Fathers of Pop

DirectorJulian Cooper
One line synopsisThe influence of the Independent Group (1952-1955) on the British Pop art generation.

Reyner Banham in the Courtauld Institute. Looks out of the window at 1950s Cadillac in the street below. Richard Hamilton’s Hommage à Chrysler Corp (1957), and other items from an exhibition of commercial art. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Dover Street. Banham talks about the "Independent Group", members of which were Hamilton, Paolozzi, Alloway, etc. Banham drives off in the Cadillac. Banham lists some of the myths about the Independent Group. He introduces Dorothy Morland, Director of the programme at the ICA at the time, who says that there is no official record of the foundation of the Group. Richard Hamilton believes the Group was founded as a gesture against the ICA. Banham and Morland. She believes she may have been responsible for the name of the Group. Toni del Renzio describes discussions about bringing younger talent into the ICA. Photograph of Sir Herbert Read, chairman of the ICA, whom Hamilton and del Renzio suggest was not popular. Lawrence Alloway talks of Reed’s idealism about art which meant that, for example, commercial art was neglected, and made Reed a target of criticism. Hamilton relates an anecdote about Kenneth Clark describing Victor Pasmore as "one of the six best artists in England" when giving evidence at Pasmore’s trial as a Conscientious Objector, and says that the idea of such a canon was "anathema".

Photographs of ICA interior, and of Edoardo Paolozzi. Some of Paolozzi’s work incorporating images from commercial art, science fiction illustrations, and so on; Banham points out that this caused a great stir in 1952, though such things may be commonplace today. Photograph of Paolozzi with Alison and Peter Smithson and Nigel Henderson. Henderson describing the event during which Paolozzi showed his collection.More items from the collection. Henderson VO. Alloway on Paolozzi, the event, and the "pop art continuum". More images. Banham says this was the beginning of the process by which mass media imagery becomes incorporated in to the yet to be invented "pop art". Part of Movietone News item: Neville Duke’s Air Speed Record (1953). Demonstrations of new inventions – video telephone, etc. Space rocket taking off over New Mexico. Populist demonstration of chain reaction of atomic bomb; atomic bomb explosion; Banham VO talking about technology and communication media being dominant themes in their work, though they recognised that there were horrors as well as wonders. Newsreel item on Hiroshima (1945).Banham standing in front of the United Nations building in New York, the promise of a better future in city architecture. He points out that it was via media images, not from seeing the real thing, that the UN building turns up in one of Richard Hamilton’s works, Here is a Lush Situation (1948). Banham beside the car: though the size of American cars was an affront in a time of British austerity, it impressed with its fake crest, the "moderne" angel suggesting "supernatural speed", the "sexual bulges" of the chrome, overall design, the "science fiction imagery" on the dash-board. A few of Nigel Henderson’s photographs of post-war London shop-fronts. Del Renzio VO pages from women’s magazines on which he worked post-war. Del Renzio talking about Frank Cordell, an influential figure in popular music, the man behind Alma Cogan. Photos of Cordell, Cogan, street sign for Abbey Road, NW8, Cogan’s voice singing You Must Never Do a Tango with an Eskimo. The Cadillac pulls up outside Abbey Road Studios. Cordell lists other people he worked with, such as Max Bygraves and Frankie Vaughan, and is rather disparaging about the songs. Banham and Hamilton discussing the backgrounds of different sections of the Independent Group. Hamilton went from school at 14 to the Royal Academy at 16, to being an industrial draftsman for EMI. Architects were mainly middle class, painters were lower class. Alloway says they were mostly non-university people and thus had uninterrupted experience of the mass media. Post-war mass media was part of a period of technological expansion. Pop was linked to a pro-technology attitude. Banham and Hamilton agreeing that magazines and cinema were the nearest thing most people had to "live art".

Film posters and billboards, cinema frontages. Banham and Del Rienzo on blockbusters of the period. Del Rienzo believes that these films’ technical competence was what attracted the attention of members of the Independent Group. Extract from The Forbidden Planet (1956). Alloway talking about his reaction to the film. Banham VO photograph of a cinema queue, on their liking for wide-screen and saturated colour. Extract from Garden of Evil (1954). Alloway accepting his description as "the man who liked bad films". Del Renzio on Kiss Me Deadly (1955); extract. Hamilton on irony, and the fact that Kiss Me Deadly didn’t take itself seriously. Banham with the Cadillac. Car advertising. Alloway believes the Group developed a very wide-ranging aesthetic, not just one based in traditional fine arts. Hamilton believes the critics and academics in the Group were the most outspoken, while the practitioners were less articulate. Alloway on Hamilton’s contribution to the movement; he was more interested in the painter’s iconography than the paintings themselves. Hamilton writing about his own Hommage à Chrysler Corp and its influences. Alloway again on Hamilton’s iconography.

