The Silver Scene

By Buck, Louisa | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

The Silver Scene


Buck, Louisa, Artforum International


Though the movies celebrated their 100th birthday last year, this spring found London awash with a wave of celluloid festivities to mark the centenary of the motion picture's arrival in Britain. First off was the Hayward Gallery's "Spellbound," which managed to open 100 years to the day (21 February 1896) the Lumiere Brothers brought their newly invented cinematograph to a London audience. Taking its title from Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 thriller, which featured a two-minute dream sequence by Salvador Dali, "Spellbound" presented new works from ten British-based artists and film directors, including Peter Greenaway, Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, Eduardo Paolozzi, and, inevitably, Damien Hirst, celebrating "the extraordinary love affair between the two great visual art forms of the twentieth century." (Given that the show contained everything from paintings to projections, plaster rats, and pieces of living flesh, exactly which two visual art forms the organizers had in mind remained something of a mystery.)

The effort to blur the boundaries between art and film was viewed by local government officials, however, in a less than harmonious light. In a decision that threatens to affect the viewing of film-based artworks throughout the UK - as well as provide an unexpected insight into the anomalies governing the moving image in this country - the London Borough of Lambeth put paid to any cultural crossdressing by insisting that all large-screen moving images on show at the Hayward Gallery were subject to film categories imposed by the British Board of Film Classification. This meant that a series of ungainly barriers had to be erected in order to shield juvenile eyes from the huge suspended screen showing Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho - because, whatever its projection speed, this Hitchcock classic still carries an "X" certificate. However, since Psycho carries a "15" certificate on video with different categories for film and video being yet another eccentricity of the British rating system - young Gordon wanna-bes can always do a bit of freeze-framing in the comfort of their own homes.

Another notable casualty was Hirst's debut feature Hanging Around. This 28-minute romp through the now-familiar Hirst territory of love, death, friends, and cigarette butts may have included in its disclaimer that "no butterflies were killed or injured in this film," but by showing a needle entering an arm it still committed at least one possible transgression in the eyes of the British censor, which may, ultimately, have accounted for the "18" certificate slapped onto it. To young Hirst fans eager to lap up a brand-new Britpop soundtrack of unreleased material by Pulp and Blur, and to see cult-comic Eddie Izzard as a psychiatrist in a direct tribute to Hitchcock's Spellbound, it was scant comfort that they were permitted to scrutinize the living genitals on the five actors who were part of Greenaway's room full of sound effects and fury; or that they could view ad infinitum the snapping alien ("18" certificate on film and video) springing gorily from John Hurt's stomach, part of Scott's four-monitor mishmash of movie clips and production notes. Still, such are the discrepancies of British censorship that Hirst's youthful following will not have to wait long: the BBC has just bought Hanging Around and plans to put it on the nation's TV sets within the year.

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