THE BLACKMAIL, DECEMBER 2010
Arthur and Corinne Cantrill started making films in Melbourne in the 1960s. In the subsequent years they took their camera and reels all around the world, participating in dozens of exhibitions, festivals and screenings for their experimental (although they hate the word) short films and features. Their repertoire includes works on Super 8, 16mm and 3-colour separation.
Although the Cantrills rarely travel these days, their work remains in major international collections including that of the MoMA and the Musée national d’art moderne at the Pompidou. Their most recent show was a retrospective at ACMI where they presented 31 works (out of over 140) over four sessions.
As well as their films, the Cantrills published their magazine Cantrills Filmnotes for 30 years. The intention was to publicize obscure artists and filmmakers such as Xerox Dream Flesh and Ewan Cameron’s Theatre of Hell. They still have every back issue of Filmnotes stored in their house in Melbourne, in case you’re interested.
Buckminster Fuller once said: “I just invent, then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.”
One way of interpreting this would be to say that it speaks of underappreciated output. Isn’t Bucky saying that an artifact – a film, an artwork, a geodesic dome, etcetera – is only seen as valid once the period in which it was made can be retrospectively classed as a ‘movement’?
Actually, I don’t think so. What this quote says to me is that people may or may not come around to liking what you make. The important part is that you made something, and will continue to make things, in the first place.
When did you first become interested in film?
Corinne Cantrill: We started filmmaking in 1960 but I think we’d both been interested in film, as well as film history and theory, before that. I have been an avid filmgoer since I was a child. I lived in Europe for quite a while from the age of 19 and had a deep immersion in film there. I was a member of a cine club in Paris where I went several times a week to the program they put on, which covered a wide scope of film history. In the early 1960s, we were living in Brisbane and we were members of the Brisbane Cinema Group. One of the people that ran it was already very familiar with the New American Cinema. He was probably the first subscriber in Australia. So we knew about Jonas Mekas and [Mekas’s magazine] Film Culture…
Arthur Cantrill: There was all this simmering in the background, but it took us a while to put it together and decide that this was the area we wanted to push in to.
One of the recurring themes in your work is the idea of ‘power over things’. This was [Australian poet and philosopher] Harry Hooton’s idea, and is also central to your 1969 film about him.
AC: Yes, the application of emotion to matter, which was [Hooton’s] definition of art. Corinne and I both knew Harry Hooton separately before we met up, and he influenced us both in different ways. The materiality of film has always been important to us; pushing into different physical and chemical possibilities.
Do you identify as artists as well as filmmakers?
AC: It’s always been a problem. We fall between the art establishment – who has difficulty in recognizing us as artists because even though they’re familiar with video art, they’re somehow suspicious of film art, or at least they don’t make any effort to exhibit it – and the film establishment, who has never taken us very seriously either. This is a problem that all film artists have, really. It’s slightly easier in some places: the MoMA shows work in this area, as does the Pompidou and centres in Germany. Even the word ‘experimental’ has been a problem for us, although these days we’re more used to the term ‘experimental music’ and somehow my soundtracks have been taken up by the experimental music community. The word ‘experimental’ has never been quite adequate to describe the work, I think.