Soft Cinema and Hard cinema:

It can be argued that there is too much about the cinema in my book. I was so determined to document my attempts to establish a repertory of artists’ films and a showcase for the new, and to establish an audience for it, that I probably overwhelm with detail. But the four Lab years 67-71 undeniably saw a transformation in attitudes and aspirations in the growing experimental filmmaking community. The Lab’s cinema programme, Film Co-op’s workshop, the arrival of the New American Cinema Collection and the beginnings of a film courses in St Martins – all helped to seed the first real generation of filmmaking artists in the UK. With no subsidy, in the wrong location (at Robert Street) and in a short life building, the five-days-a-week ‘repertory’ project was a doomed venture, but as failures go, it was perhaps a heroic one. 

Here are a few more images that didn’t make it into the book, and some clips:

Customers reclining (uncomfortably) in Drury Lane's soft-floored cinema.
Image courtesy Napier University.
One of the Robert Street schedules, with a map showing its location.

Malcolm Le Grice’s involvement with the Labs, and his key role in establishing a workshop with not just film editing machines but a film processing and printing lab, began when he turned up at Drury Lane with his newly made film Castle One, which we showed in November 1967.  Here’s the film – a wholly new departure, which owes more to Rauschenberg than to any film being made in the UK at that time. And here’s his programme note for that screening – (the film jokingly credited to an alter ego; phonetically ‘Mickey Mouse’).    



Castle One, Malcolm Le Grice, 1966

Malcolm’s ‘Mickey Mouse’ programme note for Castle One

Towards the end of the Robert Steet Lab, new films by English makers were an increasingly frequent part of our programme. 


Peter Gidal’s Heads (now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery) had its premiere at the Lab, together with many other Gidal titles, and features portraits of Charlie Watts, Bill West, Jane, John Blake, Linda Thorson, Marsha Hunt, Steve Dwoskin, Thelonious Monk, Peter Townsend, David Hockney, Marianne Faithful, Carol Garney-Lawson, David Gale, Richard Hamilton, Dieter Meier, Rufus Collins, Leslie Smith, Anita Pallenburgh, Claes Oldenburgh, Francis Bacon, Adrian Munsey, Carolee Schneeman, Andrew Garnett-Lawson, Jim Dine, Vivian, Prenai, Winston, Gregory Markopoulos, Rosie, Patrick Procktor, Francis Vaughan.

Heads, Peter Gidal, 1969

Sally Potter credits the Labs with providing her film-making education. Her early Super 8 two screen Play (1971) is available to watch on Vimeo VOD here

Play, Sally Potter, 1971