Repertory consists of one continuous tracking shot, during which the camera completely circles the outside of a locked and empty theatre, whilst a voice describes a three week programme of daily ‘imagined presentations’ inside the theatre. The contrast between the documentary image and fictional narrative is exaggerated by the nature of the descriptions, which are wittily absurd and fantastic – the presentations include a domestic interior covered in melting slabs of butter; an old aeroplane, an illuminated fish tank, etc. Extrapolated partly from Breakwell’s frequent visits to Nottingham Playhouse in the late 1950s, the film plays out with peculiar effectiveness his interest in the relationship between words and pictures.
The Institution (made in collaboration with singer-songwriter and artist Kevin Coyne) emerged from Breakwell’s work at Rampton Hospital as part of the Artist Placement Group, which placed artists within Rampton and Broadmoor high security hospitals. Breakwell’s experimental documentary is a critique of the institution of mental health care and is more directly articulated in a report co-written with a group of architects on the proposed top-to-bottom restructuring of Rampton Hospital that was proposed at the time he made the film. According to Breakwell, “The Institution is intended to develop further the questioning of ‘normal’ viewing habits, those easy responses to ‘harrowing documentaries’ and ‘social -conscious dramas’ which are served up on the nation’s small screens between the cornflakes and the motor car adverts. It is the prerogative of the sloppy, sentimental liberal to assume that someone who lives alone in a room must automatically be lonely and miserable. It is not as simple as that.”
Founded in 1966, the London Film-Makers’ Co-operative started life at Better Books, a counter-culture bookshop on Charing Cross Road, where a group led by poet Bob Cobbing and filmmakers Stephen Dwoskin and Jeff Keen met to screen films. Initially inspired by the activities of the New American Cinema Group in New York, the London Co-op grew into a pioneering organisation that incorporated a film workshop, cinema space and distribution office. During its four-decade history, the Co-op played a crucial role in establishing film as an art form in the UK and participated in a vibrant international film scene. This BFI Player collection brings together new scans of films distributed by and/or produced at the London Co-op.