Cinema's Flickering Future

International Videos in the 1987 Melbourne International Film Festival

published in Filmnews Vol.17 No.7, Sydney, 1987
The Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (1986)


Quote : (Take your pick of anything Godard has said on the cinema - his passionate hatred for it has always been his fundamental driving energy for making films and videos.)

A Film Festival is perhaps the best place to show videos at the moment. Not because a Festival is some glorious event or hallowed ground (in fact it is one of the many mutant offspring resultant from an unholy marriage between the counter culture and the upper-middle class) but because (a) their inclusion is a relief from the Cannes hot-line and all its stilted cultural values, and (b) some videos can say some things about the cinema which films are too often incapable of saying.

Many recent videos are part-opportunistically part-theoretically proposing future directions for that apparatus or institution we so salaciously label "The Cinema". The point is that video can just as comfortably rest within that institution's walls as well as celluloid - and if you haven't noticed this over the past three years or so, you can't be all that connected with 'film' or The Cinema. Or to quote Richard Franklin at his Festival seminar on Hitchcock's TOPAZ and the director's right to final cut : "Video? Don't look now - it's coming right around the corner."

Punning on that quote, we have a very apt description of video : existing on an expansive periphery which we see only out of the corner of our eyes. Festivals - as strange spectacles of cultural obsessiveness and reclusiveness - have us pay little attention to peripheries, be they technological, cultural or artistic. With sharpened focus (probably from an aesthetic overload of photography/cinematography) we pinpoint films at a Festival with some supposed clarity, as if we have some worldly view of this thing we call "The Cinema" - when so many of us haven't seen film installations in galleries, student films at institutes, dusk-to-dawns at drive-ins or porn flicks at strip joints. Obviously, a Film Festival is just as culturally loaded as the next site of screen flickering, but more importantly, it is probably the narrowest through its attempts to bring us what we couldn't see anywhere else - a true irony considering that we're probably not looking anywhere else anyway. Videos in a Festival are one clear way of reminding us how little we do look in other places apart from those forged channels we presume charter the world of The Cinema.

(The following review covers 58 of the 66 international videos screened. Dates are given where available. The Australian works and the 9 hour compilation of INFERMENTAL 6 are not covered as they warrant separate analysis outside of the international focus of this review.)


Intellectual Properties (1986)

Quote : (Fill in your own cliche about how film is so much richer than video, etc.) Godard sells video by making film. And vice versa. THE RISE & FALL OF A SMALL INDEPENDENT PRODUCTION COMPANY (1986) is another rich essay on the cinema, this time spoken through a video grain and through the production channels for film which rely on video for their flow (casting, research, even computer accounts). In many instances, Godard has been able to subordinate the video medium into a cinematic mode, by accenting the inevitable effects caused by one's production situation (hence the whole scenario about trying to make a film with true aim and purpose but not enough money). The message of this video is not how the medium is the message but that the message is a medium : its cultural, material and linguistic effects are translatable and recodable. The filmmaker in the story is not the tortured director, but the accountant - he can adapt plus he can account for his adaptation.

The voice of Godard wafts through two interesting English videos, which can be made even more interesting by contrasting them against one another : John Adams' INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES (1985/6) and Mark Wilcox's MAN OF THE CROWD (1986). Both come from a peculiar British milieu where the odd Screen mag must have crossed both directors' paths at one stage or another, fueling their fictional constructions with Brechtian devices, deconstructivism and New Wave modalities. This is not a bad state of affairs at all. Hopefully a day will come when we won't make such a fuss over such basic forms and methods and instead treat them as open narrative options.

Interestingly, both films are concerned with the random image of extras and people walking past cameras in the street, and then formulating stories out of the stills and freeze-frames. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES takes a short film (supposedly made by John Adams himself) and then totally tears it apart through a series of narrative detonations which make up dense interconnecting stories from the original film's scattered sequences of images. It is divided into 6 parts which deal with the blockage and releasing of authorial flows emanating from an original text : 1 - THOSE HELICOPTERS (music as crosser of language barriers, featuring music by Ken Winokur & Ken Field which uncannily sounds like the music of a quirky English group from the early 80s called Those Helicopters) ; 2 - LOOKING FOR JOHN WAYNE (the link between ideas and commerce ; artworks as 'intellectual properties') ; 3 - MEDIAOCRACY (copyright as guarantee for professional status) ; 4 - WATCH OUT FOR THE CRAZIES (product consumption chains) ; 5 - THE MODERN COUPLE (the commodification of information) ; and 6 - POWER PLAYS (insecurity of the author function). Occasionally a bit droll and witty in its humour and idiosyncratic detailing (what some people would probably call 'clever') the bulk of this video moves along with great speed and complexity (especially parts 4 & 5), creating a textual giddiness not unlike the work of Robbe-Grillet, minus the sensuousness.

