Daily Archives: May 18, 2009

Medium Cool: Wrestling with Video Art (Whatever That Means)

From Moving Image Source (May 18, 2009). — J.R.

I wouldn’t say that video art per se makes me break out in hives. I even like some examples of it, including work by Thom Andersen, Gregg Bordowitz, Joan Braderman, Pedro Costa, Adam Curtis, Steve Fagin, Jean-Luc Godard (for me, his best work over nearly the past two decades), Ken Jacobs, Jia Zhangke, Abbas Kiarostami, Alexander Kluge, Mark Rappaport, Raúl Ruiz, Aleksandr Sokurov, Michael Snow, Leslie Thornton, and Bill Viola.  But when it comes to most early American video art, I have an allergic reaction. A dozen years ago, while co-teaching a course with video artist Vanalyne Green at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute called “Film and Video: What’s the Difference?” I even tried -— without much sustained success — to combat this allergy homeopathically.

More recently, I’ve tried again by attempting to come to terms with the Video Data Bank’s multiregional DVD box set, Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S. — a mammoth compilation curated by Christine Hill, encompassing eight discs, 68 titles, and over 16 hours, produced for institutional rather than consumerist use. (The cost is otherwise prohibitive: $1,350 before September 1, $1,500 afterward, and postage is extra.) And once again I’ve failed, though not without some edification and enlightenment along the way.… Read more »

A Last-Minute Tip for Chicagoans: A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (Doc Films, May 18, 7 PM)

I’m sorry that the Chicago Reader in its current issue chooses not to acknowledge that it’s anything special or worthy of more than cursory notice, but  Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day is probably the greatest Taiwanese film ever made, and it doesn’t turn up here often. Doc Films is showing it at 7 pm. Here’s my original capsule review, only slightly updated:

Bearing in mind Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, this astonishing 230-minute epic (1991) by Edward Yang (1947-2007), set over one Taipei school year in the early 60s, would fully warrant the subtitle “A Taiwanese Tragedy.” A powerful statement from Yang’s generation about what it means to be Taiwanese, superior even to his later masterpiece (and final film) Yi Yi (2000), it has a novelistic richness of character, setting, and milieu unmatched by any other 90s film (a richness only partially apparent in its three-hour version). What Yang does with objects — a flashlight, a radio, a tape recorder, a Japanese sword — resonates more deeply than what most directors do with characters, because along with an uncommon understanding of and sympathy for teenagers Yang has an exquisite eye for the troubled universe they inhabit. This is a film about alienated identities in a country undergoing a profound existential crisis — a Rebel Without a Cause with much of the same nocturnal lyricism and cosmic despair.… Read more »