The following is text compiled for the DVD liner notes, for a disc referred to as
6 films prepared by a mr. gibbs chapman.
Well, since you asked, I’ll try to remember what I was thinking, between November 1995 and June 2004. At the beginning of the period, I had finished a feature drama and was becoming aware of a certain kind of paralysis that arises from making a longer film with no money, the guilt that accompanies a lot of favor-cashing, and the malaise from realizations that despite labors of love and hate, I came to filmmaking 75 years too late. I needn’t here describe the certain bad way in which I found myself, for at least the remainder of the century - it could’ve been a sort of mid-life era, or a lonely time, a time in which I assumed (because I think poetry is found in despair rather than elation) should lead to a creative period, for lack of a better expression but…
…I can’t say if this fell short of potential or not;
I assume so. How’s that for a run on?
Anyway, my German side wanted to keep working, and we all were reaching the end of a particular aspect of the celluloid era, that of the final disposition of the century’s collection of educational and industrial media, stored in the warehouses of school districts, fetishist’s closets and finally, dumpsters. I couldn’t help notice that if one was (as a number of friends and associates had been doing) to make “derivative” works, or as Mr. Baldwin is fond of saying, recycling detritus in a process known as re-contextualization, one could avoid the bulk of the production section of filmmaking, skipping straight to post-production. As a control freak, an only child and a bit of a jerk of all trades, I prefer this aspect of media work, because ‘others’ need not be recruited nearly as often as in production. So friends and I did a significant amount of re-viewing all sorts of films whose producer’s might have marveled should they have known of our interest, but with an eye to have our way with them. A perverted task I grant you, but I was actually only slightly surprised to see in this meander through the 20th Century, that a lot of material was truly odd already.
So this, “working with found footage” as the gate-keepers may to refer to this approach: I found it to be a particularly aimless thing to do, that is, rather than ‘writing’ a movie, constructing an arc, looking for an inciting incident, graveling for singularities, or whatever film school drivel for which you go in, one just searches random, aesthetic and topical works, like a scavenger at the landfill. Mostly these items were conceived as commodities, communication platforms, produced to diffuse the tedium of the school lecture or the corporate presentation, or at least provide an opportunity for the instructor/projectionist to sneak out for a smoke. In this point, I may delude myself, that I know what to do when I sit down to write but…
• the intellectual and your tax dollars at work
So then I constructed the intellectual, and your tax dollars at work, pretty much on a pair of afternoons, after enduring some “experimental” film show the night before and finding myself unable the resist the arrogant sentiment: I can make a better film than that… …in an afternoon. the intellectual is merely the combination a barely re-edited British navy industrial, about properly inspecting ballast chambers in the hulls of seagoing vessels, and a few lines of narration I wrote in an hour, how autobiographical, I couldn’t say. I still subscribe to the theory that the intellect, if a gift, is one with two sharp edges and that the human mind appears to operate much like a prison cell designed for one with two incongruous and inflexible inhabitants. As the narration insists, “a creature in transition,” places many generations on an evolutionary timeline, and with one foot on the “no step” fragility of an airplane wing and the other in the filth and violence of our ancestors. I can’t report having seen any evolution, any evidence to the contrary since the intellectual was made, way back in the last century.
Your tax dollars at work is more a blatant manipulation. I think one of the dangers of working with “found materials,” is that there is a fine line between celebration and mockery. The poor souls discovered in the dumpster may have been trying their best, but this media record has amplified the difficulty in understanding how one will appear in the future. The producers of and the participants in the materials that somehow have become available in this discarded way, likely would have no way to predict this re-use, despite our collective experience of laughing at photos of our parents in high school. YTD@W, a single sequence of shots from an educational on the workings of (I think) the Massachusetts legislature, contains probably less than 20 A/V edits with my fingerprints on them. The effect of injecting an adolescent cynicism is clear enough, but the work’s meaning is in relation to the changing nature of evidence. Editing technology emerging in the 90s was transforming the “art” of the touchup, and if anything, this piece stands as a pointer to the future of evidence, with ramifications in justice systems. If you can make people say things they didn’t say, we have come some distance from Richard Nixon’s 20-minute tape erasure. It was easy enough to conclude the film by slapping on a shot of the Nevada test range or whatever; I have made a few films in a lazy, impulsive way, and I refer to them loosely as throwaway. Naturally, these are among the most appreciated.
• for “Swell” and for “Turbine”
The two works, for “Swell” and for “Turbine’s Russian Scissors” are essentially music videos, pieces that I was asked by ‘others’ to make. I wouldn’t dare photograph guys jumping around with guitars, so I take on such things only in the spirit of do whatever you want. The former, for “Swell” was made for an English record label whose response was something like “We don’t know what the hell this is about but the record skip is fucking brilliant.” There are two aspects about this work that may be worth mentioning. One is that I was interested in fooling with something I call associated media era, that is, particular media capture technologies are locked to their dates of invention and extinction. For example, most people would associate a black and white film in which each second is divided into 16 frames, with the period between roughly 1895 and 1920. This type of association occurs in more subtle ways for other aspects of media material, the contrast and lack of detail in shadow of a color film material can suggest a particular point in time, as might a particular color palette, etc. I extended my interest in re-contextualization, by using older type materials to modify “found–footage” sequences that somehow interested me, trying to ‘match’ two material’s aesthetic attributes. For example: a woman turns from a man in a uniform, walks to cover the camera lens in mid-century movie Journey to the 7th Planet, and then a friend of mine walks from my camera lens to another friend of mine (who looks a fair amount like a kid who appears elsewhere in the piece, struggling to read in a library) and drapes a cloth over his head. One might ask why I had made this construction, why that shot of old led me to the re-use, and fair enough; I could only say that I was drawn to use fragments, either from found materials or generated by me, photography that didn’t necessarily contain overt meaning - but gestures, all of which, in combination with music and lyric whose conceptual meaning I deliberately remained ignorant of, combined to illustrate a bumbling sadness. I can report that even now I don’t know what the song or the movie are about and undoubtedly it doesn’t matter.
For “Turbine’s Russian Scissors” is the only work on this disc which doesn’t contain any ‘found’ material - except to the extent that the majority of the shots were camera tests, whereby I needed to see that a camera repair or lens adjustment had gone well, or that an old roll of film still had any life in it. These types of things have a tendency to accumulate in a box, until one day Turbine asked me to make something for them. The only guideline was that the piece somehow be a document of the neighborhood in which we lived during a period, some time ago. The box of camera tests, shot in the neighborhood and some time ago by default, seemed like an obvious choice, and in its way a box of found materials. With a few cheats and a money shot, you see the resultant ‘neighborhood symphony.’ Most of the subjects, the garbage, the birds, the houses, the condoms, the mold, my cat on her deathbed below my friend’s painting of a coffin – somehow were just there for the camera. It’s a documentary I suppose.
• an examination of exhibits A(1) – E(5)
During this period, I became interested in mystique, a phenomenon wherein one’s attention is drawn to that which is not clear. Some things seem obvious – most creatures have an inherent interest in being perceptive, obviously the survival mechanism is involved. There are other cognitive ‘modules’ which seem to be involved, and I began to search for the modern applications of primitive cognitive function - what are the biological origins of certain human behavior which seem rather odd or self-defeating, like curiosity for example. And how (as the intellectual describes) a creature of instinct and intellect negotiates ancient mental mechanisms in light of modern experience; if survival can become essentially guaranteed, how are we to apply the remnants of the survival mechanism. These questions led me to other query into human behavior, and I went on to make a mysterious film about mystery and the human insistence on order from chaos, as the one-liner says, an examination of exhibits A(1) – E(5).
I wanted also to collapse a number of pieces of human experience together to create a definition for the mal-content, of an insatiability, born of ennui, a sort of spiritual vacancy derived from the idle survival mechanism. I wanted to talk of poetry as a sullen record, an expression of a certain profound dissatisfaction with life, as the track says: Why does it seem like there are greener pastures? And as we live with our ancient tools, we hope to make sound decisions. We may pursue mysterious women until we know them well or we may imagine how a fragmental line from Sappho might conclude, hoping that it wouldn’t be banal. We pay to jump from an airplane or watch projected images of limbs cut off and spilling blood so that we might feel ‘excited.’ A soundtrack professor asks: What is going on here? And I ask: Why is it that not having enough information about things and people makes them inherently more interesting?
• push button: a history of idleness and ignorance
It took me some years of using computers (something my father had encouraged me to do since the 70s, without much success) before I could construct an opinion about their influence on society and further on the nature of human work. In 2003 I was engaged to make a short subject film about work, the ‘user interface’, and by extension the future of the race. I wanted to continue with my major themes of course, alienation, spiritual vacancy, to continue bashing techno-euphorics, to tear down righteousness and to spit on the blight of advertising.
So I couldn’t help but come at the subject with some tangents.
There are obvious targets when setting out to demonstrate the absurdity and dysfunctional nature of operating the world via remote control, like killing people in Afghanistan from a bunker in Nevada. But I also wanted to show continuity in human history, and analogies between human and animal behavior, and between human behavior and that of water and electricity for that matter. It was also important that the work touch on the idea that with the ancient mental inheritance discussed in an examination, there is probably a connection between human work that involves physical activity, like hands and dirt for example, and general mental health. And as Matthew B. Crawford recently noted, concerning a mind-numbing job he had for a time: “Trafficking in abstraction is not the same as thinking”, I wanted to discuss the modern tragedy that is the conspiracy to reduce human work to the operation of un-repairable devices whose intricacies and designs are unknowable. I was however willing to admit that despite the depth of my judgment, I live in a time and place and will forever be locked there with my opinions as to a just life, that tools are just tools, and that there is no reason that the products of evolution would ever be able to relate to each other. And I should be indifferent to this. In a hypothetical meeting of Sapien and Erectus, the generation gap might likely be unbridgeable. And to extend the thought, in the future meeting between Sapien and whatever we may become in the distance (should we avoid annihilation), with future brains of multiple MIT-Intel-Halliburton-built modification, we shall likely demonstrate the logarithmic expansion of this generation gap. To this I can be reconciled; my god is only those forces of nature that heal, albeit as violent as volcanoes, and I’ve faith in the earth to recover from whatever future monsters it is to face.
gibbs chapman, February 2010