The following essay appears in the 2015 book entitled Un-Dependently Yours: Imagining A World Beyond The Red Carpet, edited by Bryan Konfesky, River Quane & David Camareno http://www.experimentsincinema.org/#!Intro-to-Our-Published-Anthology-about-MicroCinemas/c26o/550f45040cf21e26baa16f78 & http://www.experimentsincinema.org
"Don't Even Look At It" - Pixelvision & Multi-Screens by Gerry Fialka
Intrigued by the words "Don't even look at it" which appear now on the big screen as an attempt by movie theaters to control cellphone use, I'd like to explore how social media is changing the viewing experience at public film screenings. These days, audience members literally cup their hands during screenings to peek at their phone. At my film screenings, I announce: "We have decided to watch one big screen for the next few hours. Please use other screens in the other room.” It seems that many can't watch the one big screen unless they can directly access their personal screen during that two hour period.
Human inventions (whether tangible or not) have services and disservices. We look to the artists to reveal inventions ’ hidden effects on our psyche. This can help us cope. While we use the term "media" to mean many things, at its broadest, media can be defined as "any human invention."
Artist Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984) asserted that people can take in, associate and categorize an excess of simultaneous imagery. He noticed in 1961 that artists were "abandoning the logics of aesthetics, springing full blown into a juxtaposed and simultaneous world that ignores the one-point-perspective mind.”
Media, in this context, constitutes new environments, which can have profound impacts on us. We can survey each new invention and, by reflecting on them, learn to turn breakdowns into breakthroughs. For example, one subliminal effect of cars is the enhancement of private mobility. I drove 45 minutes to a job for ten years, and found this period to be calming. The autopilot mode spurred contemplation, which could be considered a service. The disservices of cars are well known.
As in the automobile example there is a tendency to cast judgment, but judging the effects of media can block the comprehensive understanding of them. To emphasize the benefit of "suspended judgment," Marshall McLuhan suggested, "Understanding is not having a point of view."
Due to the fractured nature of life immersed in a multi-screen environment, how can we wholly analyze its individual and cumulative effects? We might consider the motives and consequences of its trailblazers: Abel Gance, the 1939 NY World’s Fair, Canada's Labyrinth Pavilion - Expo '67, the ONCE Group, Harry Smith, and Nam June Paik. “Frame within frame” variations were advanced by Hollis Frampton, Peter Greenaway, and James Wickstead, with his invention of Pixelvsion. More innovators include: Charles & Ray Eames, Agnes Varda, John & James Whitney, Andy Warhol, Ken Jacobs, Chris Marker, Edmund Carpenter, Walter Alter, Scott Stark, Doug Aitken and Christian Marclay, with his "vertical editing."
Even Richard Nixon and Elvis watched many TVs at once. Lounging before a wall of televisions, David Bowie's character in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth was depicted at his most debauched and degraded moment, iconically representing the psychic instability that Roeg imagined to be innate to the multi-screen environment.
How can we navigate the stream of sensory overload into channels of continuity that enable human evolution (vs. the discontinuity of devolution)?
Facebook, YouTube, electronic billboards, GPS, and computers are omnipresent. What does submersion among so many screens—all the time—do to us? "The multiplicity-of-the-media experience we have today will alienate people from identifying with any medium. So people will finally get detached from the hypnotic effect of each medium." This 2008 forecast of Robert Dobbs suggests the redemption of humanity from alienating experience will follow on its own, naturally and inevitably. The idea is that the individual and social mind will become sophisticated in due time and regain possession of itself. Can “media multiplicity” as an art form itself create the collective consciousness of today? How?
Tactile Situation Awareness (TSA) refers to the act of pilots acting so fast, there's no time to really read data and respond accordingly. They focus on the center of the cyclone. Likewise, we are engulfed in sensorial whirlpools. Can we ever really get deeply involved? For self-preservation, we cannot really specialize and truly see one screen. Or can we?
Does all this make you want to come out and play? The word "play" comes from the Old English "plegan," which means "move rapidly, occupy or busy oneself, exercise; frolic; make sport of, mock; perform music." Let's rock on sum funkey music. Fun is the key. Free your mind and your mockin' essay will follow.
Let's play around like Bob Fosse, as detailed in the book Fosse by Sam Wasson, who wrote that his dancers seemed "as if they were playing at dancing more than actually dancing." Let's play at playing. Jimi Hendrix said, "You've got to have a purpose in life. But I'm not here to talk, I'm here to play." Miles Davis encouraged "Play what you don't know."
