ed marszewski on Sat, 20 Apr 2002 17:11:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Version>02 film reviews


Here is a review of some films featured at the version>02 convergence in

Version >02
Museum of Contemporary Art

By Bill Stamets

The disconnect between technology and technique is the subtext of a series
of digital video screenings at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Some works critique the new wired order, while others cheer the subversive
artists who hack the hegemony— “Creative Technology as Weaponry” is the
topic of one panel in the three-day program of screenings and performances.
Videomakers urge resistance to the media powers that be, but old genres and
packaging cliches prove irresistible when it comes time to shape the content
grabbed by the new three-chip camcorders with the new non-linear editing
software. But the deconstructive tools employed for satire and sabotage risk
self-destructing. Far from radical acts of agitation, some videos undo their
own agendas because they are designed with formal tactics that backfire.

Version >02 is more ideology- minded than the industry-happy Res Fest, an
annual touring showcase of digital cinema produced by "RES: The Magazine of
Digital Filmmaking" that the MCA hosted in 1999 and 2000. ResFest’s
catalogues listed the latest software and hardware used to make each video.
Low tech autonomy from high-end technology is a touchstone of Version >02,
as illustrated in an edition of 200 unofficial posters touting this "digital
arts covergence" that brandish a mousetrap. Wheatpasted around the city,
this do-it-yourself project on the theme of “build a better mousetrap” was
designed by painter Marty Garcia— “I’m a big analogue kind of guy”—  when he
lost his phone service for few days and was put on hiatus from another art

Version >02 evokes the late sixties scene when Sony’s half-inch video
Portapak equipped a counter-cultural cohort of video artists and activists —
“a heterogeneous mass of American hippies, avant garde artists,
student-intellectuals, lost souls, budding feminists, miltant blacks, flower
children and jaded journalilsts,” in chronicler Deidre Boyle’s census— to
create an alternative to broadcast television. “We must assume conscious
control over the videosphere,” proclaimed Gene Youngblood in the inaugural
issue of the self-styled video guerillas’ journal Radical Software in 1970.
Version >02 showcases several videos by the Guerilla News Network (GNN) that
echo the anti-establishment politics of the Portapak pioneers, but embrace
the slick manipulative style of MTV. GNN’s co-founders Stephen Marshall and
Josh Shore, who met while working for MTV, state their aesthetic on their
website: “Guerrilla NewsVideos are music videos for people who think." Their
"mini-documentaries" of  "high-impact imagery"...  "aim to rock as hard as
they inform, shock and inspire.” Talking heads in various GNN works offer
sound bites such as “Information is the ultimate weapon” and “Wars are not
won in the battlefield, they’re won in the minds of people.” An authority
from Australia argues, “the success of business propaganda in persuading us,
for so long, that we are free from propaganda is one of the most
siginificant propaganda achievements of the 20th century.” Another expert
cautions that “important information [is] drowned out by the noise of

GNN is guilty of generating more beat-driven static, not the “insightful
deconstructions” it promises. Its “news videos” are packaged with a cheesey
framing device, a white TV console designed by Dan Smith, that’s supposed to
underline the authority of the talking heads we see inside. The effect
recalls the specious “as seen on TV” taglines of old that traded on
consumers’ faith that if it’s on TV it’s real. The “GNN” logo appears just
under this screen-within-a-screen, and underneath that there’s another long
narrow screen displaying an oscilloscope wave pattern that sonically graphs
the talking head’s voice. This sci-fi frou-frou is meant to lend a
transparent warranty of truth-telling. GNN licks the envelope instead of
pushing it.

Dubbing it their “innovative video-scratch technique,” GNN borrows a dated
trick from "Swinging the Lambeth Walk (Nazi Style)," Len Lye’s 4-minute film
counter-propaganda film made in 1939 to mock Nazis by reversing and
repeating newsreel shots of Adolf Hitler’s arm saluting and his troops
goosestepping. These gestures become ludicrous tics of choreography when the
clips are edited in time with the popular dance tune of the day titled
“Swinging the Lambeth Walk.”  In GNN’s  “S-11 Redux: (Channel) Surfing the
Apocalypse,” GNN’s creative director Stephen Marshall adopts this effect to
excess. He intercuts Bush making vacant expressions with clips from
“Deliverance” (1972), pitting the Texan president against a banjo-plucking
hick played by Hoyt Pollard. Sped up video of Bush addressing Congress is
edited in a call-and-response pattern: volleys of handclaps and lockstep
standing ovations are timed to a dueling banjo duet. GNN’s new onslaught of
imagery smacks of the old onslaught in style. It’s just torqued up and hypes
a different brand of belief.

