PR-led showbiz journalism’, as Romney puts it. The narrowing of the culture, its ‘dumbing down’ into a supermarket aisle of empty po-mo pick ‘n’ mix gestures where infantilist New Lad-ism jostles with authoritarian populism, has obviously affected the environment of British film. In his review of David Puttnam’s The Undeclared War: The Struggle for Control of the World’s Film Industry, Julian Petley lucidly details a set of attitudes that, if set to work at the highest decision-making levels, could seriously jeopardise the need for diversity and the recognition that all sectors of film-making and film culture be encouraged in this so-called ‘boom’.

Since news that the ‘non-commercial’ film franchises have been put on ice, the suspicion must be that the Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport is not being lobbied insistently enough to support and uphold the activities of the independent film sector. The fight for a healthy British film culture is one that must be undertaken on several fronts – promoting a variety of work from all ends of the production scale as well as hammering away at the opportunities available to British, European and other ‘marginal’ cinemas in this country.

The films discussed in Vertigo 7 and to be shown in the Vertigo Presents season at The Lux Centre are examples of certain possibilities in current film-making practice that one might loosely term as ‘independent’. Godard’s series Histoire(s), Chris Marker’s Level Five have interesting affinities with new British work by Andrew Kötting and Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair – a sense that there is now the technology available to revitalise and reinvent the form known as the ‘essay film’. And it’s significant that this ‘new form’ should be emerging as a possible available formal strategy that responds to the closing-down of other possibilities. It’s an acknowledgement of the absolute necessity of strong ‘minority’ work to exist alongside mainstream production. It may also be seen as the materialization of the opinion – the call, almost – that echoes across several of the pieces in Vertigo 7; that it’s time to move ‘underground’ again. What a ‘new underground’ might look and sound like is uncertain and will no doubt be different from previous models of such practice. But the necessary elements – of technology, distribution and criticism – need to be coherently organised and orchestrated in order to be recognised. If British film is to be seen as something more than a momentary flickering of possibilities, the vision underlying it must be broad, inclusive and tied to the long-term. This is a critical cultural moment – a robustly holistic vision of film culture is the vital riposte to the current state of constriction.

Independent cinema exists, still, on those ever-permanent crossroads, between a cinema of illumination and a cinema of illustration. The fact that Puttman devotes so much of his energy in The Undeclared War to nailing Godard to the cinematic exit-door shows that still, in 1997, almost forty years after the nouvelle vague, the social democrats and market populists still feel haunted by that moment. It is truly amazing to see, even today, how sectarian these people can be, how ungenerous, and finally what lack of curiosity informs their judgments on cinema. The plain fact is that 'independence' is necessary to film life by the very nature of its name and calling. It is a cinema that has to fight both from within and without; without – to wrest away the control of images from cultural administrators – and then within, to confront them with those images in order to extend the rights and therefore the life of the imagination.