All art aspires to the condition of music. Like an all encompassing environment, it's a center without margins. Can you tell the dance from the dancer? The scream from the screen? The essay from the writer?
Aren't our eyes doing what the multi-screen phenomenon demands of them anyway? Awake thee as actors in the global theater, and let's party.
To better illustrate what I am not trying to say, but sing and dance, let's talk "Pixelvision" aka "PXL." We can turn the limitations of this toy video camera into strengths, and reshape "un-dependent filmmaking," a term I first heard from comrade Bryan Konefsky. I feel that his clarion call encourages unlearning and reinventing.
PXL challenges us to participate in the multi-screen environment by becoming aware of it simply by playing along. When the live vaudeville show dominated the theater-going experience, the earliest films were called “chasers.” Theater owners used them with the intent to clear the hall and replace one audience with a new round of paying customers. They would put on a film, which would chase the audience out. PXL, as I've found, is similar in effect and potential.
In the 80's, I was working as an archivist for Frank Zappa. When the notorious LA press kitten Cindy Lamb showed Frank the PXL camera, he was intrigued. That's how I first learned about PXL. Inspired by his satirical subversion and an article on PXL in Mondo 2000, I started the PXL THIS Film Festival in 1991. As a put-on artist, who puts on events, this genuine fake film festival, is a way of seeing the paradoxical exuberance of being through electronic folk art. The potential thrills of PXL THIS lure people to see it, and occasionally, they run out screaming, "It sucks. It's black & white, and looks crappy. I can't even look at it!"
Preeminent avant-garde filmmaker James Benning, who says, "I like toys," was in our first festival with Table Top. He captured an inherent uniqueness of Pixelvision by utilizing the end-of-the-tape glitch. Since PXL records picture and sound on an audiocassette, this glitchiness could be considered a limitation. Lisa Marr’s Rugrat (2004) keenly utilized another PXL innate characteristic by miming the pixel's blocky graininess with the patterns of Navajo rugs.
Village Voice critic J. Hoberman, who wrote years ago, “PXL is the ultimate people’s video,” presaged The Hollywood Reporter, who recently called it the “precursor of today’s DV filmmaking.”
The toy company Fisher Price manufactured 400,000 of these lovable plastic toy wonders from 1987 to 1989. The irresistible irony of the PXL 2000 is that the camera’s ease-of-use and affordability, which democratizes movie making, inspires the creation of some of the most visionary, avant and luminous films of our time. Since 1987, PXL cameras have sometimes cost as little as 5 bucks. Though its prices have ranged from the original sticker price of $100 to more over the years, they still can be found. In fact, Patrick Gill of bentstruments.com can repair and modify them. Get off your ass and PXL.
As we bathe in the glossy techno-freaked swirl of today’s culture, swimming in the warm glow of Pixelvision reimagines the gothic dreamy look of the old black and white classics. In IFP Magazine, Ethan Hawke said during an interview about making Michael Almereyda's Hamlet, that the director loved using a camera from "the 50’s." It was the PXL-2000, a timeless artifact for everyone. The noir look evokes Billy Wilder, who claims that black-and-white is more true than color.
“If movies offer an escape from everyday life, Pixelvision is the Houdini of the film world,” noted a SF Weekly reviewer. One of my personal heroes, George Manupelli, founder of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, filmmaker, poet, and environmental activist, nailed it best when he said, “When the aliens are here and deciding whether to vaporize all mankind for our inhumanity, cruelty and greed, showing the aliens PXL THIS will save the world. PXL THIS shows our best nature as humanist creators and subversives against those who deserve it. Save the world. Support PXL THIS.”
PXL THIS has screened a wide range of innovators: Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Chris Metzler (Fishbone and Salton Sea documentaries), James & Sadie Benning, Joe Gibbons, Cecilia Dougherty, Peggy Ahwesh, Jesse Drew, Margie Strosser, Cory McAbee (The Billy Nayer Show), Terri Sarris, Bryan Konefsky, Geoff Seelinger, LM Sabo, Will Erokan, Clint Enns, Paul Bacca, Clifford Novey and tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE. Pixelvision has made it onto the big screen via Richard Linklater (Slacker), Michael Almereyda (Nadja, Hamlet & many more), and Craig Baldwin (Sonic Outlaws). PXL THIS has been attended by Oliver Stone, Daryl Hannah, Kim Fowley among others.
PXL THIS is the second oldest film festival in Los Angeles. Celebrating “cinema povera” and electronic Pointillism, it evokes Marcel Duchamp’s axiom, “Poor tools require better skills.” However, I'd say that one can make moving image art both with professional and primitive tools. We shape our tools, and then they shape us. The New York Times called PXL THIS “small.” Many of our most inspiring entries come from Venice, California’s Boardwalk performers and homeless people. I am everyday peoplePXL.
