I recently noticed a new book on Amazon entitled, Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000 by Steve Seid. The end of this title spoke volumes – “1945-2000”.
The book is available only for “pre-order”. Meaning it hasn’t even been released yet, which assumes the writing is fairly recent. Thus the glaring absence being: what about the last decade? If you’re going all the way back to ’45, why not bring it in as current as possilbe, say, at least, 1945-2005, making it a full 60 years.
This glaring absence is of particular note due to the obvious non recognition that has occurred in regards to alternative film and video of this last decade. And it is not specific to San Francisco.
The book seems to be compiled of various authors, each contributing a section based on their expertise/experience. Some authors are divided into specific years, i.e “Cecilia Dougherty on video in the 1980s and 1990s”. Yet that’s where it stops for decade coverage.
The cut off date for this book is possibly, if not likely, the result of the following: A lack of not being able to properly define the last decade of alternative cinema.
Up until the late 90’s it was easy. The formula was the same. The establishments were in place. In order to find out who’s (supposedly) relevant you look to see who the festivals are playing, who’s being written about in the usual avant circles, who’s getting the grants, who’s being recommended by who, etc., etc.
But then with the late 90’s into the ’00’s came digital video. The old guard became confused, resistant. Video art was threatened by mounds of new work coming down the pike, many of which blew away what the established video artists had made, were making. The experimental festivals refused to show digital, and contributed to fueling the infamous online “film vs. DV” debate, swearing that this DV thing was just a fad, wouldn’t last, couldn’t hold up to quality issues and so forth.
Of course, they were completely, and embarrassingly, wrong. DV not only lasted, not only produced amazing quality works, but gave birth to the even better HD video. This denial held back many alternative works from being seen and recognized.
The 2000’s then brought another cluster bomb – online video. Now work could be seen online and viewed by hundreds, even thousands, potentially millions, as opposed to the at best 30-100 people an experimental screening would seat. This completely new, incredible shift in alternative film and video art viewing was another confusion for the nostalgic old school avant clans who thought if they just ignored it, it would go away. But again, they needed to state their 2 cents:
“It’s just a fad”. “No one is going to watch films on their computer.” “It’s too slow and the quality is much too low”.
Of course, they were completely, and embarrassingly, wrong. Watching media of all type from computers grew enormously. The speed increased to the point of zero download time. And the quality improved dramatically, with even YouTube now having an HD option.
Many of the already established alternative film and video artists heavily dissed sites like YouTube at the time, refusing to sign up for a free account while acting as if they were somehow “above it all”.
Of course today they all have YouTube accounts, and are posting their work online.
The technology basically blurred everything. The so called avant garde alternatives from all corners were no longer the “ahead of the curve” counter currents they sometimes high browed themselves as being. They were stuck in nostalgia land, unwilling to move forward and redefine the avant garde.
They didn’t know how how to deal with it (and still don’t). Their denial, their fumbling around resistance and refusal held everything back, creating for perhaps the first time in cinema history a blank page for an entire decade in regards to the recongnition of new alternative works.
The best anyone could come up with as far as “a movement” of people working in alternative/avant garde DV cinema in this last decade, was the “mumblecore” movement. Again, that being the best that is being represented speaks volumes on the lack of effort from the alternative corners to discover, push and promote the new amassing works of alternative cinema that was gushing out from the cracks.
There’s differing blame to go around, but a lack of alternative works is certainly not to blame. Such an inevitable excuse will emerge, perhaps from curators claiming their snail mail submissions had dropped, of course having no clue as to why.
It’s been the complete opposite. Avant garde has grown. It’s the old guard AG boredoms who’ve withered away in their nostalgia. Their pomp and film fetish arrogance no longer relevant. Their track record smeared with “wrong, again!“. And their particular blame likely to go down unnoticed, just as the last decade goes down unnoticed; unable to be defined. Unable to find an author to tackle that ’00-’10 period which likely created five times the visual works than the alt cinema of ’45-’99, combined.
Ferguson Ulrich writes for and curates work online at http://AbsurdistVideoArt.com
The new avant garde working in the absurdist video vein is represented at
http://AbsurdistVideoArt.com for more.