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4.28.04 Video Art vs. Movies

Monday night was the big debut of "The Valentine 1955" in the Emerging Filmmakers Series at the local art theater. We pulled together about a dozen pals and made a party of it -- drinks and snacks at the nice restaurant next door before the screening at 9:30 PM. Carol and Deb brought us roses and you'd think we were at a Hollywood premiere.

In actuality, the premiere was slightly more humble than that.

There were 8 short films that played on a continuous reel, with time for polite applause in between. There was no discussion, and yet the whole thing proved to be informative.

We exited the theater with some certainty the the Cosmo production was the best in the lot. And yet I'm looking at the program and I see that almost every other filmmaker has some actual film school credentials -- even masters degrees.  So what's going on here?

First, I see that some of these filmmakers characterize themselves as "video artists." Can it be that there is a difference between video artists and mere moviemakers? Were these young film school graduates practicing the art of the future and eschewing mere storytelling? Are these the Picassos and Pollacks of the future, who look down their noses at people who slavishly depict reality in their portraits and landscapes? Who can say?

Four of the films I'd describe as "feverish." Jittery, lightstruck, blurry images cut together to represent  nightmares, obsessions, or some kind of rebirthing experience. I can get into feverish. Who doesn't like "edgy" these days? But it seems like the projects should move beyond being an exercise in atmosphere or the production of a "feeling state." On the other hand, maybe if these projects were seen on MTV as the video behind someone's latest hip-hop song, they would be dynamite. (See the sidebar.)

But I think a movie needs a story. Call me retro.

The longest film screened did have a story, although it too had a feverish quality. The half-hour documentary explored a young American woman's angst about whether or not to adopt a 3-year-old Brazilian boy. There was interesting footage from her volunteer work in a Brazilian orphanage, but it just went on and on and on. With good editing, it might have made a decent 10- or 15-minute piece. It would seem that someone with a masters degree in filmmaking should have this insight. But, then again, maybe young artistes need to experiment and break the rules. Maybe you get out of film school and start frantically breaking all the rules you had to obey in school. Maybe you're a genius. Maybe you're just self-indulgent and didn't really get what the teacher were trying to tell you.

I think I'm well beyond the tortured genius age. I'm happy when I've uncovered the old Hollywood rules that make people love the movies. I think "Valentine" works that way.

 

OTHER STUFF

VIDEO ART

Pass the remote control. Guardian Online article on video art, by Claire Armistead. "Video art is, as one art critic put it, 'some stuff in a plastic case.' And it's not just confined to galleries: it has been commandeered by advertising and pop (one of the big names in video art, Chris Cunningham, made the video for the Prodigy's infamous Smack My Bitch Up). It's all around me and it's becoming increasingly clear that I know nothing about it. Where did it come from? How do I know when it's art?"

About Chris Cunningham

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