William Raban is one of the foremost British artists and experimental filmmakers of the last forty years, known primarily for his landscape, performance and multi-screen based films.
Born in Fakenham, Norfolk, in 1948, he went to St Martin’s School of Art in 1967, where he made paintings and prints that involved sustained but direct contact with natural surfaces, such as tree bark and waves. Raban then made a number of films utilising different facets of the filmmaking process to reveal hidden elements of landscapes. View (1970) alternated shooting speeds to give the landscape a rhythm, Colours of This Time (1972) used long exposures to alter the colour of sunlight, and Broadwalk (1972) used time-lapse to capture and freeze movement in Regent’s Park. River Yar (1972), made with Chris Welsby, was a more ambitious project and involved two screens (like Raban’s earlier Skyfilm (1970, made with John Barry). River Yar presents, in time-lapse, two views of the river at set points around the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes and alludes to the passage of the moon around the earth (the change in tides) and the passage of the earth around the sun (the light at different times of year).
These explorations of the dynamics of space and time led to other ‘expanded’ cinematic works. These drew on the physical qualities of film – the presence and framing of the multiple projection beams in Diagonal (1973) and Wave Formations (1977), the length in distance of a filmstrip in Take Measure (1973) and the layering of negative and positive images in 2’45” (1973), to name just a few – to create new structures and aesthetics and to highlight elements of the filmmaking and presentation process. William Raban was a member of Filmaktion in 1973, a group that also explored multiple projection and performance.
The beginning of the 1980s marked a shift in Raban’s work. With Marilyn Halford, he made the feature length Black and Silver (1981), combining his interest in painting and space with her background in performance. The result was more directly romantic than any of his previous films. When he took on larger scale production and work with Channel 4, he formed production company Bow Visions, in 1986. Thames Film (1986) and From 60 Degrees North (1991, made with Begonia Tamarit) reframed Raban’s landscape interests, though in a more historical and socio-political context: respectively, the history of the Thames, and the experiences of Spanish sailors in British waters following their defeat in the Armada.
Raban’s poetic films of the nineties and onward have pursued similar goals through different means. Reminiscent of Humphrey Jennings’ wartime films, Island Race (1996), MM (2002), Continental Drift (2005) and others look at the island of Britain and its people, in the context of the global economy and the effects of urban change.
William Raban’s filmography also reflects the changing opportunities afforded to artist and independent filmmakers. After Duchamp Installation from 2003, for example, uses film and performance to present a three-dimensional rendition of Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, returning to Raban’s expanded spatial explorations of the 1970s. Ayshe’s Tale (2008) was commissioned by the BBC and Film London to accompany a short story written for radio by London chronicler Peter Ackroyd, and through modern radio technologies and the internet, is framed in just that way – as pictures for/juxtaposed with radio.
From 1972 to 1976, he was the manager of the London Filmmakers Co-op workshop. He was also Senior Lecturer in Film at St. Martin’s from 1976 to 1989 and is currently Reader in Film at University of the Arts, London. He has exhibited widely in both art and film contexts.
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.
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