Like Rube Goldberg, Pixelators create an unassuming addition to our throw-away culture. These lowtech, hi-jinx films reconfigure conventional cinema language. Denny Moynahan (aka King Kukulele) has performed with his PXL-self for over 15 years evoking the "live performance cinema" of Winsor McCay, Buster Keaton and Pat Oleszko.
McLuhan said, "If it works, it's obsolete." One audience member said that with all the great new digital effects and equipment, it seems as though you could "fix" the picture. PXL is remarkable because it does not work. Yet, in 2014, PXL THIS celebrated twenty four years, which proves wrong this quote by PXL pioneer Erik Saks: "Pixelvison is an aberrant art form, underscored by the fact that since the cameras wear out quickly, and are no longer being manufactured, it holds within itself authorized obsolescence. Each time an artist uses a PXL 2000, the whole form edges closer to extinction.” Ain't no stopping us now. Dig infinity...focus.
PXL enables us to embrace the contradictions of its services and disservices as a failed toy and a successful art-making device. The LA Weekly contrasted it as "a tool for creativity and adolescent regression.” Film critic Amy Taubin says: "Artists want to do things that break the rules of the mainstream. Just picking up a PXL 2000 camcorder is breaking a kind of rule about what an image should look like." Artists try to evoke children's innocence. So why not just start out with a kid's toy? The Balinese have no word for art; they do everything as well as they can. Try this joke: A kid comes of age when he realizes his Dad goes to work. The kid asks his Dad, "What is your job?" His Dad, an art teacher, responds, "I teach people how to draw." Kid says, "You mean they forgot?"
Filmmakers and educators Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo have made PXL shorts for many years. Their Echo Park Film Center, who rents PXL camcorders, nurtures our same ideals - to gather the community to share in the creative process via connectedness not consumerism. We hoick up an ecstatic new state of tribal immediacy and simultaneity.
Echo Park Film Center and Craig Baldwin of OtherCinema have programmed the PXL THIS Film Festival at their acclaimed venues dozens of times. Steve Polta booked PXL THIS at the prestigious San Francisco Cinematheque. The program notes, entitled An Invention Without A Future - Pixelvision: Electronic Folk Art, comprehensively documents the history of PXL THIS and Pixelvision. More essential reading is Andrea Nina McCarthy's 2005 MIT thesis Toying With Obsolescence: Pixelvision Filmmakers & The Fisher Price PXL 2000 Camera.
PXL THIS Film Festival has no awards and no entry fees. Out of 2 to 3 dozen entries per year, we show every entry. They have come from across the US, France, Canada, England and New Zealand. Stalwart Pixelator Doug Ing has contributed PXL camcorders to the new wave of young filmmakers like Chester Burnett, whose witty films have been an audience favorite since he as a child.
T. S. Eliot said that poetry is outing your inner dialogue. What form is your inner dialogue in? Maybe it's that dreamy illusive Pixelvision image. An extension of consciousness? The next medium? The non-physical? The possibility of a world without words? The PXL viewer sees less information (2,000 dots instead of regular TV's 200,000) and gets more involved. Low definition means high participation. The PXL mosaic reimagines Seurat-like bits of information moving at the speed of light. What is faster - the speed of light or the speed of thought? Hang in there as I free-associate.
May I suggest a funky out-jazz guitar solo, metaphorically speaking? Standing on the verge of PXLing on. In the very midst of this funkathon rave party, it's time to imagine Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton (better yet, Sonny Sharrock and Pete Cosey) shredding cosmic verbiage to access the unconsciousness.
Eliot influenced the Symbolists, who promoted that it’s not so much what you say, but how it makes you feel. Mallarmé exhorted, "Don't paint the thing, paint the effect it produces." McLuhan said, "Multiscreen projection tends to end the story-line, as the symbolist poem ends narrative in verse."
Let's enliven the "content and form" in surveying the subliminal effects of Pixelvision, multiple screens, and essays in film festival books with more:
In Film Culture Reader (1970), P. Adams Sitney included Annette Michelson's essay Film and the Radical Aspiration. Here's an excerpt:
"In a country whose power and affluence are maintained by the dialectic of a war economy, in a country whose dream of revolution has been sublimated in reformism and frustrated by an equivocal prosperity, cinematic radicalism is condemned to a politics and strategy of social and aesthetic subversion.
