Six Reels of Film to Be Shown in Any Order (1971)

  |  Drama

An aleatory film: each reel begins and ends with a fade from or to a different color and contains two scenes. The film reels are supplied to the projectionist with a die with each of the ... See full summary »


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12 April 2015 | oOgiandujaOo_and_Eddy_Merckx
| Excellent movie that tells differing stories in different orders
I saw a screening of this at the BFI's "Cinema Born Again: Radical Films from the 70s" strand in April 2015. Six Reels of Film to Be Shown in Any Order is actually a pretty strong narrative feature film, but director Barry Salt chose to give it a title that reflects the experimental side of it. It's a film about relationships and sexual politics with some superb dialogue. But the deal is that if you show the reels in a different order you get different narratives, so for example the order you show them in affects whether you would believe all the characters are alive at the end of the movie. Barry was at the screening and described it as an exercise in cleverness from himself at the time. He had been influenced by aleatoric exercises in other arts (music and literature, perhaps why there's a Webern reference in the movie), and believes his movie to be the first aleatoric movie.

So the reels each have two long take scenes (one shorter than the other, with the each reel lasting about 10 minutes) and have different colour names. The BFI had an audience member select which order to play the reels in and we got Green, Black, Pink, Orange, Red then White. Barry described this after the screening as a "good" order afterwards. When he had the script he read the script in about 20 different combinations to make sure none of them produced contradictory, although there are 720 possible permutations (factorial of 6). BFI program notes list 5,040, but I think they copied this off some really old document, because originally there was a plan to have 7 reels, and it would be 5,040 for 7 reels. The film has also been shown under the name of Permutations though Barry said this title existed more so that it could be fitted onto clapperboards and cinema signage.

I liked the bit where the young woman talks about a piece of Webern music. The light in which her character is shown is very much dependent on the order of the reels (quite fun thinking about that actually). In the "version" I saw she meets a married man at a party and is sleeping with him almost immediately, but then she gets let down because he doesn't care about her having an orgasm and doesn't want to have a post-coital conversation about her poetry or the piece of Webern music that she loves. Two ways of looking at that are in a feminist way, i.e. the guy is at fault for not caring about female orgasmic rights, and objectifying her, but also I guess a more common sense way, i.e. don't think that sleeping with a married guy who probably can't remember your name, and who you don't really know, is a way to start a meaningful relationship. You could guess that one of the reasons Salt wanted to concentrate on the permutations of the film in his introduction to this film at the screening I saw, is because he might see the material as passé at this time, though I certainly didn't think so. It reminded me of a conversation I had last year with a taxi driver on the way to see a film at the London Film Festival where he was saying an ex-girlfriend he had, had taken him to the cinema we were going to (Hackney Picturehouse), and had tried to get him interested in opera and Japanese movies (you could tell after having known the guy for 30 seconds that this would be barking up the wrong tree, perfectly agreeable though he seemed).

A reel that did raise my eyebrows a bit is when a professor lectures about Jungian personality typing (generally referred to as Myers-Briggs typing these days). He suggests that the feeling and extroverted quadrant of the personality world is associated with criminality (violent criminality potentially). I'm pretty sure that's politically incorrect to say today, there's a lot of emphasis on all personality types being equal when I've been through it for work. For me this reel was shown at the start, but it got me to thinking, would his lecture have felt like a commentary on what had happened in different part of the film if that reel were played at the middle or end?

Clever, fun, and gets you thinking, ticks all the boxes for me.


Release Date:




Country of Origin


Filming Locations

London, England, UK

Box Office


GBP1,000 (estimated)

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