Skot Armstrong 2006 beta version


Bunker Vision appears in Artillery Magazine



Now that musicals are getting popular again, it's a good time to revisit the work of Jacques Demy. Although he is considered part of the French new wave, most of his work owes more to Hollywood musicals and live-action fairy-tale films. His first musical (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) might be called an opera, as every bit of dialogue is sung. Made in 1964, it could pass for a traditional take on the musical genre. Things got a little wilder in 1967 with his musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. It is a riot of white go-go boots, and limbs-akimbo hysteria. There are flash mobs on YouTube of people recreating scenes in which the entire town is frantically dancing. Until his death of AIDS in 1990, he was cranking out increasingly gonzo variations on the musical genre. In one of these, '60s music icon Donovan plays the Pied Piper. There is a musical set in a parking garage. His second weirdest film is a Japanese-French co-production called Lady Oscar. It is based on a Manga about a girl who is raised as a boy, and ends up as a personal guard to Marie Antoinette.

Unfortunately, to see most of his oeuvre, you'll need a multi-region DVD player or a hefty budget. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can catch the most gonzo scenes from his work. And special gratitude to the Thai YouTube poster who has put his strangest film online, complete with English subtitles. (Although this film was recently officially in print in the U.S.) The cheapest copy on Amazon goes for over $80 and the most expensive one is over $3,700. What could possibly cause a DVD to go so high? Perhaps one might offer that Peau d'Ane (1970) is the strangest musical ever made. It features a singing parrot.

In the 1960s Catherine Deneuve was a very game actress. For Bunuel, she played a bored wife who whores herself out for kicks, and an unsympathetic amputee. Polanski savaged her in Repulsion. Despite her reputation for risky roles, nothing prepared the world for the sight of her running through the forest in a dirty nightshirt covered with the carcass of a donkey. Despite this weirdness, it became Demy's highest-grossing film.

The plot is a variation on Cinderella, but the actual story as portrayed in the film is pretty true to the fairy tale it is based on. A king (Jean Marias, Cocteau's lover) is bereft at the death of his wife. His wife made it her dying wish that he marry a woman as beautiful as her. The only woman who fits this bill is his daughter (Deneuve) who he vows to marry. Her fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig!) advises her to make irrational demands (dress the color of the sky and sun) that include killing his donkey that excretes gold and jewels. It is disguised in the skin of the donkey that she makes her escape into an opus that has yet to be topped in the category of: What's wrong with this picture?

book review: Breakfast With Lucian

With all of the recent excitement about the NSA it seemed like a good time to feature the work of The Surveillance Camera Players. Since 1996 this group has been staging plays for security cameras. Their productions have included Waiting for Godot, 1984 and Ubu Roi. Part of what makes them so conceptually interesting is the fact that because they are performing for security monitors, there is no known footage in circulation from their target audience's POV. One can fantasize that a bored security guard might compile a "best of" reel.

While I was checking to see if they are still active (a member I later contacted said that they were still quietly operating and helping researchers and students) I stumbled onto a Wikipedia page about Surveillance Art. The page is considered an "orphan" because no other articles link to it, but it is well researched with a bibliography that has 50 entries. Despite my special interest in this sort of culture jamming, some of the examples they cited were new to me. Given how topical the subject has become, one might reasonably expect this category to grow exponentially.

My favorite recent example of this budding art form used Google Street Views as its canvas. You can see the piece (STREET WITH A VIEW) at its website (streetwithaview.com). It is pretty remarkable to read the cast list and to realize how many people were involved so casually in something so guerilla. There is even a fireman rescuing a kitten from a tree!

Another direction this has headed is a sub-genre that is being called Sous-veilliance or inverse-surveillance.  This is actually a very logical thing in our over sharing world. Ai Weiwei has probably been the most famous person to engage in this. In cases like his, where there is a political component, part of the goal is to strip the surveillance of its value as clandestine information.

Many writers trace this "art movement" back to a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live in 1992. In the sketch, a bored security guard does goofy things in front of a camera so that he can see himself "on TV". Members of SCP knew nothing of the SNL skit when they started. Their inspiration was a manifesto; Guerilla Programming of Video Surveillance Equipment. You can read the manifesto at the website www.notbored.org as well as other great Situationist material. A sub section of this site serves as the online home of SCP.

When people write about this in scholarly terms they often make some hay out of the fact that the people who will see these productions are the minimum wage working class. In the official manifesto, cameras are referred to as "tools of social control."

As far back as 1969, one can find CC cameras employed in gallery installations by Bruce Nauman.  More recently Sophe Calle hired a private detective to follow her and to provide photographic evidence of her existence. Whether it is in a gallery, or out on the streets, surveillance might well be THE topic for our time.

book review: Throwaway Boy

visit Bunker Vision archive

Skot Armstrong 2006

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