'To live,' as Webern, quoting Hölderlin, said, 'is to defend a form.' It is from the strength of its forms that cinema’s essential power of negation, its 'liquidation of traditional elements in our culture,' as Benjamin put it, will derive and sustain its cathartic power.
Within the structure of our culture, ten-year-olds are now filming 8mm serials—mostly science fiction, I am told—in their own backyards. This perhaps is the single most interesting fact about cinema. Given this new accessibility of the medium, anything can happen.
Astruc’s dream of the camera as fountain pen is transcended, the camera becomes a toy, and the element of play is restored to cinematic enterprise. One thinks of Méliès, both Child and Father of cinema, and one rejoices in the promise of his reincarnation in the generation of little Americans making science-fiction films after school in those backyards. Here, I do believe, lies the excitement of cinema’s future, its ultimate radical potential. And as André Breton, now a venerable radical, has said, 'The work of art is valid if, and only if, it is aquiver with a sense of the future.'"
Michelson presages Pixelvision effects. She refers to Alexandre Astruc's 1948 article The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera-Stylo which probes the arrival of a new period in the development of cinema when the medium could be as flexible as a simple fountain pen. PXL hoicks up pen-and-paper mentality. It enables one to utilize intuition by reimaging everydayness into utter profundity. One viewer told me how it's amazing that a PXL film can look silly, but be profound. If the maker tries to be profound, it does not work.
Tony Conrad wanted to make a film that stimulates what things look like with one's eyes closed. He said the role of the artist is to break laws that have not been made yet. Jump back and kiss your PXL.
Bucky Fuller's "It is literally possible to do more with less" reminds me of two Jean Cocteau quotes: "Film will become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper," and "What one should do with the young is to give them a portable camera and forbid them to observe any rules except those they invent for themselves as they go along. Let them write without being afraid of making mistakes."
Let's continue these fiery discussions so we may study the hidden psychic effects of hybridizing a light-through medium (TV, stained glass windows, video, computer screens) and a light-on medium (film, the printed word, murals). And continue to study nothing. With how shitty Pixelvision can sometimes look, I have found the audience staring at a blank screen. That's McLuhan's "Media Fast." That's sustainability, aka "Media Ecology," which is being aware of an organism and its environment. I started out with nothing and still have most of it left. "A true Zen saying, 'Nothing is what I want.'" - Zappa.
The poet Auden posed the question: do we really know if art activates or pacifies us? Marx said the point is to change the world, not interpret it. You can't change shit, Karl, our inventions change us. The telegraph caused the civil war (how can you ever have a "civil" war?), and the radio caused WWII. If we combine this technological determinism with Menippean satire, we can learn how not to ignore the hidden psyche effects of our inventions. Bingo. We can cope.
The hottest new study topic is cognitive neuroscience. Everything we invent extends some human sensorium: clothing extends skin, knife and fork extends teeth, film editing extends the eye lid (blinking), and the film viewing experience extends memory. ”As if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen" - T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Pudovkin claims, "The film is the greatest teacher because it teaches us not only through the brain but through the whole body."
Ponder the intentions behind our inventions. Sydney Lumet said films can't cause anything, but that won't keep him from trying. Warhol said, "It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it.” Reagan went into the White House after his inauguration and asked, "Where's the war room?" He was referring to what he heard in the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove, with the infamous line "There will be no fighting in the war room!"
As for Stan the Man, Kubrick pulled A Clockwork Orange for three decades from only UK screens. When the British police suggested copycats inspired by his film could target his family, did he pull the film as PR strategy or was he truly scared? Did he actually believe his film could cause crimes?
Poet Richard Modiano told me the movies can catalyze fashion trends like James Dean wearing a white T-shirt. Gillo Pontecorvo, whose The Battle of Algiers was used as a training film for the Black Panthers and Bush's cronies, was asked what his film does to people. He said that it teaches them how to make films. In 1924, D.W. Griffith proclaimed "In the year 2024 the most important single thing that the cinema will have helped in a large way to accomplish will be that of eliminating from the face of the civilized world all armed conflict."
Brother Gene Youngblood, can you paradigm? He wrote in 1970, "The nature of cinema (is) so encompassing and persuasive that it promises to dominate all image-making in much the same way as the theory of general relativity dominates all physics." What are the services and disservices of the current multi-screen dominance and low-tech filmmaking? Get the funk outta disfunktional.
Unintended consequences can be flipped into services by understanding the relationships of the human invention and "the user as content.” When McLuhan quipped, "Culture is our business," he hoped to invigorate the needling of that somnambulistic state that all inventions cause. We embrace them before we even study what they do to us. In fact, can we ever learn that the real hidden ground to all of this is electricity?
