3. DOGS IN THE YARD (3 of 3)
80's Aftermaths - coming home to roost in the 90's
After my resignation from Simon Fraser University in 1987, I was unable to find an equivalent appointment and ceased all teaching activities. At the end of the 80's, on the occasion of the Toronto Experimental Film Congress, and afterwards in published interviews with Mike Hoolboom and other writings, including those posted on Frameworks, I 'burned a lot of bridges' vowing never to return to those previous 'Kanadian' 'academic' or 'arts cultural' scenes.
I returned to Canada in 1995 and took up residence on Saturna Island where I continued my contacts via the web (barely accessible on the Gulf Islands) and initiated a ambitious, though technically sparse, program of creating 3D video art. This was conducted in an environment of poverty and isolation. The cultural scene had changed. Video In and Western Front were now 'tooled up', benefiting from decades of generous government subsidy and nepotistic administrations (grants to insiders).
One never knows where the territorial 'boundries' are drawn, until one ventures into the 'yard' and is beset upon by the 'dogs' guarding the boundaries, imaginary or otherwise. Spiders in the webs in the spring yield to dogs in the yard in the fall.
During the 90's two institutional 'empires' in western Canada were built by two leftists of seemingly opposing views: Ron Burnett at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (formerly the Vancouver School of Art), and Sara Diamond at the New Media Center at the Banff Center in Alberta.
1990's Commissar of Education: Ron Burnett
President Ron Burnett, Professor, Doctor, previously film theory 'activist', publisher of Cinetracts (in the 80's), represents a 'shining star' success story that adds to the picture of the hows and whys of hegemony of marxian semiotic film studies over Canadian experimental film and media studies.
The student-activist Burnett, as co-publisher of Cinetracts, can credit himself with bringing in the most reactionary 'special Editor', R. Bruce Elder, during the 80's, to essentially 'finish off' whatever was serious about Canadian experimental and avant-garde film. To bring in a Calvinist writer who extolled on the film theoretical virtues of 'presences', 'absences', 'centering', 'decentering', who wrote about the 'soul' and the thoughts of saints, who praised Michael Snow's works in near mystical and metaphysical bursts of rapture was certainly a display of near-genius on the part of Burnett. Within a short time in critical publications, the avant-garde film in Canada had been depoliticized, nationalized, mystified and academically sent to the 'museum' of expired ideas. An awoved Marxist, like Burnett, must have been chuckling when the Toronto Experimental Film Congress was convened at the end of the 80's as a conference that featured the pre-eminence of a new clique in avant-garde, experimental, independent curating: R. Bruce Elder, joined by his mentor, the theology-student turned film critic Bart Testa.
President Burnett waxes elloquently on his personal school-hosted web sites, in his 'memoirs' of the 'heroic' struggles of his journal Cinetracts which he described as "exploding on the scene" with the then-fashionable blend of academic-semiotic-psychoanalytic-marxism as 'the best of the Europeans'. I suppose 'el Presidente' is allowed to publish his 'memoirs' at the expense of the institutions which serve them, and with the oinking 'thanks' of many pigs at the cultural troughs - the government-subsidized schools and cultural 'centers' (Western Front, Video In). Certainly 'comrade Burnett' is now a commissar in a 'suit', still in charge of party loyalty, and presumably headed for the 'happy retirement' of now-closeted-leftists in academia.
The clink, clink, clinks of 'success' resounds as 'el Presidente' Doctor Ron Burnett of ECIAD adds another medal alongside his 'Leninist' academic awards from bygone days. These days he is a 'champion' of new media, awarded 'Educator of the Year' (2005) by the gamers, and has announced a '3D Center of Digital Studies'. At least he has quieted dissent at his own school. The faculty is quiet. Retirement nears. And there are more current fashions in '3D' to 'promote'.
The gamers (short-term memory and all) likely don't remember that Burnett's 1990's ECIAD media departments (film, video, animation, digital) throughout the 90's were largely irrelevant to student professional (post-school) needs, driving many potential students to attend rival technical institutes (over a dozen, by last count, and growing) privately-financed, very successful, expensive, and job-oriented instutitions in Vancouver that have been teaching contemporary - digital Film, Animation, Digital Art, Web Design, Audio and Video, Multimedia, and IT.
These Technical, Design schools have sprung up in Vancouver) for newly relevant production studies, and have 'filled the void' left by the incompetence of ECIAD, SFU, UBC curriculums (the 'big three'). How else could one explain such a successful 'explosion' of alternative digital media institutions which arrived on the scene in the 90's and continuing today? The incompetence of ECIAD, SFU, UBC and other institutions in responding to the 'changing technology' in production and studios, and failing to adress new student needs is what happens in 'the old folks club' at the 'college'.
'Infantilism' and administrative hubris:
A short summary of Burnett's behaviors (1997-8), directed at me and my work is indicative of the infantilism and hubris that emanates from academics for extracting some weird infantile 'revenge' on those (such as I, writing in Opsis - Journal of Political and Avant-Garde Cinema' 1984-5 ) who 'dared' to critize 'psychoanalytic semiotic film theory' (his doctoral thesis field of study).
And even some of the faculty members from whom this information was derived were surprised at such long-term grudges. But I am not surprised. There's always more Kajas being graduated yearly.
Facts of 'psychoanalytic' interest:
Dr. Burnett, friend of the Western Front, sitting on an empire that becamce more and more out of touch with media realities in a decade gone digital, seeing the competing film vocational institutes (Vancouver Film School, Vancouver Art Institute, Center for Digital Imaging and Sound, Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, etc.) spring up all around his ECIAD, reading the ads of the competing schools proclaim a much needed alternative to the lack of digital media education in Vancouver, Comrade Doctor Burnett finally got it 'right', and then, of course, the 'ship' set sail again with new digital 3D 'flags' hoisted, and more personal awards (how about a 'Order of Kanada'?) undoubtedly looming in the ('clink, clink!') future. Yes, O Kanada! 'we stand in line for thee...'.
