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Not a Penny on the Rents (1968)

Courtesy of Cinema Action

Main image of Not a Penny on the Rents (1968)
Produced, Directed, Filmed and Edited byCinema Action

How GLC (Greater London Council) tenants first organised Tenants' Associations and conducted the first rent strikes against council rent rises.

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It is interesting that Housing Problems (d. Arthur Elton/Edgar Anstey, 1935) should be celebrated for its scenes of working-class tenants describing the slum conditions in which they live. Not a Penny on the Rents has fewer such scenes, yet contains powerful sequences of comments, arguments, chants and rallying cries spoken by unseen tenants. It demonstrates a way of making and using films very different from that of John Grierson's adherents.

Cinema Action usually recorded more sound than they shot film. This was partly suited to shooting conditions and resources - because sound tape can be run at different speeds to record more on the same length - but also because 'wild' sound can be edited in juxtaposition or response to certain images. Not a Penny on the Rents is a powerful campaigning film precisely because it doesn't identify many of its speakers. It presents their arguments as part of a unified struggle, not illustrations of a corporate initiative.

The film eventually proposes a struggle far wider than the immediate economic concern of rents. The first speaker warns that tenants will represent themselves if the council cannot do it. Indeed, he argues that this would be desirable because the council's interests are not those of the tenants. Trade union representation is taken to include action in support of members' tenancies.

One topic that galvanises the audience at the tenants' meeting is the treatment of their campaign in the press. A speaker highlights the irony that tenants will buy the newspapers that criticise their campaign, noting the way the papers' interests differ from those of their readers. The film itself makes use of some aggressive devices common to popular protest, notably the 'shooting' of Horace Cutler, who would become Thatcherite leader of the GLC in 1977, and the burning of his effigy.

Kieron Webb

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Unity is Strength (3:37)
2. What the press says (4:23)
Housing Problems (1935)
Red Skirts on Clydeside (1984)
Who Cares (1971)
Cinema Action