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Marina VishmidtClick here to Print this Page
Jeanette Iljon
No Laughing Matter, envisioned by Iljon as "the other side of the coin to Focii", counteracts that film's lush Surrealist inflections with droll structuralism.

It is embedded in 1970s avant-garde film discourse that seems more incidental in her other films, but subverts it the more effectively for that. A basic composition of brick wall and man seated facing the camera, laughing his head off. No temporal or narrative framing is ever given, it is just the person, the action, and the manipulation of the sound and image that describe the conditions of being in front of and behind the camera. Most of the sound heard is the man's laughter but there are also snatches of conversations in the room and music and speech emanating from the radio. Initially the man is facing the camera and laughing in normal time for the first two or three minutes, but the sound and image gradually become independent, and exponentially more wayward. Some of the sequences have been refilmed several times, and there has been a lot of close work with the optical printer. The man's gestures and expressions are slowed down until they are almost visible in their constituent parts, unsettling when combined with the distorted sound.

The film was shot in three continuous takes, and it draws attention to the materiality of the 'profilmic' event not through duration but via the 'postfilmic' processes that unrecognisably alter the filmed event, drawing attention to themselves and away from the event . A fit of laughter has no more spontaneity to it than the filmmaker chooses to put there; after all, it is happening not in front of our eyes but in front of a camera. It is always already a performance, situated as it is in social and affective relations and in representational codes. The premise of naturalism is at first mediated, then sharply confounded in the film.

Following this period, Iljon became increasingly active on the organisational side of feminist film practice. She saw the sporadic availability of film skills training for women, as endemic in nominally progressive avant-garde film circles as in the mainstream industry. In 1980 she helped to initiate a series of cheap, open-access courses at the London Filmmakers Co-op organised and taught by women filmmakers for women filmmakers eager to gain more familiarity with their craft. Caroline Sheldon and Rebecca Maguire were also instrumental in running this pioneering education programme, and the courses were soon taken on tour and taken up by groups in other cities. There was also much cooperation in terms of skills and equipment sharing across groups, multiplying opportunities to make, teach and exhibit work, the latter spurred on by an emergent crop of feminist film festivals. Iljon was also one of the founding members of the women's film and video distribution network Circles (that went on to become Cinenova).

In the early 1980s, Jeanette Iljon, Rebecca Maguire and Jini Rawlings started the 'Co-option' project at the LFMC. 'Co-option' was partially an attempt to broach the film/video, 'art/politics' binaries that had led to specialisation and separation in the feminist art and film community, and it was intended to appeal to women who, by reason of background or circumstances, did not habitually think of themselves as artists or filmmakers. As part of its community programming remit, the collective was commissioned by the new Channel 4 to produce a film about Sylvia Pankhurst . After this, the group dispersed, and its facilities were made available to other women's filmmaking groups active at the time. Iljon had meanwhile been consistently developing her own practice, collaborating on dance and multi-media pieces, participating in the Arts Council's Artist Film Makers On Tour scheme, and teaching at Goldsmiths College. She subsequently took a teaching post at Hull Polytechnic, then continued teaching and making work while travelling. She currently resides in China and Australia, and is in the process of finishing a piece exploring the dialectic of dance and cultural change.

Marina Vishmidt
Marina Vishmidt is a writer and lapsed film/video artist. She is completing an MA thesis on "Solaris" and the crisis of epistemology.
Still from No Laughing Matter by Jeanette Iljon, 1976
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