Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film

This week, in London, I met up with Malcolm Le Grice. Recently, we’ve been pondering how it might be to tackle the re-enactment, or recreation of his Horror Film, from 1971. The piece, for three 16mm projectors, involves a live performer, naked, with his back to the audience. He begins right up near the screen, and during the course of the performance, moves slowly backwards until he reaches the projectors.

I’ve never seen the work performed live, so most of my speculation here is based on video documentation, my imagination, and my experience of working with other expanded cinema projects.

le grice horror film stills
[some representative stills from Horror Film, thanks to the LUX website.]

All the while, the performer makes a series of movements with his hands, arms, shoulders, seeming to feel the boundaries of the projected rectangles of light. The performer’s body-shadows are crucial to the work, and it seems that these shadows, which loom larger and larger as the piece goes on, are what gives it the feeling of an old fashioned “horror” movie. (Some discussion of the use of shadows in horror films here.)

During Malcolm’s Horror Film, the sound of breathing is audible, amplified in the room. Presumably, this is the live microphone link-up of the performer’s own breath while in action (or it may be pre-recorded).

It’s a seemingly simple work. With a bit of practice, and a strong attention to precision, there’s no reason it couldn’t be performed by anyone. I can’t see that it’s necessary for the performer to be male, either.

As for the medium-specificity side of things – how essential is it that the piece is projected from 16mm film? The film strips seem to be large lush blocks of colour, which project over the top of one another. When the performer’s body gets in the way, the shadows allow additive/subtractive colour combinations to emerge.

This is a punt (I’ve not researched it at all yet): the colour 16mm strips might have been made through a ‘pure’ process, using light exposure onto the celluloid without a camera, and cross-processed (not sure of the correct term) in some way on the London Film-Maker’s Co-op’s developing machine.

Would the process of re-creating this work involve following similar photo-chemical procedures to manufacture new 16mm strips?

Or, would it involve making similar colour sequences, using video instead?

And what about the projection event? What is essential to the event about film-versus-video? The central projected image seems to be white. Does that mean the central 16mm projector was actually empty of film? Ie – just the direct light from the projector bulb running through a lens. If so, how can an equivalent whiteness be produced by a colour video projector (which uses a combinatory light system to ‘produce’ white).

In our meeting, Malcolm and I spoke about issues to do with medium authenticity. In general, he’s not particularly concerned with staying true to the original medium, preferring to be pragmatic about what is currently available, and easier to use. I tend to agree – however, it could be interesting in Horror Film, to try a ‘compare and contrast’ approach (making a film and a video version) for the purposes of looking into how each of these generates a different kind of experience. (Other matters to consider include issues like the “presence” of the projectors in the room, and the sounds they make – video has a very different feel).

Malcolm’s ideas about media were very stimulating. He talked about his notion of ‘discourse’ rather than medium, to describe our experience of the digital world. I’ll be interested to read more about that, and I’m sure when we get a chance to work more closely on Horror Film, we’ll also delve more deeply into live experience and ‘present-ness’ – two areas which we both agree are at the core of the sort of thing which makes expanded cinema what it is.

-Lucas

2 Responses to “Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film”


  • The colour question looks this way to me – projection makes white light when red, green and blue are combined, it’s additive colour (you add each colour to end up at pure white). You can see this quite clearly when you catch an old aeroplane and they have those old projectors with three bulbs – one ea of red, blue, green.

    So projection works towards pure white whereas printing onto paper works towards pure black (subtractive colour) where cyan, magenta and yellow end up with black.

    Red is opposite cyan, green is opposite magenta, blue is opposite yellow.

    Now I think that in the film lab, the film printer has a red light, a green light and a blue light. But I could be wrong, I do get confused about the negative/print issue here.

    But definitely, I have print stock that is pure cyan, magenta and yellow made by printing neg that has been exposed to each printer light individually. When you look at the negative, those colours would be red, green, blue. Looks to me from these images above that maybe it was strips of neg with monochrome colour from each printer light that appears in this performance ie red, green, blue.

    Does any of this matter do you think? Maybe. Effectively, the colour was generated by the machine. I’m not sure how digital imaging actually makes the colour. I have known more about this in the past so I’m keen to follow this up. I’m sure I still have notes about it.

    I like the sense the images give of the movements being like calisthenics.

    – Louise

  • Thanks Louise

    I sent the above blog post to Malcolm. Here’s his reply:

    Just for info – the film loops were made directly on the coop debrie printer.

    I ran raw 16mm reversal colour stock through and exposed it with colour filters pulled by hand through the slot used on that particular debrie (nowhere now has it) for a grading strip.

    I now replace the loops from time to time from an interneg of material produced for Love Story 2 – same process. There is no great selection process for the loops – as long as the section for each loop is paced aprox right and the three loops have sufficient variety of r g b sections it always works ok.

    Breathing is a disc from an original tape – I broadly use it to time my movements again not strict.

    Re video – I have prepared a similar full colour set for a video version – the problem here is video projector lenses to get the right distance and the difference between the size of the mid projector and the other two.

    Also, soft focussing at the ernd manually with the lenses is almost impossible with video. If I do a video version I would like to make a curved corner matte with a ‘soft’ frame – mainly because of the actions and the quality of the superimposition.

    Also – now most new video projectors are 16×9 nor 4×3

    However – I would not see any problem of making a new variant using hard frame video projection.

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