MAN OF THE CROWD drowns in sensuousness., even though it attempts a similar textual play. The image of intellectualism shines brightly on the surface of this video : Duras, Bausch, Fassbinder and Brecht all are put through the grinder in a display of self-deconstructed theatrics and sophisticated artificialism. A tricky game to play (QUERELLE is a rarity, and is so because it fully discloses its own problematics) and this video loses out to win a capital "F" for Art. While the role of photography is viewed as fraudulent empiricism in INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES (as in Robbe-Grillet's LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD and especially THE MAN WHO LIES) in MAN OF THE CROWD it is viewed as a seductive deception, sort of like pulping a New Novel with BLOW UP. It starts off well enough in its split flow from the original Poe story of the same name, but eventually gets distracted by its own imagery (period costumes, painterly backdrops, gothic-styled lighting, Grecian ruins, tableaux vivants, etc.) instead of concentrating on its own textual effects. The kind of thing boring film reviewers would tag "sumptuous", "breathtaking" and "evocative". The kind of thing inspired by looking at INDIA SONG without listening to it.

If INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES goes back via Straub to Clayton & Curling's SONG OF THE SHIRT, MAN OF THE CROWD goes back via MONTY PYTHON to Mason & Burch's THE IMPERSONATION. Therein lie their surfacial, formal and critical relationships. Along with the Godard video, though, they are videos that could have been films - but didn't suffer because they weren't. Without wishing to type so-called intellectual films, there is something in their textual preoccupations that can momentarily discount the aesthetics of filmic grain. As uncomfortably 'clever' as it is, SONG OF THE SHIRT is worth remembering here (and I believe that 'cinematically' it stands up well in a current climate where theory is regarded as a tedious dinner guest) because like Godard's later work and Bellour's video texts it clashes film and video grains to set up material rhythms that eventually cancel out or at least reorient their purported differences. Similarly, could not films by Mulvey & Wollen, Burch, Ruiz, Straub et al be videos instead of films? (And while you're at it, throw into the oil Duras, Kluge and Gorin and see if they boil too.)

The whole issue of the precious filmic object is all too often tied in with tacky erotics of its surface - that whole thing of its warmth, wavering and width. For example, Rappaport and Greenaway are perhaps no more than pseudo-intellectual David Hamiltons, clinging to the filmic grain out of artistic desperation - which is probably why they have a broader appeal to likewise desperates who think the cinema should be filmic (even though they're probably the same people who couldn't bear Brakhage). What I'm trying to ball out here is the suspect nature of film : the fact that it is the image of 'filmicness' which so many makers and viewers wish for, rather than integral inquiries into filmic nature or instigative plays with the problematics of grain. To reposition MCluhan, the medium really is a massage here : all grain and no brain.

Whilst the U.K. has been prominent in making films and videos around these critical fissures, the European continent (particularly Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands) seems to have used video to come to the cinema through theatre. This year's festival showcased a lot of Italian videos, most of which were full of style but not much else (which I guess is very Italian anyway). Two videos that are a very good example of this theatre-video-cinema transformation trend are Mario Martone's GLACIAL TANGO (1983) and TREACHEROUS ENCHANTMENTS (1985). (Martone is director of the Italian theatre-dance group False Movement who appear in both videos.)

GLACIAL TANGO smarts of a dance group who've just discovered the dreaded chromo-key and go for an all too obvious artificial look. For some reason, chromo-key has suggested to so many video artists that the medium is ideal for the depiction and manipulation of icons, and GLACIAL TANGO is no exception with its short'n'snappy image-narrative fragmentation of a series of cartoonish sub-surrealistic situations that borrow heavily from movie imagery. The weird thing about chromo-key in this mode of 'high artifice' is that it unintentionally showcases a lack of critical depth, flattening out the artists against a background of video nothingness. TREACHEROUS ENCHANTMENTS refines the method further (with more sophisticated keying, camera work, set design and editing) but flits through the cultural memory of Hollywood's great image bank so predictably it becomes a cliche about how to 'manipulate' visual cliches. You know the story - throw in some movie references and instantly you're addressing (in the form of either a critique or a homage) the great classical text of Hollywood. How Cahiers, darling.

Alessandro Furlan's NIGHT THRILLER (1986) uses the most overworked cliche for narrative deconstruction : the Detective. How long do we have to suffer this endless discovery of a relationship between writer/reader/text and event/detective/puzzle? The New Novel and related French linguists played with such relationships 30 years ago - and without utilizing the image of the Detective. Conversely, much film noir contemporaneously relocated such textual movement into the image of the Detective. But the fetishism of noir imagery in the name of "playing with the conventions of the genre" amounts to no more than aimless visual mimicry.

Less specific in its chosen fetish is B. Geduldig & Tuxedo Moon's GHOST SONATA (1983) although it is just as overwhelmed by the effect of its imagery as NIGHT THRILLER. GHOST SONATA reconstructs the Ibsen theatrical narrative as a flow of visual ambience and mood that (incongruously) ranges from the gothic to the surrealist, evoking an aura of desire, memory, obsession and all those standard things that for some reason are meant to be rich in literary values. With occasional poetry by Tuxedo Moon's poet-collaborator Winston Tong, the whole scenario really doesn't rise above a bunch of art students in love with the act of being artistic (mannered gestures, delicate costumes, bizarre connections, etc.). While Tuxedo Moon's music since 1980 has often been quite striking, GHOST SONATA appears thin in comparison. File with Greg Karn, David Sylvian, Richard Jobson, Bill Nelson, Ryuchi Sakamoto and sundry sensitive artistes whose love for passion gets in the way for their passion to create.

Theatre (as opposed to the image of appearing theatrical) marked its presence in two video adaptations of staged works. While Ulrich Herrmann's THE RESTING BUDDAH & THE LARK (1985) is a fairly straightforward documentary of the White Tiger group's Butoh performance (although his editing is an aggravating disruption to the core rhythms of the performance), Ken Kobland's FLAUBERT DREAMS OF TRAVEL BUT THE ILLNESS OF HIS MOTHER PREVENTS IT (1986) reshapes the Wooster Group's staging of Flaubert's THE TEMPTATION OF ST. ANTHONY during its rehearsal. This is an interesting concept - shaping the video before the finished production. The finished video is quite sumptuous (that word again) but somehow its rhythmic repetitions and minimalist movements allow one to dwell past the static imagery into a more temporal zone of those images' narration. The whole tape is in slow motion and visually it resembles a Cindy Sherman staging of Wegee photographs with Warhol superstars. It all sounds like a compact hip package, but its audio-visual layering (thanks to a considered sound mix) governs its effects more than its overtly arty imagery.

Out of all the videos mentioned (excepting Godard's) John Sanborn's SISTER SUZIE CINEMA (1985) touches on the aura of cinematic construction in the most original way. It is an awkward work : adapted from 14 Karat Soul's accapella routines perfected on the N.Y. subways and reshaped by Lee Brauer and Bob Telson into an Off-Off-Broadway late-night musical (sort of a black Nylons music/theatre crossover). Basically the whole thing stinks. But through its overload of cute and naive references to The Cinema (silver dreams, Monroe's lips, the face of Garbo, reel life, etc.) Sanborn has managed to use video effects to restate those glorifications of stardom in a visual mode alien to the cinema. It's hard to describe, but this video 'images' The Cinema in ways that invest a different type of visual symbolism into the filmic cliches - to such an extent that perhaps if it were made on film it just wouldn't be all that engaging. Visually, SISTER SUZIE CINEMA resembles the Hollywood range of Paper Moon's modern graphics, but it is the material energization and mobilization of such imagery that makes this video both confounding and fascinating.


The Damnation Of Faust (1983)

Quote : (Let out your own gripe about how boring video art is, etc.) In the beginning there was colourization. Then came chromo. And now something else that equally shows little sign of going way : computer graphics. Let's divide this into two categories : (i) digital manipulation of stored visual data ; and (ii) digital creation of visual data. The first category was well represented by Ko Nakajima's MOUNT FUJI (1985) which actually comes in three different variations, each as meandering as the next. A variety of images of Mount Fuji and its surroundings are videoed in different ways, providing source material which is then put through a mind-boggling yet eye-soring range of State Of The Art (SOTA) joystick effects. MOUNT FUJI provides an excellent picture of this type of computer video art : a single dumb image seductively yet mindlessly swimming, spinning and sailing around the screen in a restless play with optical illusions and allusions. Produced by Sony and Sponichi TV News and with music by Stomu Yamashtu & Paul Buckmaster, it's ideal fodder for technicians to run before a TV station begins transmission.

Whereas MOUNT FUJI opts for a wallpaper function, Marco Marochini's MANIFESTO (WE'RE IN THE PUSH-BUTTON AGE) (1985) attempts to be the main painting on the wall. Conceptually, it reads like a high school report on watching John Berger's hyper-orthodox WAYS OF SEEING. It mixes a mess of images from the Renaissance right up through to Modernism as if it is making some profound comment on the encoding of perception. Computer wipes and dissolves abound with all the artistry of a plumber - which in some instances could work well, but not in this tape. Perhaps video artists should first pass some kind of test before they're allowed onto Fairlights.

Created graphics were well-represented by dozens of tapes, ranging from the simplistic to the astounding. Marco Bechis' K-PAINT (198?) is a short visual pun involving him chromo-keyed in on the setting he draws 'live' on a Fairlight pressure pad. The simplicity of Paolo Uliana's LINES, HOMMAGE TO MONDRIAN and LIGHT TRAVELS (all 1985) went further to display the BASIC language used to run their programmes, which gave their banality a light self-reflexivity in contrast to the ponderous technological introspective that marked Colour Factory's BORN INTO LIGHT and Group THC's HOLIDAY OUTT.

An Italian group called Young Mechanical Swingers are representative of the internationalist trend to form multi-media production units primarily concerned with a hi-tech hi-gloss mode of style production (witness the failures and successes of Heaven 17, The Wonder Company, Psychic TV, Test Pattern, Radical TV, The Residents, General Idea, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, etc.). While Y.M.S.'s work measures well on the hipometer, their videos have that uncanny Italian trait that in bluntest terms spells rip-off. The Italians, though, are nearly as skilled and inventive in this area as the Japanese (check out mainstream Italian film production for proof) so Y.M.S. have got a long way to go on their trip of simulation, aspiration and appropriation - all of which they have yet to master. Their videos THE ADVENTURES OF MARIONETTI and MODERN MELODRAMA (both 1986) go overboard with sub-SOTA computer graphics that seem to declare "I'm in love with the modern age" but without knowing how to plug into it.

THE ADVENTURES OF MARIONETTI is a facile video (technologically and conceptually) where a young man goes to a Marionetti exhibition where all the paintings are moving. (Geddit?) MODERN MELODRAMA is another computer graphic scenario which does something that every second video artist in the world thinks they invented : transposing photo and comic romances into flat hi-key video imagery. There are points in this tape which start to get interesting in terms of the wacky mutant feel of the imagery (not unlike some of the fusion of New Japanese Illustration with computer graphics) but overall the tape displays a lack of control over its style of depiction. Amigas and Fairlights are capable of fascinating static visual graphics, none of which MODERN MELODRAMA taps.

Some of John Sanborn's tapes included in the Festival drew strong connections with some of his earlier computer work with Kit Fitzgerald from 81 to 83 (a snatch of which appears in the TWO MOON JULY compilation video). DANCE EX MACHINA (1986) with Dean Winkler and LUMINAIRE (1985) with Mary Perillo are stacked with SOTA abstract computer animation which are basically modern technological restatements of early filmic experiments in sound and image fusion (particularly Oscar Fischinger), but what gives these tapes an edge is their sense of rhythm, syncopation and timing in the editing of sequences and the synching of visual and aural gestures. While Sanborn's abstract computer synthesis might not be as advanced or 'hardcore' as other practices of the form, their fusion of sound with image evidences a precision often lacking in the genre.

'Video Art' (in the traditional sense of the term, that is as practiced by refugees from the visual/fine arts) reared its head a few times, sometimes with surprising results. Kumiko Kushiyama's HOUSE WITHOUT WALLS (1985) is a meditative reflective analysis of perceptual tricks, using video A/B rolling to produce mirage effects to disorient one's sense of perspective, but such formal play is by now a self-stating part of the video medium and therefore not particularly exciting as artistic intervention. Hiroya Sakurai's HARD CONTRACT (1984) is more successful with similar concerns, mainly because of its frankness of structure in place of HOUSE WITHOUT WALLS' wonder of illusion. Its play with monitors and close circuit TV filming and standing in for various parts of the human body has of course been done before, but this tape's clarity and brevity states the perceptual effect with strong definition.

The play of monitors standing in for objects and scenes within the video frame is interestingly employed in two tapes by Mako Idemitsu : GREAT MOTHER CYUMIKO and THE MARRIAGE OF YASUSHI (both 1986). Their typically Japanese scenarios about the unbearable oppressiveness and repressiveness of the traditional Japanese family unit are given extra dimensions of claustrophobia, frustration and exasperation through the use of monitors showing scenes from both the present, past and future, condensing and stretching time to show the flow of generations in the family structure as an ongoing force.

A different type of monitor-play (stemming notably from Nam June Paik's early sculptural transformations of the monitor as a light-emitting box) is presented in a video documentary on the work of Italy's Fabrizzio Plessi in a tape simply titled FABRIZZIO PLESSI (1986) directed by Felice Pesoli. Plessi's work is simple and effective with its major formal thematics of reflection, movement, axis and illusion as conveyed through linguistic/visual puns and the material handling of light and water in closed circuit installations. However it's all a bit too refined and polished, with perhaps too much attention given to the sculptural perfection of the installation as an object (Italians have a thing for 'design') rather than the integral pulses of dynamism which give the works some energy.

The compilation tape put together by The Kitchen's Tom Bowes and Carlota Schoolman TWO MOON JULY (1986) was really only of interest as a 'Wish You Were Here' postcard flashing how groovy Manhattan is, however there is a brief snippet from Vito Acconi's THE RED TAPES (performed down in a basement with the camera pointed down the stairs at a ranting Acconci) ; a short excerpt from one of Bill Viola's Japan works FIRST DREAM (random circling lights flashing images of bamboo trees in a lake at night) ; and a quick flash of one of Dara Birnbaum's latter and more complex works THE DAMNATION OF FAUST (which probably only makes full sense through the sum of its 5 parts).

Similarly, Soft Video's THE SUBTLE PLEASURE OF VIDEO (1986) is a compilation of interviews with current well-known video artists who either make fools of themselves or help make some sense of their work. John Sanborn and Mary Perillo come off with a strange mix of East Coast go-go-go and West Coast laid-right-back, describing their part-situationist approach to collaborating with other artists (dancers, painters, musicians, etc.) to maintain a steady production output. Jean Paul Goude (in French) talks about how he works with his art crew and what type of music excites and inspires him, also explaining his ease in moving from Art (Grace Jones) to Advertising (Kodak). Steina & Woody Vasulka say the type of boring things that only visual artists are skilled at saying - how unique the video medium is and how one must strive to make pure video. The type of thing that gallery directors and curators still think is relevant to that wondrous thing called Video Art.

Also featured is an interview with one of the producers of TOP OF THE POPS where he talks about how the MTV model based on FM radio formatting is slowly killing live studio productions. (This tape was being screened probably just as the ABC was writing out the death certificate for COUNTDOWN.) THE SUBTLE PLEASURE OF VIDEO also contained an excerpt from another tape CRYSTAL CONVERSATION (1985) which is an indepth interview with Brian Eno, based mainly around his CRYSTALS sculptural installations from 1985. Eno unfortunately comes off as someone who once had a firm grasp on dilettantism (which allowed him to produce what is possibly the first major pre Post-Modern Rock LP TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN BY STRATEGY) but who hasn't noticed the changing of the times too well, where such effete dilettantism is now largely mistaken for essential artistry. Check this : when asked what book, painting and film he would have been proud to have created, his answers were Narbokov's LOLITA, Kandinsky's Pastoral Improvization No.11, and Fellini's AMACORD. I felt sick. Still, his video work (from his first major video experiment in 1984, MANHATTAN DREAMING, to CRYSTALS in the landmark video installation exhibition "The Luminous Image" at the Steglitz Museum in 1985, to HANGING CROSSES exhibited in the 1986 Venice Biennale) is stark and effective, exemplifying his approach to simplistic manipulation of complex technology.


Ear Responsibility (1985)

Quote : (Throw in any video clip makers claims to be cinematic, or any video artists declamation of rock videos, etc.) In CRYSTAL CONVERSTION, Eno finishes up with some badly chosen words on rock videos, placing him among the mundane masses who say the same tired things about how uncreative, repetitive, insensitive and unoriginal they all are. This is a good example of missing the good in clips to only state the bad. In Paolo Nitti's JULIEN TEMPLE VIDEOREVIEW (1986/7) Julien Temple waffles on about how important it is to be cinematic in clip-making, describing cliches he doesn't exercise as "That's not cinema". This is a good example of mistaking the bad for the good. Put Temple and Eno in a room and they'd probably argue the subject for hours without ever realizing that they really are in total agreement with one another's lack of perception.

John Sanborn & Mary Perillo's GALAXY (1987) is quite standard as far as 'over-the-top' clips go, spinning a mix of nightmare imagery from THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T and Dali's sequence in Hitchcock's SUSPICION, all translated into hi-tech flash. The song is performed by David Van Tiegham, who is added to the list of other musicians Sanborn has done clips for : The Love Of Life Orchestra, King Crimson and Adrian Belew. Van Tiegham also stars in a very funny piece which could be part of a series featuring him doing improvised percussion on the streets of New York. In this particular version titled EAR RESPONSIBILITY (1985) he takes on the roll of a manic Pied Piper of Percussion who converts any one he dongs with his sticks into a rhythmatised zombie, madly following Van Tiegham and drumming all the way. It's like a perverted morality tale that mixes an AIDS metaphor with the fascination of rhythm - perhaps as either a commentary on the physiological attraction to beat in music or the rampant production of snare sounds.

The notion of rhythm and its various textual manifestations have been central to Sanborn's work over the past 6 years or so (and perhaps mention should be made of editor Tim Ferrante whose name crops up in most of the videos' credits). FRACTURED VARIATIONS and VISUAL SHUFFLE (both directed with Perillo and conceived with choreographer Charles Moulton in 1986) are particularly remarkable in their use of editing to the rhythms of live sound, produced by the dancers' grunts and whacks as they physically slam, slap and slide into one another. Whilst so many dance videos concentrate on visual rhythms produced by body formations within the dynamics of the pictorial frame, these two videos utilize the 'rhythm method' of rock clips (metronomic editing) to construct a dynamic narrative of body sound and movement. In a way, they return the function and form of montage (for so long disavowed by video purists) to video art via the rock clip.

"Scratch Video" generally doesn't effect such a return, as so much of it is an orgiastic display of visual pulsation that I'm sure has Eisenstein perpetually spinning in his grave. One scratch video from Italy manages to go beyond this impasse by taking everything that doesn't work in Paul Hardcastle's clip to 19 and making it work. Four Frame's MASTERPEACE (198?) is beautifully edited, even though its cliched scratch content of political figures talking about nuclear warfare is a bit unimaginative. The work of Japan's Radical TV from 1985 is highly unimaginative, although it does 'look good' by exhibiting a better design sense and graphic flair with its spfx and animation than the work of Italy's Young Mechanical Swingers in their clips for Manhattan Transfer's BIRD and Ella's DON'T ASK ME WHY (both 1985). Radical TV's HARD SCRATCH uses a set of G.I.Joe dolls to homage both the image and sound of Kraftwerk circa Showroom Dummies ; PROGRAMME MUSIC is simply a pacey edit of various Radical TV performances, tapes and interviews which evidence the Japanese obsession with marketing and packaging (most notably picked up by the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik) ; and TV ARMY is another hi-tech scratch tape chewed up and spewed out by a Fairlight.