I can relate to Charles Ives, who said, “Music—that no one knows what it is—and the less he knows he knows what it is the nearer it is to music— probably.” And, yes, “probably” I should drop this following “failure” rant. Maybe this mosaic mash-up of PXL and multi-screens is a Menippean satirized metaphor of me, doing the multiplicity mambo.
I may be a failure at this essay, but I am not a miserable failure. This mumbo jumbo jes grew. A last ditch attempt to gain credibility? Nah, maybe just another carny poser snake-oiling loopy slapstick to avoid the elusive bitch goddess of success. So carefully make plans, and then do the opposite.
Why do we ignore the hidden effects?
"Communication of the new is a miracle, but not impossible." - McLuhan, who loved Sam Goldwyn's "As for the critics, don't even ignore them." Initiate conversations on the resonating interval, sense ratio shifting, effects precede causes, and kaleidoscopic synesthesia. In Marcel Duchampian spirit, start a film festival that is not a film festival. Write the mosaic aphoristic gestalt into a living organism. Explode the experiments with the unexpected.
This essay has been formatted to fit your discarnate body. It hoicks up Wyndham Lewis as articulated by McLuhan: "Lewis sought no disciples, nor does he offer a program or solution, rather his contribution is a critical discipline. Lewis is a stimulant, a mode of perception, rather than a position or practice."
Don't even look at this?
And in the tradition of ReSearch Publications, here's more quotes and probes:
"Artists live in the present and write a detailed history of the future" - Wyndham Lewis, who taught McLuhan that human inventions are teaching machines. Awake people and continue this tradition of all-at-onceness, which was made explicit by Dziga Vertov in his landmark modernist film, Man With The Movie Camera (1929).
Ricky Leacock aspired to make films that make you feel present. Richard Linklater voiced “Everything is now” in Boyhood. Alan Watts yelped “Time is always now. Groove with the eternal now.” Let’s boogaloo with Baba Ram Dass - “Be Here Now.” All times are happening now!
"The next medium—whatever it is—may be an extension of consciousness. It will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form." - McLuhan. This evokes Edgar Allen Poe's reasoning backwards. He invented the detective novel. "Anything that's popular is a rear-view image" - McLuhan.
Study anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s Double Bind Theory - pay no attention to me that I am lying to you. We do it with ourselves all the time. It is similar to James Benning saying that the film viewing audience has a contract with themselves to sit for two hours. David Sherman suggested that we may be making a Faustian bargain. How much does it really matter if you're watching one screen or many?
"And here the word 'experimental' is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success or failure, but simply as of an act the outcome of which is unknown or not foreseen.” - John Cage
Contemplate this McLuhan question: "How about technologies as the collective unconscious and art as the collective unconsciousness?” And then, Zappa's quiz: "Who are the brain police?" Getting down just for the funk of it, United Mutations! One cybernation under a groove.
McLuhan extended Mallarmé’s "To define is to kill, to suggest is to create" to "evolution is to adapting to exploration."
Take the opportunity to actually read, study and discuss McLuhan, Joyce & Robert Dobbs. Delve deep into McLuhan's translation of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, who invented FaceHook and disguised it as a book. Dobbs' translation of them both transforms and reinvents percept plunder for the recent future.
Research the books of Janine Marchessault, who wrote about The Labyrinth Project's lasting effect: "One can see in the expanded screen experiments at Expo a foreshadowing of the intermedia, and the concomitant multiplication of screens in everyday life and around the world."
Seminal experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton questioned "suspended judgment" in 1978: "I didn't really like the work I thought was my best work. I liked the stuff I didn't like a lot more."
Special thanks to Suzy Williams, Matt Collins, Mark Hardin, Derek Gibb, Jules Minton, River Quane and Here Comes Everybody. Everything they wanted me to add or delete, I meant to. “Everybody is a star.” – Sly Stone.
About the Artist - Gerry Fialka - Artist, writer, and paramedia ecologist lectures world-wide on experimental film, avant-garde art and subversive social media. He has curated three film series in LA for over three decades. Fialka has been praised by the Los Angeles Times as "the multi-media Renaissance man." The LA Weekly proclaimed him "a cultural revolutionary." http://laughtears.com/ firstname.lastname@example.org 310-306-7330
Finger Fart - Silent But Deadly collage by Gerry Fialka, lettering by Timothy Agoglia Carey - this collage is actually a genuine fake Ann Arbor Film Festival button
Noise Floor collage by Gerry Fialka 2013