The National Video Festival's "Video Record" program features neither records nor playback equipment: The state of the art is such that the message is ready but the medium is not quite willing. The two-hour program at the American Film Institute's five-day symposium yesterday focused on the integration of music and video, inadvertently pointing to the limitations of this new art as it celebrated its possibilities.
Rock video, used promotionally on television and in clubs, is perhaps the most visible form of video today, and "Video Record" showcased some of the best. The enigmatic David Bowie was one of the first rock artists to perceive video's potential to extend the impressionism inherent in music and Bowie's futuristic "Ashes to Ashes" scares up memorable images and subliminal connections in four minutes. The colors are otherworldly and diffused, and one senses the advantage of a fully realized, singular vision.
Reflecting much contemporary rock, rock video frequently suggests a grave new world of alienation and robot-animation. The group Devo, through director Chuck Statler, paints a grim picture on "Freedom of Choice" but does so with such panache that a viewer laughs when a wince seems more appropriate. "Frankie Teardrop," on the other hand, offers 11 minutes of brilliant desperation to bleak minimalist music by Suicide. As a synopsis of the explosive tension of poverty, "Frankie" is masterful precisely because the music and video are equally realized; one doesn't feel that the story is laid on the picture, or vice versa, a problem in most rock video.
"Two Triple Cheese, Side Order of Fries," made by Video West with Commander Cody, overcomes that problem with ridiculous and hilarious burger-joint imagery, but the genre's concern with repetition dooms it as a novelty video. The Jacksons' "Blame It on the Boogie," on the other hand, comes across as top-40 video, a slick production that will hold up to repeated viewings without ever engaging our attention. "Six Blade Knive," Neil Smith's video to a Dire Straits tune, has nothing whatsoever to do with the song. It weakly condenses a pulp detective story into a grade-B video.
Selections from the work of Ron Hays, abounding with swirling computer and laser images, showcased another side of the video-music junction, the active ambient mood that was popularized in "2001" and has existed in experimental film for over two decades.
Video has taken many of the effects developed in photography and pumped them up with motion. Adam Friedman and Doug Carnevale's thermography on the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" ends up as interesting as an insulation commercial, but Hays overcomes what a voice describes as "synthetic computer realities" to effect climactic confrontations and vibrant resolutions and dissolutions of color and form as modern dance. Hays' images, along with those of several other video artists in the program, are hypnotically alluring.
Robert Ashley, one of the big names represented in the show, may please those in the video know, but suffering through excerpts from his "Private Lives" and "Perfect Lives (Private Parts)" is akin to reading Kafka in the original -- without knowing German.
"Video Record" will be repeated tomorrow night at 9 and will be followed by a symposium featuring Hays, Ashley and several other video artists.