This is definitely a crusty old treasure recovered from the ether, and here’s the story about how it came to be. I happened to find an old Betamax deck on the street sometimes last year. When I stooped to look at it, some kid who lived in the house it belonged to came rushing out. “It still works!” he cried out, “my Grandma tried it last night!” I didn’t even have to ask to take it, he pretty much thrust it at me.
When I took it home I opened it, cleaned it, and noticed that it, in fact, would not work without ripping the tape – one of the arms that pulls the tape around the head was a bit askew somehow. But I’m no mechanic – I was not going to be able to fix it. No worry, though, if you take the cover off and unthread it by hand it’s relatively harmless. I happened to have a couple old Betamax tapes from the late 80s lying around, so I was excited to see what I had. Thus, I recovered this, my first ever video collage, done when I was 19 years old.
A little backstory, if you care: when I applied to school, I was urged by parents and colleagues NOT to declare my major as Radio/TV/Film. I should choose “Communications,” which was really more general, more applicable to more things, definitely less specialized and problematic. Though I definitely knew what I wanted to do with my life – be a goofball and make weird films for as long as I could before I succumbed to time and wear, I was also young and figured those around me knew better than I. Comm it was.
Within the first DAY at school I realized I had made a horrible mistake. Just one look at the Comm faculty – and the Comm students! – and I knew I was in the wrong place. These were all people destined to become do-little middle-level managers, not roll-up-your-sleeves artists; suits, not smocks; leaders, not jokers – in short, the sons and daughters of at least some privilege who hadn’t an idea of what to do with themselves, not a pack of unruly whirling dervishes burning up to do everything. They were respectable, not reprehensible. Not my crowd.
The freaks and weirdos, the lunatics and nutjobs – MY PEOPLE – were all in RTVF. And the art school, of course, but that’s a different matter entirely.
Knowing as little as I did about the University’s byzantine system, and not wanting to draw attention, I simply decided to start ACTING as though I already WAS in RTVF. I figured I would work out the paperwork later. I never did, and somehow I graduated with a degree in the correct major.
As a result of my bureaucratic flouting, I had difficulty registering for classes my first year, and took nothing in my major, not even the first-year basic course, “Introduction to Sight and Sound.” When I did finally get my hands on video editing equipment (dual Betamax decks with RM-440 controller), I was given this assignment: the teaching assistant had recorded a 6 hour tape of whatever random stuff was on television. We were to edit that into SOMETHING. No other restrictions.
This is that first project, when I discovered the video collage. The title screen is new, but it keeps with the spirit of the original – a graphic style I would have had available to me in 1985. Otherwise, it’s pretty much how it came off that old Beta tape – grainy, crappy, and mercilessly analog.
What I remember of making the piece is worth recalling as well. The RM-440 was a workhorse controller of the day, but it was also imprecise when connected to a Beta deck. These were the days of linear, tape-based, destructive editing. If you put an edit down, there was no “undo” function – you would have erased and recorded over your old recording. So although there was a function to preview your edit before committing to it, no one really used it that much, because the decks slipped and the preview might be a few frames off from the edit you intended. The best way was to guess on your in and out points, hit the “edit” button, and pray to whatever gods you held sacred. EVERY SINGLE TIME.
I had, about a week earlier, heard the Art of Noise album “Who’s Afraid Of?” courtesy of David Schulman. I was immediately taken with it – I knew something about editing audio tape, and I was under the impression that the sampling on that record had been painstaking edited with scissors and editing tape from reel-to-reel sources. But more importantly, I thought it sounded like the future.
As it turns out, I was right. Within a few years all pop music was using the techniques found on that record, and some of them have not left us, even now. It would, however, be the last project I made that used someone else’s soundtrack as a basis. I would go on to record my own noises for subsequent films.
This project is only here, on nakedrabbit.com, not on YouTube or anywhere else. Though I’m fairly sure the use of this portion of “Who’s Afraid Of?” is perfectly reasonable and defensible Fair Use I don’t want to run afoul of the Copyright Police and the scanning robots at Google.
You can download a higher resolution copy here, as well.