Photograph of John McHale with some of his photographic collection. McHale talking about the familiarity of images of America because of cinema. Magda Cordell on McHale unpacking a collection of magazines on his return from a trip. Examples of McHale’s work, humanoid figures incorporating mass media images, many of them of domestic objects. Photograph of Alison and Peter Smithson, and part of a film of their House of the Future designed for the 1956 Ideal Home Exhibition. Colour photographs of the House compared with images of the Cadillac, as the House was designed like a car and meant to be marketed like a car. Banham says that the Independent Group "faded away" in 1955, just about the same time as the "This is Tomorrow" exhibition was mounted. The Cadillac pulls up outside the Whitechapel Art Gallery, east London. Pathé News item, The Face of Tomorrow, on the exhibition. Henderson talking about the materials that went into the "patio" exhibit he put together with Paolozzi and the Smithsons. Cordell now believes the media impact was more outside than inside the exhibition. Photographs of Robbie the Robot exhibit, and extract from The Forbidden Planet. Photographs of other exhibits. Alloway’s impression of some of the exhibits, with photographs. Photographs of workmen assembling the Robbie the Robot exhibit. McHale on this section of the exhibition which he feels was remarkably prescient, a forerunner of Swinging London. Hamilton’s exhibit, a collage of images from American magazines. Hamilton on how it was constructed, and on its conventional perspective.

Alloway on trying to deal with broad-based iconography and topicality, which led to criticism that they had no real scale of values. Cover of A. E. van Vogt’s science fiction fantasy, The World of Null-A (1948), based on the ideas in Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity (1933) which tried to get away from Aristotelian principles of dividing things into categories. Hamilton says this lack of value judgement enabled them to say that everything they could think of was right and could be used. Covers of the magazine Ark, which Banham says made the Group "Fathers of Pop" by asking them to write for it; articles by Frank Cordell, and Lawrence Alloway and Robert Adams. Examples of the work of young Royal College of Art graduates like David Hockney (Typhoo Tea,1960), Ron Kitaj, Peter Blake, Peter Phillips (Gravy for the Navy, 1963), Derek Boshier (The Identi-Kit Man, 1962), Allen Jones (Buses, 1964), and Richard Smith. Photograph of Smith, at one time Art Editor of Ark. Talking to Banham in the Chrysler, about becoming aware of the Group at an exhibition by John McHale, but suggesting that much of his generation’s work was more influenced by other sources. Alloway on his programme of American violent films at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the early 1970s, a development of interests from the Group. Credits over the Cadillac driving away.

Running time47 minutes
Full credits

FATHERS OF POP was made with the help of
The Krazy Kat Arkive,
The Anthony d’Offay Gallery,
Waddington and Toot Galleries,
The Tate Gallery,
J. Walter Thompson Co. Ltd.,
Alastair Durie,
Richard Lannoy,
James Meller;
Photography Clive Tickner,
John Davey,
Tony Foresta;
Rostrum Camera Ken Morse;
Sound Judy Freeman,
Ivan Sharrock,
Kay Armstrong;
Dubbing Mixer Peter Rann;
Music Frank Cordell,
Bill Haley,
Joseph Haydn;
Film Extracts Forbidden Planet (Universal),
Garden of Evil (20th Century Fox),
Kiss Me Deadly (MGM),
Pathé News,
British Movietone News;
Production Team Margaret Tree,
Philip Livingstone,
Steve Tickner,
Madeleine French,
Nina Steiner,
Margaret Scruton,
Dick Gray;
Research Penny Sparke;
Assistant Film Editor Ray Nicolaides;
Director’s Assistant Shirley Whitton;
Executive Producer Rodney Wilson
Film Editor Graham Shipman;
Director Julian Cooper.
Arts Council of Great Britain.
© Arts Council of Great Britain 1979.

Film segmentFathers of Pop - ACE085.2
Fathers of Pop - ACE085.3
Fathers of Pop - ACE085.4
Fathers of Pop - ACE085.5
Fathers of Pop - ACE085.6
Fathers of Pop - ACE085.7
Web address (URL)https://player.bfi.org.uk/free

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