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The Obsolescence of Hollywood

Dear Nasrin,

This is my first report from WRO Media Art Biennale. I arrived late, an hour before the opening, two hours before a screening of Phil Stearns’ Macular Degeneration from ((audience02)). The opening night was a circus of speeches. We went from one venue to another in a parade. At the last opening, the Vasulkas just sat on a couch. (This year’s WRO Biennale is presenting a retrospective of the Vasulkas’ work.) It looked like a good idea. I had been in planes and airports for too long, and wished the couch was a little bit larger so I could join them.

Today it is sunny and warm in Poland. (Tomorrow there will be an eclipse… will we see it here?) Anyway, I hide in a cave and watch films. My favorite films so far have been Penelope by Ann Oren and Hollywood Movie by Volker Streiner. Both were in this afternoons “International Program 2“. They encapsulate a theme bouncing around my head, a motto that I have yet to understand:


Perhaps you can help me understand it. Perhaps I don’t understand it because I’ve been chatting so much with Emmanuel about his Coincidence Engines project. Em says that the Coincidence Engines are “not about obsolescence.” They are these agglomerations of mass produced clocks and you can’t help but think that they are about obsolescence. As The User describes:

Coincidence Engine One assembles a large number of unsynchronized clocks whose combined ticking sounds produce an unusual and intriguingly organic sonic environment. Coincidence Engine Two develops a sophisticated synchronization control and amplification system around a group of specially-modified clocks that enables the artists to articulate audio-visual compositions by programming and sequencing the clocks’ ticking behaviour.

And maybe they are not about the straightforward technical obsolescence of these clocks. But maybe they say something about the obsolscence of a sort of time, before the world was globalized. A world of morning shows for commuters, and happy hour after work. I know all of these things still exist, but they don’t exist for everyone anymore. The 24-7 world is a world of always-on-but-flexibly, with no more hegemonic routine that we all orient ourselves around.

Penelope, the film by Ann Oren

is a video who’s only character “Penelope” is weaved of fifteen iconic cinematic women, a reflection on the construction of the woman as staged fantasy generated in cinema. Through the removal of everything but the woman in the frame, Penelope is constantly in the spotlight on a dark stage. Penelope is the ultimate cinematic woman re-staged into a monologue, defining and eulogizing the cinematic woman, whose role will forever remain a 20th century staple.

It opens with a shot of Anna Karina from behind. We cannot see her face. Most of the screen is blacked out except a halo around her. It is a dialogue from Vivre sa vie by Godard, but the male voice has been removed. She has a monologue with an invisible male. With the director. With me.

Then Rachel, from Blade Runner. The Penelope-Contra-Penelope. Non-human. Non-blond. Non-speaking in Ann Oren’s film. She reoccurs through the endless succession of femme fatales. Mae West. Marilyn. Madonna. Sharon Stone. And in between. All video-tracked and followed. An endless succession of states — beautiful repose, charming seduction, playful manipulation, cruel manipulation, domination, submission, punishment, escape. A collage of these Hollywood beauties, “all of them witches” as Mia Farrow might say, but she doesn’t appear in this video. Except for Ilse. Beautiful Ilse from Casablanca. The only seemingly human one in the bunch. The one who lets a man speak, or at least sing, as she tells Sam “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By… Sing it, Sam.”

Of course our blonde Penelope murders someone. And runs away. As in The Postman Always Rings Twice. And we think the video is over. But no, Penelope comes back. She gets a job as a cabaret singer, and dances Calypso.

“‘You can make any Hollywood movie interesting, if you cut the movie several times …’

So begins Volker Schreiner’s Hollywood Movie, a reinterpretation of Film Scenario by Nam Jun Paik, told with snippets and samples of Hollywood films.

There are so many of these recombinant films these days. It’s easy to lost track of them ever since The Clock which is sort of the apotheosis of all of them… but these two have really got me thinking about what it means to use — not moving pictures, not film — but Hollywood as material.

Hollywood as an obsolete material, available for reuse.

Write back and let me know what you think. Cuz I haven’t made sense of this yet. Plus we still have to destroy the MPAA before this new art can really blossom…

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