Peter Gidal was born in 1946 and grew up in Switzerland. After studying psychology and German literature at Brandeis University and the University of Munich, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London and began his career as an experimental filmmaker. In the 1960s his films were shown at such 'underground' London venues as the New Arts Lab in Drury Lane and the London Film-Maker's Co-op (which he helped to establish) in Chalk Farm. An admirer of American structuralist filmmakers such as Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton, Gidal's own works are also interrogations into the formalist aspect of film, with an emphasis on grain, duration, tempo and editing structures. This is accompanied by an almost wilful insistence on the filmmaker as the ultimate arbiter of the construction of any work. As he puts it:
The question of making things difficult for the spectator in my films is absolutely crucial and historically so, because that is where the break always comes. In the cinema, more than any other art form, the question of difficulty is always raised. With other things there are conventions: for example, it's okay to spend until two o'clock in the morning checking a difficult footnote in a book; difficult paintings are okay because you can walk past them in seconds. But film has an authoritarian structure built into its mechanism in terms of time, being held there for a period of time, which is why most film goes out of its way to avoid precisely that as an issue, whereas my work goes out of its way to raise it as one.
Gidal's films invite audiences to consider various aspects of the mediation between the real and the reel. In his most famous work, Room Film 1973, for example, the artist's camera restlessly investigates a room in minute detail.
Along with Malcolm LeGrice, Peter Gidal is the foremost exponent of British structural cinema. He taught at the RCA from 1971 to 1983 and he remains active as ever as a filmmaker and theorist, as evidenced by a gorgeously hallucinogenic website (http://www.scs.khm.de/semclips/petergidal.html), wherein he discusses (after a fashion) his work, entitled His Master's Voice. His films were given a retrospective at the Pompidou Centre, Paris in 1996 and at the Lux, London in 1998.
Auty, Chris, 'State of Siege', Time Out, 18-24 Jan. 1980, pp. 14-15
Dusinberre, Deke, 'Consistent Oxymoron: Peter Gidal's Theoretical Strategy', Screen, Summer 1977, pp. 79-88
Gidal, Peter (ed.), Structural Film Anthology (London: BFI, 1974)
Gidal, Peter, 'Flashbacks: Peter Gidal', Filmwaves, no. 7, Spring 1999, pp. 16-20
O'Pray, Mike, The British Avant-Garde Film 1926-1995 (Luton: University of Luton Press/Arts Council of England, 1997)
O'Pray, Mike, 'Action at a Distance', Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1986, p. 64
Wheeler Winston Dixon, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors