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Arthur and Corinne Cantrill

Author 
Stephen Jones; based on materials drawn from Cantrills Film Notes and various web interviews

The Cantrills might be said to have invented Expanded Cinema (at least in Australia) – in which the production and particularly the projection of films is not seen as a single screen form but one in which all kinds of things, from manipulation of the colour during the processing of the film to the use of several projectors and screens, coupled with performance, poetry, music and the stage are take as the medium in which the visual information can be supported and displayed.

Arthur Cantrill was born in Sydney in 1938. He originally studied Electrical Engineering but abandoned it in favour of puppetry, which followed into making films for children about puppetry.

Corinne Cantrill was born in 1928. She studied botany through an interest in the Australian bush. Heavily involved in Sydney's cultural life during the 1940s, after WWII she went to London in 1948, then Paris, Rome and Copenhagen, working as freelance journalist and teaching English. She returned to Sydney in 1953, moved to Brisbane in 1956 and established Children's Creative Leisure Centres in Queensland. She met Arthur during the period in Brsibane.

Their early films were short documentaries on children's creative activities, followed by story series for children shown on the ABC (1961-63). At the same time Arthur worked as a film editor for the ABC in Brisbane, and they were both members of the Brisbane Cinema Group which was already showing the New American Cinema films by people like Jonas Mekas.1

From the beginning we set the early pattern for our future working practice: two film workers sharing all the filming tasks; avoiding costly “professional” procedures, using resourcefulness and knowledge of the medium to avoid waste and cost. Much of our early work was centred at home, often involving our two small children as subjects. From the start we maintained our independence from sponsors and all funding bodies: we made only the films that interested us...2

The ABC films included several environmental and landscape films. These were followed by a series of films on Robert Klippel's sculptures (1964) and three films based on fireworks imagery, which led the Cantrills to an interest in the abstract potentials of film. They also began a series of films in which the artist subject was able to speak directly to the audience through the film, including Harry Hooton and Skin of Your Eye (Seen).

They moved to London in 1965, where again they focused on the cultural life rather than making films. However Arthur again worked as a film editor and together they honed their technical skills including editing and the production of complex sound tracks. At this time they discovered avant-garde film from Europe and America and this added to their interest in abstract film-making using animation and in-camera superimposition. Their “work in sound composition reached its peak [at this time] with complex organic and electronically achieved sounds.”3

Then in 1969 they returned to Australia to take up a Creative Art Fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. The main product of this fellowship was the film celebrating the life and poetry of Harry Hooton, who had been a great influence on the Cantrills with his definition of art as “the application of emotion to matter.” As they note: “The materiality of film has always been important to us; pushing into different physical and chemical possibilities.”4

It was during the period of the ANU fellowship that they began the exploration of the ideas that led to their multi-screen, Expanded Cinema work. After the fellowship they moved to Melbourne and in February 1971 began a series of expanded cinema screenings, called Living Cinema, on Sunday evenings at the Maze, a music venue. During this period they also made Video Selfportrait, described as “A [6-min] videographic film exploiting the phosphor textures on the cathode screen. Video images are filmed, filter-coloured and supered in the camera.”5

In March 1971 they began to publish Cantrills Filmnotes.

After a year or so in Melbourne they went overseas again and lived America from 1973 to 1975, teaching at Penn State University, and showing their work in America and Canada including Charlotte Moorman's Avant-Garde Festival in New York, where they showed Moving Statics in the first year, and in the next year, “a very elaborate multi-screen work called Skin of Your Eye (Seen), about the Melbourne counterculture.”6

The main emphasis of their work has been and is on the filmic examination of themes such as landscape, colour, light, and the history and technology of film.7 The multi-screen works and subsequent landscape films make up the 150 films in the Cantrills' oeuvre. In many ways the work they put into Cantrills Filmnotes had a major influence on young and experimental film and video makers for the many years of its publishing. (All issues of the magazine are still available from the Cantrills.)

In 1985 they received a DAAD grant which allowed them to work in Berlin, Germany, for several months, during which they had a retrospective at the Arsenal Cinema. More recently (June 2011) they have had an exhibition of the artefacts of the production and exhibition of their film works – Arthur and Corinne Cantrill: Light Years8 – at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), along with the showing of a selection of their films.

  • 1. Millie Stein: Interview with Corinne and Arthur Cantrill available at http://www.theblackmail.com.au/issue/art/moving-statics/
  • 2. Arthur and Corinne Cantrill, “An Annotated Auto-Filmography” in Kiffy Rubbo, Judy Annear (eds) Mid-Stream: A Survey Exhibition of the Filmwork by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill, 1963-1979, Melbourne: Ewing and George Paton Galleries (1979), 5.
  • 3. Ibid, 6.
  • 4. Millie Stein: Interview with Corinne and Arthur Cantrill available at http://www.theblackmail.com.au/issue/art/moving-statics/
  • 5. BFI Film and TV Database: http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/387512
  • 6. Millie Stein: Interview with Corinne and Arthur Cantrill available at http://www.theblackmail.com.au/issue/art/moving-statics/
  • 7. May 2011, arsenal cinema. 50 Years of Film: Corinne and Arthur Cantrill: http://www.arsenal-berlin.de/en/arsenal-cinema/past-programs/single/article/1921/2804//archive/2010/may.html
  • 8. http://www.acmi.net.au/lightyears.aspx
Period of activity 
from 1964

Based

Melbourne
VIC
Australia
Group
Selected works
Video portrait of Arthur Cantrill.
Video portrait of Arthur Cantrill. 
Sequence from the Cantrills' Video Selfportrait.
Sequence from the Cantrills' Video Selfportrait.