Direct Action on Things: Harry Hooton and Artist Film in Australia

By | 1 October 2020

The Meaning of Life Is Life

Hooton was of his time while the majority of progressive artists and thinkers in Australia lagged far behind. (Soldatow, 23)

In the December 1973 issue of the Filmnotes a letter from another poet appears. Born in Ballarat but recently returned from Europe, Jas H Duke had been writing and making films in the UK – with people like Jeff Keen in Brighton – in the preceding years, and now found himself back in Australia. His arrival at the beginning of the Whitlam era further suggests that ‘commercial viability’ remained a bugbear for the project of anarcho-technocracy and the independent arts even as the new Australian cinema set off on its course.

On the 6th of January, 1974, the Cantrills screened their films Bouddi, At Eltham, Island Fuse, Harry Hooton, and extracts from their recently completed second feature-length film, Skin of Your Eye, at the Merce Cunningham Studio in New York. Arthur had accepted a position at the University of Oklahoma’s Art School as an Assistant Professor teaching experimental film, beginning the previous September. Issue 20 (December 1974) of the Filmnotes describes in greater detail the film At Eltham: Metaphor on death. In a candid synopsis of the work Corinne reveals how the landscape film, which also features photographer Sue Ford, and artist-filmmaker Paul Winkler, is about leaving Australia, after five years of intense activity promoting the idea of cinemapoetry:

At Eltham was made in the knowledge that we had no alternative but to leave Australia, otherwise we would be destroyed as filmmakers. At the time I referred to the film as ‘On Closing One’s Eyes On the Native Land’ – the play of the fade mechanism having this connotation. The film was also made as an icon of the Australian landscape to contemplate while in exile. (Corinne Cantrill, Cantrills Filmnotes 20 36)

It was also dedicated to the poetry of Charles Buckmaster, a talented ingenue who had committed suicide in 1972. The homage includes images of the pasted-up statement seen on the white-washed wall of a house: ‘THE WOODS ARE WHERE IT’s AT’. Buckmaster’s words precede the film, shot in Parkville on a wall in fellow poet Ken Taylor’s backyard.

Eventually, the Cantrills and their collaborators could find the ways and means to continue to write and publish Cantrills Filmnotes until the year 2000. In 2011, Queen Elizabeth’s 85th Birthday Honours included awards for both Arthur and Corinne, and the citation for both reads:

For service to the visual arts as a documentary and experimental film maker, and to education in the creative arts field, particularly surrealism and avant-garde cinema.1

Corinne Cantrill is two years younger than Queen Elizabeth II, and maintains a commitment to the anarchism that sustained her work, which may be better understood as providing instead a disservice to the academic arts. But it is Hooton, the poet of anarcho-technocrary, who was slightly older – yet remained younger – than both of them, who perhaps should have the last say here: ‘Words are material, perhaps the most important of material things. But they are not everything.’

  1. Corinne Cantrill, Australian Honours Search Facility, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Government. Accessed April 5, 2020, online. See de Bruyn, ‘Out of the frying pan,’ 2014, 27.
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