I posted the following on Frameworks in August 1996:
Fri, 23 Aug 1996 03:38:22 GMT
(Full text of Razutis message: 'Vancouver')
Two years later, Professor Chris Welsby of SFU suddenly appears on Frameworks in 1998 attacking me with ad hominems, and ignores the core issue of technology, while confusing my criticisms of the universities with a 'personal' gripe, confusing my poverty and isolation as comfortable 'retirement', and defending his 'record' (on his way to future promotion).
Al's rantChristopher Welsby (welsby@SFU.CA)
Wed, 21 Jan 1998 15:17:01 -0800
Hope this reaches you at your idyllic island retreat. I'm afraid I
Just thought I should bring you up-to-date on some aspects of the
For example, you'll be pleased to hear that experimental film and video
You obviously also don't know that we are busy developing the digital
(Full text of Welsby message: 'Al's Rant')
My initial post was certainly insulting to the SFU faculty, though unintentionally implicating Welsby ('by association'), and I did offer Professor Welsby a off-line personal apology for any comments that may have been misrepresented his efforts. But the 'anti-experimental' and 'anti-digital' education climate in Vancouver (notably ECIAD and SFU) was conveyed to me by Welsby's own students and it was only then that I wrote the Frameworks post.
The facts of Vancouver's 'ignorance' in digital-media education were not to be refuted by Welsby's faculty 'spin', ad hominems or isolated examples that ignore the core curriculum streams.
My response to Welsby followed:
Gathering EvidenceAl Razutis (razutis@xxxxxxxxxxx)
Thu, 29 Jan 1998 17:23:07 -0800
Mr. Welbsy was never named in '96 messages posted by me to Frameworks, yet he associates himself with all criticisms directed at film schools. His slurs about me ("pompous", etc.), my life-style ("leisure") my politics ("right wing") reveal his ignorance on these and other subjects. Were he to contain his comments to issues of substance, then none of this would be necessary.
(Long chronology of SFU mandate, digital tech issues, graduate program, Welsby's role, and documented details of complains follows
(For full text of this message, see : 'Gathering Evidence')
Six years later SFU and ECIAD are behind in digital media education, Welsby is now a tenured and promoted Associate Professor, and all the words below are simply archived for the 'historical' perspective that university programs tend towards irrelevance as faculty retirement age approaches.
MORE DOGS IN THE (VIRTUAL) YARD:
And during the 90's, particularly with regards to my postings on Frameworks, Chuck Kleinhans (Associate Professor at Northwestern University), an awoved marxist with a penchant for psychoanalytic film theory and 'third world cinemas' was lurking on Frameworks, shooting in the dark, and with obsessive slanders against me (who was no longer on Frameworks) - offered at infrequent intervals - and only on the the spider-driven searchable world wide web.
What's notable about the behavior of Kleinhans (who I have never met), is that it features a 'predictable paranoic response' (and imagined 'slights') that emerge every several years, and without provocation, but which harbor a a voyeuristic tendenency to scavange and lurk on the web with presonal grievance.
Rather than contribute to scholarship, critical understanding of media, or foster and encourage experimental and avant-garde film art, some academics / writers become 'phantoms of (their own) opera':
Chuck Kleinhans (chuckkle@NWU.EDU)
Sure enough, I thought that speaking directly about Jost's problems would
provoke a response that would confirm the diagnosis.
Maybe we could get Al Razutis back on the list and have a battle of the Egomaniacal Super Titans.
(Full text of Kleinhans 1998 message)
This type of Kleinhans ('flaming the opposition') behavior, normally associated with alcoholism, but likely an 'obsession' of his to 'educate' the younger and emerging filmmakers on the Frameworks chat board as to the 'dangers' of no longer present contributors (like myself) and only to heed the wisdom of old marxists (like himself) is classic paranoic behavior. In the Kleihans mind there's a Klein paranoid-schizoid position with the 'bad objects' of the infantile binary those filmmakers to who he projects his own state of mind. 'Chuck is the professor', but perhaps one in need of 'psychoanalysis' of the non-cinematic kind.
Like a dog barking at 'anything' in the yard, Professor Kleinhans prefers to 'guard' the academic 'dog house' over and above contributing anything new or insightful for the avant-garde generations of new creators (which whom he appears to have a voyeuristic relationship). (See his take on 'avant-garde' in the ventriloquism of the words of others here. )
Then, several years later, Kleinhans' 'intellectual sphincter' releases another dose:
From: Chuck Kleinhans (chuckkle@NWU.EDU)
We had another filmmaker egomaniac like this on the list about 4 years ago,
(Full text of Kleinhans 2000 message 'Pope Jon')
Some dogs will just keep barking forever. Just when the 'urge' overtakes them 'at certain times'. 'Getting back' at people, however inconsistent the time frame, is a kind of academic 'revenge' by people 'past their prime' in creative endeavors. Kleninhans' behavior is reminiscent of the vendetta behavior of Burnett (cited earlier). And it certainly doesn't help my 'cause' when I write and post paragraphs such as this one (2003):
"Scumbags are found in every profession, and are especially prevalent in academic old folks homes (the art college, university). Caught up with their captive audiences (students desiring a passing grade), pompous in their conceits (academic appointments), they suffer the insecurity that history is not on their side, and all their ventriloquism (called publishing) and all the dummies (favorite examples) won't change the facts of what was created, what is created, or how it was created, or destroyed."
WHERE ARE WE NOW?