Horror Film 1 – Users Manual (version 1.0)

Louise and Lucas from TLC have been working towards various versions of a users manual for Horror Film 1 (1971). In this blog post, we’ll share a few versions of the manual, which are still at an early stage.

We started this process in 2013, when we first visited Malcolm Le Grice in Devon, UK. Malcolm had invited us to become next-generation custodians (or “stand-ins”) for the performative enactment of this important piece of Expanded Cinema. The time was nigh when he would be too old to perform it himself any more – and he recognised that the TLC re-enactment method could be useful in order to keep Horror Film 1 alive – ie, able to be experienced by audiences.

On that 2013 visit, we learned about the “choreography” of the piece, as well as the technical set up using 16mm projectors. We also learned about the 16mm colour film loops that are central to Horror Film 1. With this knowledge on board, in 2014 we were able to present our first re-enactment of Horror Film 1 in Canberra, with Louise performing. This was the first time anyone beyond Malcolm had presented the work in public. You can see a video document of this event here.

In 2022, we decided it was time to formalise our embodied knowledge into a sort of users manual. This would enable us to pass on what we know about Horror Film 1 to others. This was spurred by contact with Jed Rapfogel, a film programmer at Anthology Film Archives in New York. Jed wanted to present Horror Film 1, and Malcolm was unable to travel. Nor were Louise and I (it’s crazy expensive to fly to New York from Australia, plus COVID). At that point, we realised that the best solution would be to teach somebody on the ground in New York to set up and perform the piece.

This would have three benefits – first, it would spread the knowledge more broadly (making it less vulnerable to loss). Second, it would mean that Horror Film 1 could become mobile – free of the constraints of Malcolm’s body, or of the bodies of Louise and Lucas. More mobility means more accessibility – thus the work could be performed more often, in more places – thus helping to keep it alive in performed repertoire. And thirdly, the work could travel around the world without the carbon footprint of aeroplane flights.

In the end, we didn’t meet the short deadline for Anthology’s program in New York, but we did start work on the manual.

What form should a users manual take? We’re not really sure. For (Wo)man with Mirror (our re-enactment of Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror), we produced a paper manual which doubles as a limited edition printed artwork. We would hand these out to audience members who came along to performances of this work. However, the limitations of “real estate” on the printed page mean that it’s not possible to have a comprehensive manual in this form. Also, the printed page can’t show videos – and since the work is based on performance and moving image, it seemed to us that video would be an ideal space for a users manual focused on expanded cinema re-enactment. YouTube is full of short video tutorials which attempt to share know-how on all manner of complex embodied things, from fixing the brakes on your bike, to new dance moves – so it makes sense for us to work with that cultural form.

Our video tutorial is still in the works, and we’ll share it here when we have a draft. In the meantime, here are two versions of a text-based manual.

The first version is a google doc, which starts with a brief context to Malcolm’s Horror Film 1, as well as context around our re-enactment of it. It then presents a basic set of instructions – given to us by Malcolm in April 2022. Having performed the work ourselves, we knew that some things were missing in Malcolm’s instructions, so we added our own annotations, as well as some notes reflecting on the instructions. Finally, we tried out the proto-users-manual with Nicci Haynes, an artist from Canberra, and have included Nicci’s reflections on what worked, and what extras might be needed.

The second version of the users manual contains the same material, laid out as a PDF. We call this the “school project” version – it could, for example, be printed out on A2 paper and pinned to the wall to accompany a public enactment of Horror Film 1. This would give the audience a bit of essential context about the experience of the work, and about the contribution of the re-enacters in keeping the work alive.

In the future, we’d like to experiment with more dynamic formats for our users manual. For example, we have begun collaborating with Raja Appuswamy, a data engineer in France. Raja has proposed that future users of Horror Film 1 might benefit from being able to interact with an artificial intelligence engine. The AI could be “trained up” on the cultural context, and technical details about the work. It could then respond to questions from whoever would like to present a re-enactment, providing answers dynamically as they are required. In many ways, this dynamic, interactive model for a users manual corresponds more closely to what Louise and Lucas experienced in 2013, when we visited Malcolm at his studio in Devon – we quizzed him incessantly about aspects of the piece which interested us. (One big difference is that the AI cannot provide wine!)