George Snow carries on the British legacy of scratch video with some works that are sometimes inspired and other times exhausted. His showcase is probably MUYBRIDGE REVISTED (1986) which is funded by the British Film Institute, affording him a budget which allowed him to explore the technology at a high level (to such an extent that source material from this tape crops up reworked in numerous other tapes from the same year!). Still, if I have to sit through another reworking of Muybridge's photographic analyses of movement I think I'll freeze myself. The music let's it down further, and the same happens in SHUTTLE DISASTER (1986) where the same composer, Brendan Beal, seems to be trapped in his beatbox/sampler/sequencer set-up with not much of an ear for inventiveness. SHUTTLE DISASTER does a very predictable thing, too : rework televised footage of the shuttle disaster with loops of Reagan talking about how "we must be brave" etc. The music of The Art Of Noise energizes Snow's computer work for their single LEGACY - 1&2 (1986) where a suitable match of image and sound fragments push the explosive rhythms along. Snow's clip for Howard Jones' ALL I WANT looks like a re-edit of all his leftover MUYBRIDGE REVISTED material and isn't all that exciting.

Like all 'Scratch' exponents, the second half of the 80s has presented them with an itch to shoot their own footage or find different ways of manipulating broadcast info without the beatbox. Snow presents both options with LOVE VIDEO and DOGS (both 1986). LOVE VIDEO returns us back to the shallow wallowings of video artists making references to Hollywood iconography and symbolism, stringing together images and sounds from great romance films treated through the Fairlight's colourizer presets. Good for a Hendrix lightshow. DOGS contains shot footage and is an impressionistic study of a greyhound race. For some reason, a reworking of The Chantays' Pipeline erupts on the soundtrack when the dogs start racing. This work seems only half-finished and effects no particular presence at all.

Next, a batch of Italian mainstream video clips by varied MOR and AOR popsters. Let's see - how about I relate them to some Australian AOR dross : De Gregory (Italian Trevor White), Luca Carboni (Italian John English), Ron (Italian John Farnham) and Gianni Morandi (Italian Mark Holden). Also included : Bryan Paris (whose clip reworks the Swatch/YoPlait ads which rework Jean Paul Goudes French ads which crop up in Grace Jones' SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM) ; Scialpi (whose clip somehow mixes a teeny Gary Glitter denim-hunk with a macho-erotic reworking of the vaseline work on EMANUELLE) ; Teresa De Sio (whose clip directed by Young Mechanical Swingers tries all at once to evoke Will Powers, Grace Jones, Annie Lennox and Whitney Houston in its fashion overload) ; and P.F.M (remember them? along with LeOrme and Goblin they spearheaded the Italian push of Euro Art Rock in the mid 70s ; now they're all dressed up like a modern Chicago in a clip that looks like a Mulchay re-edit of BIGGLES).

To finish with more grunge and less polish, Christopher Dreher's clips for The Bad Seeds' TUPELO (1985, codirected with Ellen El Malki) and THE SINGER (1986, codirected with Nick Cave) suitably match some dark and desolate imagery with Cave's tawdry histrionics. That's the great thing about video clips : they can render seriousness into farce and parody into tragedy. More interesting though is Dreher's and Malki's short video doco on the making of TUPELO, titled WHO'S THAT FAT BITCH IN THE CORNER? (How outrageous!) This tape perfectly conveys the boredom that can't even mobilize some angst in the shooting of a rock clip, as Cave verges on the prima donna hassling the technicians to get their shit together. A very common scenario indeed, and an indication of just how much the construction of a clip in post production is responsible for injecting the image/sound fusion with some life.

End note

This review of international videos in the 1987 Melbourne Film Festival has attempted to look through them to the cinema across a fault line that will be determining the state of film for the future - that is, this moebius relationship between film and video, one that becomes tighter and more congested year by year. True, this batch of videos on the whole weren't all that great, but even the bad ones provide an intriguing view of that fault line. (And besides, aren't Festival films 'on the whole' mostly crap no matter what your tastes, especially for 'worldly cineastes' who know good cinema when they see it?) Far from trying to extole any of those shitty video polemics that blocked the 70s largely into a mindless mass of technological rhetoric of anti-cinema and anti-video (but for some ungodly reason, pro-painting and pro-sculpture!) I think that to search out, investigate and even critically redefine video art of the 80s is a more productive way of contacting a current potential for the cinema than hanging around for some new radical filmic development. If you choose the latter, you could be waiting for a long time.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © respective copyright holders.