Archive for the '- My First Attempts At Filmmaking -' Category
Swimming Pool, 1989. Directed by Mark Allen. Starring Mark Allen. 1/2 inch VHS; 6 minutes, 21 seconds; color; sound.
This was a spontaneous, solitary creation. I shot the video alone it at my parent’s suburban Dallas house one weekend when they weren’t home. Then I edited the footage in the (spooky) middle of the night, deep within the cavernous hallways of the University of North Texas RTV&F department editing rooms, with occasional help on the deck from anyone who happened to wander in. The editing was inspired by
Jean-Luc Godard MTV, and the overall style was inspired by 80’s Helmut Newton Falcon videos. I added the beginning title just now.
Raw Mudland Killers, 1989. Directed by Mark Allen and Eddie Holland. Written by Mark Allen. Starring Thomas Vasquez, Michelle Simmons, Cary Adams, David Lamb, Eddie Holland, Mark Allen. 1/2 inch VHS; 5 minutes, 58 seconds; color; sound.
Here is a piece of video art (really a short film, shot on video) that I did in 1989. It was written and directed by me, with tons of assistance from my whiz-kid college friend Eddie Holland. It stars my friends Thomas Vasquez, Michelle Simmons, Cary Adams, David Lamb, Eddie Holland and me (there’s even a partially-obscured cameo by Trey Angles). PLOT: two filmmakers begin arguing over the aesthetics of their latest collaborative project, and a violent crime is committed.
The film itself—a strange spoof in the worst taste imaginable—is an osmosis of the mindsets of me and my friends at the time. All of us were art and film students at the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, and spent a lot of time bantering about art theory, philosophy and the omnipresence of pop culture. Although I’d hate to think this film represents our brains. The results here aren’t exactly Artforum critical theory…more like Cracked.
The film-within-a-film-within-a-film opening is a homage to Jean-Luc Godard (subtitles…get it? Haha?), particularly his film Weekend, with me as the bossy director and my friends Cary and David playing hapless actors blinded by cartoon eyes I’d taped to their faces (a reference to Annie, the musical Broadway version). Thomas and Michelle play the filmmakers who are arguing over the pre-edited dailies of said film and, when they run out of hackneyed crit-quote catch-phrases to use, just resort to violence.
The too-much Madonna reference is supposed to be a joke about the too-much use of rock music in films and television at the time (a lazy way for directors to get emotional mileage with audiences, instead of plot or character development), as well as the still-peaking influence of MTV in the late 80’s. The joke was that, instead of the rock music eventually drowning out the film, wouldn’t it be funny if the rock video itself just started to replace the action on screen? Haha? Get it? Like a lot of irony-infused, dripping-in-quotation-mark concepts of the era, the results don’t exactly communicate well (it’s not that we weren’t bri-i-i-i-i-illiant). A few of us also had a Warhol-ish Madonna obsession at the time, aided immeasurably by Sonic Youth’s Ciccone Youth project that came out the year before.
The cultural value of “appropriation” was also a hot topic for us. We were fascinated with the plagaristic pranks of artist like Sherri Levine and Michael Bidlo (although unlike them, when I submitted this film to a festival that year I obediently went through the proper channels at Warner Brothers to obtain a lawyer’s written permission to include the rock video footage for non-profit exhibition only—Viva la Revolucion!). There’s also a stack of Pepsi cans that Michelle knocks into like a bowling ball—that was supposed to be a jab at commercial product placement (again…haha?). The mood of the film was also influenced by Raymond Pettibon’s shot-on-VHS film Weatherman ‘69, which had just begun circulating around on shared VHS tapes.
I love looking at this now because it’s really flavored by the town of Denton, Texas (even if just barely) and shows one of the many rambling old ranch-style houses with crooked tile floors and fake wood paneled walls that I lived in with my friends, some of who are in this cast. This was the first video project I ever did that I got to edit on a real video editing deck (UNT’s facilities), the mechanics of which Eddie helped with greatly. Our original idea for the story was supposed to be much longer (the additional footage can be seen in the fake dailies scenes), but when we ran out of time and money, Eddie and I wrapped everything up with cheap plot tricks, in the true B-movie tradition. Then, the whole thing was flippantly given the nonsensical title Raw Mudland Killers, to give it pointless camp cache.
