Farewell Peter Mudie

Peter Mudie working with Buwantaro and Albie Thoms, processing 16mm film – photo by Martin Heine, 1999.
Peter Mudie working with Buwantaro and Albie Thoms, processing 16mm film – photo by Martin Heine, 1999. (Click on the photo to go to Peter’s article about Albie Thoms.)

This week we lost a VIP in the experimental cinema community. Peter Mudie was a teacher at University of Western Australia, where I studied fine arts in the mid-1990s. Shortly after he arrived in Perth (from Canada via London) he set up a Super-VHS editing suite, and began teaching the history and practice of experimental film and video. It was a revelation.

Each week we would watch films from the canon, dating back 100 years, right up to the present. Often Peter had obtained celluloid prints on 16mm, and he would lace the projector up in front of us, cigarette dangling from his lips. His drawling, chuckling style of teaching, infused with marxist politics, was infectious.

Peter gave us access to works by Stan Brakhage, Carolee Schneeman, Michael Snow, Maya Deren… at that time there was no YouTube where you could find this stuff. The films themselves were beautiful moving image artworks. Through him, a bunch of kids from Perth learned that making movies didn’t require characters, plots, stories, and conventional themes. Peter broke it wide open for us, and a strong culture of experimental filmmaking (including the incorporation of moving image into performance and installation) emerged from that art (and architecture!) school because of him.

Peter treated us like adults. He was involved in setting up a studio in an empty office building on St George’s Terrace, in the middle of Perth CBD, where some of the students in our course could work 24/7. It felt like a “proper” artist community, and the students who worked there worked big. This big scale was as much due to the fact that the studio was “in town” – this tied it to the great traditions of artists’ lofts and warehouses – breaking free of the classroom. He was always a champion of self-directed initiatives by students – like our film and photography club “Dust the Image”, or anarchic performance nights like “Cat Flap” in the architecture building, which got us into trouble because of the messes we left behind.

* * *

Peter ran an incredibly ambitious screening program at the Film and Television Institute (FTI) in 1993. The program was called Dusting off the Other and every Thursday we’d car-pool to the very uncomfortable seats in the FTI and sit together in that properly fusty cinema to watch some properly experimental films.

Peter Mudie's Dusting off the Other book
Peter Mudie’s “Dusting off the Other” book, 1993

A memory from Dusting off the Other … Peter shows Michael Snow’s Back and Forth, 52 minutes of continual panning left and right in a room. We strap ourselves in for this formative structural film experience – it’s almost a right of passage to survive it. Back and Forth has a direct visceral imprint on the body – for some, this means sea-sickness. At some point our classmate, Josh, yells out Make it stop! Peter, please, MAKE IT STOP!.

Another memory… I bring my new girlfriend Josie along to a screening at the FTI. I must be thinking I’ll impress her with my avant-garde credentials. We sit right up the front. Maybe it’s Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man, over 80 minutes long. After about 10 minutes, Josie gets up and leaves without saying anything. I don’t take in much of that film, cursing myself for taking a punt on Brakhage rather than playing it safe at the Hoyts. But Josie’s just gone to the back row because the wildly moving images are giving her a migraine. She’d been too embarrassed to say anything because the movie was silent.

* * *

Before coming to Australia, Peter had spent time in the 1980s in London, working with the London Film Makers Co-op (LFMC). Later in 2003, when I made my own pilgrimage to learn about the experimental film scene in London, I met some of the protagonists from the 1960s LFMC – including Malcolm Le Grice and David Curtis. I told David that I was interested to find out more about the LFMC and its history. He thought for a minute and said, “hmm, you know, the person who has done the most research on the co-op lives in Perth: Peter Mudie – you should look him up when you go home”.

I believe that Peter’s PhD was a study of the LFMC. I haven’t read it – I think it’s unpublished – but I remember seeing a set of bound volumes on his shelf about a foot wide – the appendix to the thesis, filled with archival documents and evidence, probably extensive interviews. I hope that this, and Peter’s whole body of research is going to be available publicly somewhere, in a library or an archive.

Peter dedicated his time in Australia to studying the counterculture scene here, with particular focus on the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op and UBU films, artists like Albie Thoms, David Perry, and Aggy Read. Peter made a valuable contribution to the documentation of the history and significance of this scene. A glimpse is transmitted in his tribute to Albie Thoms, written shortly after Thoms’ death at the end of 2012.

I think that Peter was very proud of the students he had taught. It always seemed to me that he cherished that period in the mid-late 1990s as a special moment in Perth’s local art culture – which was all the more special because of his own contribution to making it happen.

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  1. UPDATE: Jo Law, who was in the year ahead of me in the Fine Arts program at University of Western Australia has sent through this photo…

    Peter Mudie with Mini Moke

    Jo writes:

    “Lucas, can you post this photo? It’s from the opening of Drive By at that vintage car dealership on Roe Street in Perth in 2000. Marcus Canning, Sohan Arial Hayes, Sam Landels, Cam Merton, Vikki Wilson, Rick Mason, Redmond Bridgeman and I etc were all part of it. Redmond and I went around photographing people next to their favourite cars…. Peter chose the mini-moke.”

  2. Clearly Peter was an inspired and inspiring teacher. He was also a bushy and an active member of the rural service. That’s when he wasn’t surfing during which he suffered her debilitating back injury. It did not diminish his energies and and enthusiasms and love for his daughter and two boys.

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