Similiar slip between message and package occurs in “New Kids on the Black
Block” (2001) by the Spanish collective Las Agencias that samples clips from
a video showing the singing group New Kids on the Block on world tour.
“Playing live, being a New Kid, making people happy,” one singer tells the
camera in a pirated subtitiled clip. “It’s probably the best thing in the
world.” The globetrotting stars of this American boy band are ambiguously
compared to streetfighting protestors videotaped at the November 1999 WTO
riots in Seattle and later anti-globalist actions in Washington, D.C.,
Davos, Prague, Quebec, Gottenberg, Barcelona and Genva. The editing is
knee-jerk: a New Kid kills time backstage tossing baseballs, while
protestors hurl tear gas cannisters back at police; and after a New Kid
extols a fast food conglomerate— “I’m in heaven in every country I go to
because I find a McDonald’s. It’s everywhere”— we cut to a loud quick
montage of protestors smashing McDonald’s windows. This open-ended parallel
implies that roving cells of black-masked chanters, drummers, hula-hoopers,
black flag twirlers, skateboarders and streetdancers are actually youthful
entertainers seeking attention on an international stage, rather like their
New Kid counterparts. The difference is the New Kids’ saccharine message is
a hit with screaming masses of pleased consumers, while the faceless unpaid,
unquoted protestors only become B-roll extras playing vandals in satellite

A far more effective feint at the state is the straightforward “Surveillance
Report 02.03.02”  (2002)made by a Chicagoan who goes by “4n6.” During the
heightened security for the World Economic Forum in New York City,  Bill
Brown takes us to a police video camera installed on a pole at the southwest
corner of 49th Street and Fifth Avenue and delivers an articulate harangue
about the Fourth Amendment, the Writs of Assistance and the place of
lingerers in capitalism. “This camera is violating every single concept in
the law of the land,” he states. “The Berllin Wall gets taken down in one
particular place and gets rebuilt all over the planet.” He concludes by
turning to the offending device: “Are you reading my lips as I say `fuck
you.’” Unlike the lip-reading video eye implanted in the Hal 9000 computer
in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) the NYPD computer cannot
sever Brown’s air hose and hurl him into space.

But the Wilmington, Delaware high school “disciplinarian” in the anonymous
“Principal’s Office” does retaliate against the student camcorderist star of
this video distributed by Cell Media. It’s the one tape in Version >02 that
succeeds in appearing design-less. To its credit, it also sports a populist
spin tilting toward “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” It seems a
disciplinarian and principal accidentally demonstrated the power of the
camera to antagonize authorities and then bite them in the ass. We see tape
apparently shot by a kid aiming at his friends in school between classes on
January 15, 1992. The school disciplinarian confiscates the still running
camcorder in the cafeteria and takes it to the principal’s office: “This
asshole was taking pictures in the cafeteria,” she reports. “I don’t know
WHO you think you are. I don’t know WHAT you think you are.” I think I do.
He is a poster boy hero for the video resistance. Artless and accidental as
this tape seems, it nonetheless accomplishes its critique with a clarity
missing from its peers.

The videos in Version >02 that induce the most winces and cringes are those
that attempt to copy mainstream advertising techniques to send politically
correct messages. If propaganda against propaganda only takes imagination—
and not state of the art technology— it’s not in evidence here. The lack of
design on display in so many videos may signal a defeat in the face of media
overlords. Resistance is futile, opines the Borg in the "Star Trek: First
Contact." Not even irony may monkeywrench the screen. As a masked spokesman
for the Billboard Liberation Front tells Jill Sharpe in her documnetary
“Culture Jam: Hitchhiking Commercial Culture” (2001), “I refuse to be a
soundbite.” No sooner does he utter this winning line than he realizes he’s
just lost splendidly.

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