Stephen Dwoskin's Moment (1970) on TV
There is an insurmountable difference between the archive and the Archive. The latter is, according to Derrida, a ‘place of election where law and singularity intersect in privilege’. The word comes from the Greek, meaning home of the magistrates, archons. Within such a place, ‘there should not be any absolute dissociation, any heterogeneity’. Small-a archives seldom live up to such grand pronouncements as these, and the extremely heterogeneous Dwoskin archive is no exception. The ‘archontic principle of the archive’, says Derrida, ‘is also a principle of consignation, that is, of gathering together’. I sometimes wish.
The Dwoskin archive is among the most comprehensive and revealing archives of any filmmaker; it contains diaries covering decades, a remarkable collection of correspondence, and a wealth of still images, not to mention the contents of his hard drives. It has thorough documentation for his films, made and unmade – but there are always gaps. ‘Documentation’ goes with professionalization, and Dwoskin’s early shorts, the ones that made his name in the 1960s and ’70s, were not in that sense professional. Moment, to take one example, is both one of his best-known films, and from the archival point of view, one of the least knowable.
Acts of Love (Reconstructed) featured in Sight and Sound, March 2020
It is one of the best-known partly because it was shown so often between 1970 and 1972 as part of the New Cinema Club’s ‘Acts of Love’ programme, reconstructed by the Dwoskin Project at BIMI on 14 February 2020; I wrote about it in the March 2020 Sight and Sound. The programme had its origins in one put on by David Curtis at the New Arts Lab in Camden, earlier in 1970. ‘3 Love Films’, first staged on 18 June, comprised Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses (1967), Takahiko Iimura’s Ai (1962), and Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’amour (1950). Moment had first been shown by The Other Cinema, at The Place, on 10 June; NCC’s ‘Acts of Love’, comprising the four films, began at the Sapphire Theatre, Wardour Street, on 2 October.
One thing that the archive does not support is the ambient notion that Dwoskin was at daggers drawn with the ‘structural’ filmmakers who were gathered together in the London Film-Makers’ Co-op’; in 1972 Peter Gidal named Moment as a key structural film in his influential article ‘Film as Film’. In 1978, David Curtis and Deke Dusinberre included it in a touring Arts Council programme, ‘A Perspective on English Avant-Garde Film’, the accompanying booklet for which included a reprint of Gidal’s article.
But Moment also had a wider than usual circulation, in theory, by being shown on Channel 4, many years later, on the night of 20–1 September 1993, in a series programmed by David Curtis and Simon Field. ‘Midnight Underground’ went out shortly after 12am on Monday nights; Moment appeared in an episode devoted to ‘New Sexualities’, alongside films by contemporaries including Kenneth Anger and Kurt Kren, and more recent work by Anna Thew. The episode is held not in the Dwoskin archive, but in the Study Collection at Central St Martin’s. Moment, the presenter Benjamin Woolley announces, ‘was made in New York in 1970, and reflects the influence of Andy Warhol’s films’.
Another gap in the gap in the archive relates to the putative Warhol influence. Warhol and Dwoskin began making films about the same time – strictly speaking, Dwoskin started first – and in the same milieu; they shared an agent, Emile de Antonio. But had Dwoskin really been able to see many of Warhol’s films before he left New York in September 1964? The archive is silent, but to mangle a line from Withnail and I, the mention of Warhol establishes Dwoskin in some sort of context viewers are likely to understand. For his part, Dwoskin wrote in 1990 that ‘Whereas Warhol’s position is to “look at” the subject, mine is “the subject also looks out towards the viewer”’.
He also wrote that ‘some of my films use the “long take”, which is also the case in some early Warhol films’. In fact, Moment was the first Dwoskin film to use really long takes – it is one long take, much longer than those in the Warhol film with which it is usually compared, Blow Job (1964), which is a series of 100ft reels strung together. Here the archive does provide some enlightenment.
In an interview done with a friend in 1993, in preparation for his autobiographical film Trying to Kiss the Moon (1995), Dwoskin described its genesis: ‘I wanted to do something like the idea of “Alone”’, one of the films he had made in 1963–4 in New York, ‘but carrying it out more literally, as one shot. Because Ray Durgnat always wrote about Alone as he could never notice the cuts, in fact he counted them, something like 34. So I thought I’d see if I could do it in real time, if I could get someone to do it.’
The end-title from Moment
One curiosity of the ‘Midnight Underground’ broadcast is its definiteness about the film having been shot in New York in 1970 – strange because the currently most available version, at any rate, ends with a title saying ‘London 1969’. This was not included in the broadcast version. Dates for these early films are often tricky – the archive does not tell us exactly when the New York films were made, and Dwoskin’s own autobiographical writings, self-compiled filmographies, etc., are inconsistent. The early London films are not much easier to pin down, and even the date 1969 cannot be relied upon – one filmography says it was shot in 1968, and I have reason to believe it.
More of a mystery, and a more important one, is the identity of the ‘girl’ (as she is credited), Tina Fraser. It was not easy for Steve to find women to appear in his films; few were professional performers. In the 1993 interview he says she was Indian, ‘the girlfriend of this guy who worked for the RAC’, who was in turn a friend of his friend Sonya, an antique dealer who lived near him around the Portobello Road. ‘She drank some whisky and I’d figured out how to time it, which is what the cigarette is about. People always ask me why the cigarette, well it was a timing device, I spent an afternoon timing different cigarettes, to see how long they burn.’ But who was she? We would like to know.
The Dwoskin Project is based at the University of Reading and supported by the AHRC. Follow its progress on Twitter: @DwoskinProject
Henry K. Miller is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Reading, and editor of The Essential Raymond Durgnat.