Friday, 3 July 2020

THE IDEAS IN HIS HEAD WERE FOREVER FERMENTING [249]

Calculator, Industry, Work [copyright Paul Rose]


“How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File” is the brilliant title for a 2013 film by the German video artist Hito Steyerl, and can be viewed here: [link]. Using computerised imagery and voiceover mixed with location shooting and The Three Degrees’ “When Will I See You Again,” this satire of instructional films is also about a serious subject: resolution targets, used by the American military in the times of pre-digital aerial photography for calibration purposes, but now left cracked and obsolete – to truly become invisible, you must enter those cracks, be smaller than a pixel, become a picture, or be a female over fifty years old.

Now try this: Petrochemexxx Solutions Corporation presents “Party Phantoms,” simulated guests ready to fill the spaces at your party or other miscellaneous celebration. They can dance, but you must not dance with them; they can hold conversations, but their opinions might be toxic. Apart from the voiceover, and perhaps the music, the video is constructed from stock footage and photographs, especially of frightening medical dummies. The colour and grain of the picture is of a 16mm film where the yellow layer faded away, captured on video tape too late, dating this film to the early 1970s at most, supported by the fonts used on screen, and the spaced-out synthesised sound effects. It appears to have been archived in a forgotten shed. You then remember this film has only just been made.

Seeing Steyerl’s video at Tate Modern, I realised I want to make videos like this. “How Not to be Seen” is presented as an art installation, but it is entertaining, funny, informative, and not far from your more ambitious YouTube video. However, watching the YouTube channel Mr. Biffo’s Biffovision [link] has made me think I could achieve this.

Party Phantoms [copyright Paul Rose]

“Party Phantoms” opens “Mr Biffo’s Lost Footage: Eggs,” posted in April 2020, continuing a series of “found footage” videos begun in 2016. “Mr Biffo” is the trickster god persona of Paul Rose, a creator of children’s TV comedy-dramas like “Dani’s House,” “4 O’Clock Club” and “Almost Never,” screenwriter for the 2014’s “Pudsey The Dog: The Movie,” and the writer of “Wrongs of Praise,” the episode of the sitcom “My Parents are Aliens” that crushed a model of a satellite with a bible, and had said parents, through self-idolatry and obsession with celebrity, raising the stakes by getting ready to burn their family on one as blasphemers – I liked that episode a lot. The “Mr Biffo” name comes from the 1993-2003 Teletext video game magazine that began Rose's writing career - “Digitiser” is remembered for the subversive humour and characters that infiltrated the reviews, the anarchic spirit continuing in the YouTube series that has often threatened to injure both Rose and co-host Paul Gannon (also of the CheapShow podcast, as discussed here: link).

In other words, the Biffovision channel – a channel that sounds like it has its own ident introducing the videos, just as ITV shows were presented by Thames, LWT, TVS or Tyne Tees - is created, like most YouTube channels, in someone’s spare time, but the imagination and ambition of the videos created in that time eliminates that as a limitation. In a Q&A video also posted in April 2020, Rose stated that, apart from scripting voiceovers or pieces that actors will read to camera, and working with the musician Christopher Jerden-Cooke, entire sketches or passages are conceived in the edit, having gathered the necessary stock footage. The 2017 series “Mr Biffo’s Found Footage” has more original filmed sequences, but are treated in the same way. While these videos may not be, as Rose stated, his life work, they are his favourite hobby.

Digitiser: "Indoor Fireworks" [copyright Paul Rose]

In comparison, two earlier videos by Steyerl, “Strike” (2010) and “Probability” (2012) – the first portraying the breaking of a TV screen, and the second demonstrating a zero-probability event - may have been filmed at home, as so many YouTube videos are, but like Rose’s videos, Steyerl’s confidence and precision in the imagery created, from framing to lighting to sound, is the cut above that turns “just a video” into cinema. It is possible to create cinema in your spare time.

So far, the videos on my “Dancing with the Gatekeepers” YouTube channel [link] are mostly written articles spoken out loud, with pictures. I always thought that, to achieve television or film standard, I needed to devote more time than my regular job would allow me to give. Having discovered this is not true, it is now up to me to make different choices. For all the film theory and rules that have built up since the Lumière brothers filmed their employees leaving their factory in 1895, all they had to do was work out where to place the camera.

Pie Vendors in the Night [copyright Paul Rose]

The final episode of “Mr Biffo’s Lost Footage” appeared on 21st June 2020, titled “The End,” this time presenting a through line of life from birth to death, via your first day of school, birds, pie vendors in the night, parental training tapes, calculators, memories of TV, and a slow, beautiful passage of reaching the end, when there is nothing more, piecing together archive voiceover, prog rock music, and the Apollo moon landings – and then you let go. Watching this on a televisio
n, I did not see “#Funny” written under the picture, and I laughed a lot before then, while making notes on how different layers of photography moved in the “Pie Vendors in the Night” section, but I was not expecting to be emotionally moved myself, by a video on YouTube.

When you remember that “cinema” describes the space as well as the art form, does an art work create the space, or do you just hope it does by putting it there? Maybe some videos just need to be seen on as big a screen as possible.

Because Paul Rose does it, and because Hito Steyerl has done it, I hope I can create cinema in my spare time.

Beanus Likes Beans:
Digitiser co-host Paul Gannon with spirit animal
[copyright Paul Rose]

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