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Peter Gidal’s anti-narrative: An art of reprisal reappraised

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In this article I will reassess the ideas of artist, intellectual and educator Peter Gidal, who, unlike his similarly positioned contemporaries Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, is not well remembered today outside avant-garde film histories and readerships. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in a series of publications through the BFI press, in more artists’ film-focused journals such as Afterimage and Undercut, and, most significantly in the then leading film theory journal Screen, Gidal argued the centrality of the avant-garde, especially a local British expression he termed ‘structural/materialist’ film. Drawing on previous studies of Gidal by Deke Dusinberre (1976) and D. N. Rodowick (1988), and also the study of intellectual, literary and artistic fields by Pierre Bourdieu (1993), I propose, notwithstanding the lack of current interest in screen studies in the avant-garde and its association with the ‘teleologies of negation’ (James Donald 1989), a reappraisal of the significance and relevance of Gidal’s contribution to the theorization and practice of cinema in higher education. I will contest the historical reputation of Gidal and to some extent his own presentation of himself as an outsider (2006) with the argument that he simultaneously challenged and developed ideas central to screen studies to their most extreme and difficult conclusion. Gidal’s enduring influence on artists’ film in Britain has been acknowledged, but his contribution to screen theory is much less widely known, and the productive potential of his ideas not well understood or pursued.
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Keywords: Gidal; London Filmmakers’ Co-op; network cultures; structural film; theory and practice

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Melbourne

Publication date: 2013-04-01

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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