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Al Razutis
April 11, 2013

I'm in a film archaeology mood again today, in a desert of pasts, in the bushes of ghosts. For how long? It depends on the camels, and how much water there is.

Last night while foraging the tombs, I unearthed a pile of 16mm film prints. There's a purpose to this. Once upon a time film art didn't want video art in the picture, and video didn't want film. Each one called the other names, like 'bad film' or 'bad video'. Strictly apartheid. Each one had an aesthetic 'empire' which it called its own, even though it wasn't built yet. It was like the bronze age, soon to be iron, then not. It was the 'tools', also unearthed, that would give a hint of what it was. Digital would demolish those conceits, once and for all. But remember, we're in the 'analog' era, and hindsight might be '20-20' but reality and time are not dependent on hindsight but on foresight (says an evolutionist).

In recent correspondence with Mark Toscano at the Academy Archives in Hollywood, he has identified a number of characteristics and missing elements in my finds which need rectification and completeness. If not me, then who? I'm not waiting to die, to ride camels in heaven, or massage any legacies. And I'm certainly not waiting for someone else's version of things. Besides, the whole of idea of 'artist as inarticulate, but somehow profound and important sage' is ridiculous and games the reader and historian/critic, but hey, it sometimes works to resemble a monastic 'knowitall' in some halls of fame.

Open up the vaults, sharpen the memory, write what I can remember, now, not later, and because all things need some confirmation, otherwise they are referred to 'mythology' (a currently popular word in media studies at the U in Vancouver these days, so I read and hear).

I have already sent Mark (or he found) some video and film works (see photo down my time-line earlier this month), the copies of which do not exist except in extracts or very poor 'telecine' transfers from 3/4" U-Matic tape, which is disintegrating and unplayable.

The current subject is 'Watercolor/Abtsract', a short video-film poem created in 1973 using both film and video processing as part of something I then called 'hybrids'. (A couple of low-res frame captures included in this post.) These hybrids, which also appeared in three film reels of my later film 'Amerika', featured combinations of film material, video processing (including colorization/keying and feedback, and bio-feedback), and optical printing. These seem to me a direct succession to underground films of the 60's (called 'Synaesthetic films' by Gene Youngblood in his book Expanded Cinema) by SF film-makers like Scott Bartlett, Tom Dewitt, and Jordan Belson (and others), works that I had seen and shown in the 67-69 underground cinemas that I created and ran at UC Davis, and notably Intermedia, Vancouver, second floor, where I was first told that 'nobody would come'. Yes, second floor, a screen of white paper attached to a hanging rug, no seats, a couple of 16mm projectors, and a full house every weekend, and for a buck admission.

Here's a section and on-line descriptions from my film video archives page on some of these 'hybrid' film-videos-film that I made in the 70's:


And these film-video hybrids, along with a 60 minute 1" tape piece that Gary Lee-Nova and I made titled "Hybrid" (in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, but really out of sight of their interests now that the 'Vancouver School' of academic (salon of theory) photography has dominated the town for decades, these hybrids were pretty much unique in Canada at the time. But don't take my word for it, do some digging yourself.

And no, the Western Front or the Video In had nothing to do with hybrid works or synaesthetic cinema in Vancouver, and in fact they hated the stuff in the 70's, preferring their own docs on their performances (WF), making political docs (VI), or imitating imported 'resident artists' for future resume gain (on the part of some bull-shitters by name.) But when fashions changed (and synaesthetics became fashionable) these orgs started 'liking this stuff' and presumably got some grants (or at least sat on juries) to make 'some' of that 'history of media' using processes and tools they didn't invent, and certainly appropriated.

(Wow, the sun must be getting hot (you might think) as this travel documentary into the land of Hybrids gets the narrator saying things that no 'proper academic' would dare utter. Well, like Brad Pitt in '12 Monkeys' (the film by Terry Gilliam), 'screw academia, and screw the government sponsored state culture'. It certainly has screwed us.)

Back to reality and the findings in hand:

For a photo of the essay Gary Lee-Nova and I wrote titled 'Hybrid' that was published in 'ARTSCANADA' special issue on video art in 1973 see this link - it contains the Vancouver section. That issue is a real time-capsule of what was happening in Vancouver video at the time, and not as some Governor General (of Canada) awardees (more bullshitters) might claim:


It's o.k. to be be subjective and say what I think needs said. Otherwise the town turns into a massage parlor for legacies with a chorus of artspeak of obscure academese, freely mingling with 'the politics of Mr. Peanut' (yes, there's a website of such, I didn't make it up).

Here's an excerpt from my correspondence with Mark Toscano about this film, which he now has at the archives, a film hybrid on 16mm, of which there is no known copy or print except for a can of original printing elements, timing tape for additive model-C printer.

"The process of this experimentation started when I taught at Evergreen State College, Olympia WA, in a free-wheeling media program that they had instituted there in 1970-71. The college was financed as a 'experimental curriculum' with all kinds of media (film, video, early computing, later holography) with all kinds of visiting (and some permanent) faculty artists, and this was my first serious teaching gig. So in the labs we synthesized with film and video..."