Early film-making at Nottingham College of Art
Devil Finds Work...
Things changed in autumn 1969 when at the age of nearly 18, I set off down the A6 headed for Nottingham College of Art. It was my first time away from home and I had no idea what to expect. This was okay because the foundation year was exactly what the name implied - a foundation or introduction to a variety of artistic disciplines, graphics, ceramics, life drawing, sculpture and painting, that by doing projects in each subject, students would find their own voice and the most appropriate means of expression.
Having successfully completed the Foundation year I was accepted on the Fine Art Course in Nottingham. though never saw myself as a painter,
It took nearly 4 hours to travel the 80 or so miles back home on the winding roads through Derbyshire. It inspired and provided me a lot of thinking time as I watched the industrial and rural landscapes go by on the interminable journey and I bought myself a 8mm camera and started to film from the coach window.
I quickly discovered the random joys of double and multi-exposure, the layering of one set of images on top of another. I filmed on an Standard 8mm camera with Martin driving at speed in his old Ford Anglia with me in the passenger seat, moving and swinging the camera like mad filming street lights at night, under-cranked and over-cranked to experiment and attempting to come up with amazing images, putting the film through the camera time and time again.
Dig Them Graveyards
One particular section of the A6 going into Ilkeston presented a long run of detached houses that in the early evening dusk, with the fading light behind them, appeared as silhouetted shapes reminiscent of cemetery headstones. Possessing the infallible arrogance of late adolescence I was riding high on my judgemental stagecoach courtesy of National Express coaches.
So, I thought, let's superimpose images of some actual gravestones on top of the houses and introduce a picture of my Dad mowing our front lawn. Hey get the message we're mowing the grass on our own graves! Wow man it's so truuueee!
Thus The Steady People was created. Another film idea came from the moral high ground, but this time with added irony.
To the tune of the sickeningly ubiquitous 'Everything is Beautiful in its own Way' by Ray Stevens, a huge top ten hit at the time I shot and cut 8mm B+W footage of traffic jams, close ups of exhaust pipes, factory chimneys spewing forth. An eco-warrior film-maker before the term was invented. Eat your heart out Al Gore!
At least making short films was a great way to fire off ideas, (and still is) no matter how affected or ineffectual. Technical competence made me more ambitious and shot and edited part of a science fiction epic Beware This Is A Radioactive Film, starring Martin Sheridan and Steve Hopkins as two astronauts, who return to Earth suffering with amnesia.
There were elements of social satire, a few good sight gags and the budget stretched to overalls spray-painted silver and plastic ray guns. On the recommendation of Roger Eagle I was reading Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley and Alfred Bester in prodigious quantities at the time, so again in the science fiction vein I made 'P.C.A.s' (Psycho Chemical Aerosols) with Ken Burgess, a fellow art student at Nottingham, a taciturn Liverpudlian and passionate Buster Keaton fan with a great stoically expressive face.
No need for a plot just introduce psychedelic bombs exploding randomly on the street that cause all kinds of fantasy events to occur to Ken's character. In reality it was just a series of comic sketches that was invariably undercut in the final scene by some sort of comedic comeuppance.
It was the early seventies and conceptual art was all the rage. Incongruently it was rubbing artistic shoulders with the more accessible pop art images and films of Andy Warhol. I was influenced by both but felt they were equally ripe for 'taking the piss out of' hence I featured myself in probably my last 8 mm short. Close up of typewriter.
Letters slowly appear CONCEPTUAL FILMS In association with THE WANK ORGANISATION Proudly present A close up shot of the artist and filmmaker, JOHN CRUMPTON Frantically reading A CRITICAL HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY, Whilst sitting in his bedroom at 30 Forest Road, Nottingham Smoking a Kool cigarette On July 7th 1972 And that's exactly what you got for the next five minutes. Ahead of its time or what?
Perhaps I should have been eating a jaffa cake instead?
The flirtation with Warhol's film work continued again with me in the starring role in Yawn a homage to and comment upon 'Sleep' Warhol's 1963 8 hour movie of the poet John Giorno in the act of, you guessed it, sleeping. At this time he produced a whole raft of 'locked off' one shot films, the most well known being 'Empire' (8 hours of New York's Empire State Building) and the most notorious 'Blow Job', (a 45 minute close up of a man's face apparently experiencing fellatio), both from 1964. In a pre-internet age such underground films took years to make their way over from the USA to the UK's provincial art colleges.
Although it was all fairly passe by the late sixties, Yawn was my irreverent response to Warhol's celluloid experimentation. It's a short film, my first in 16 mm colour with a soundtrack by the Velvet Underground and features me, wearing shades, in backlit coloured lighting, masturbating. As with Warhol's 'Blow Job' the real action is taking place just out of shot at the bottom of frame. A caption appears '8 hours later' and I'm still at it. Stand aside Sting the Impostor. The reality was much more mundane but 16mm was a great format to work on and a big improvement on the smaller, grainier picture that 8 mm supplied.
Digs at Gill Street
Earlier on during my time at Nottingham, I'd already had some experience with this gauge when making Digs at Gill Street (1970) The punning title was probably the most interesting thing about it as it a day in the life tale of me as the struggling artist getting up, going to college, ruminating on artistic matters, interrupted by a game of table football, home, tea, strumming a guitar, going to bed and then lights out.
At least its fairly pacey due to the maximum 15 second shot duration that the clockwork mechanism of the Bolex H16 dictated. Pete Cornish, a budding cameraman, shot it and it's certainly a sociological curiosity of its time. I even had a go at a 30 second comedy animation on 16mm though the content makes me groan when I look at it now.