*Ugh!* What a post-modern mess!
I submitted this film to a Dallas festival that year, and I remember being surprised it didn’t make it in (especially since I had a few friends on the judge panel, *wink wink*). My friends later told me that some of the women on the panel thought the film was “horribly misogynistic” (gee, I wonder why?) and refused to allow it. My friends at school, male and female (and some that were in the film), didn’t have that opinion. Even deep in the heart of Texas, we all slavishly followed the bombastically humorous films of artists like Herschel Gordon Lewis, Richard Kern and Russ Meyer with great enthusiasm, obviously, and pretty much viewed criticisms of that nature as road blocks to great work. Oh well…I guess bohemia is a bubble, at least it used to be.
Assassination Adventure, 1988. Directed by Mark Allen. Macintosh Apple IIgs/Apple IIc Plus, 1/2 inch VHS; 3 minutes, 21 seconds; color; sound.
During the late-80’s in Dallas I was a video artist. It was a hobby. Today, the term “video art” is somewhat extraneous, but back then—and in Texas—work of this nature needed a category. Some of my work showed at places like the Starck Club, a few small gallery exhibitions in Dallas and Denton, and even on the local PBS channel. This is a piece I created in 1988 titled Assassination Adventure. It imagined a cheesy video game based on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was created specifically for the Dallas Video Festival (an ahead-of-its-time organization, then still in its infancy). The festival’s “Local Show” (aka: ‘The Dallas Show’) that year featured 22 Texas video artists, and had the 25th anniversary of JFK’s assassination as its theme.
The images for this piece were created on a Macintosh Apple IIgs, or maybe an Apple IIc Plus (I think). I was in the graphic design school at the University of North Texas, and that’s what we used—or tried to use—in my Computer Graphics course (the course, and those antediluvian computers, were new to the curriculum that year, and both were considered extremely edgy). Since the computers didn’t have an animation program, I had to create separate stills and then run through them by clicking the mouse, then record that with a VCR hooked to the back of the computer, which also needed some other kind of filtering device I’d checked out from the RTV&F department. And, I had to get it all on tape in real time, no editing. I remember my CG instructor, Susie Cherry, becoming exasperated as she stayed late with me in the art building, acting as a second set of arms as she pushed the VCR record button over and over and kept repeating “Now…what is this for again?” The soundtrack is the result of my friend Lance and me going to a 7-11 in Denton late at night and playing a video game (I think it was Galaxian or Galaga) while I held a tape recorder up to its speaker. It’s funny to see the results now. Back then, when it came to stuff like this, if you didn’t have a television studio or work at Pixar, you had to jerry-rig everything just to try and get the desired effect. Of course I wanted it to look like a cheesy video game, but even within that capacity it looks absurdly amateur (these days, 5-year-olds can make CG stuff far superior to this in five minutes, on their cell phones—which come free in breakfast cereal boxes). I remember I showed someone a tape of this piece in the 90’s and I thought it was just excruciatingly awful. But now…seeing it 20 years later, I think the piece developed a strange kind of value. It’s like a finger painting.
Back in 1988, that year’s DVF “Local Show” was reviewed by the culture critic at The Dallas Observer. I remember it was the first time anything I’d ever done had been written about in any sort of press. I was ecstatic. The reviewer singled mine out as the most “shocking” of the collection, and I think concluded with something like “Mark Allen’s Assassination Adventure is blasphemous, cheeky fun…” or something like that (I would love to find a copy of that old review).
That weekend the 22 pieces that made up the “Local Show” were screened in the film theater of the Dallas Museum of Art, for closing night of the DVF. I made the mistake of bringing my parents to celebrate the honor. I though having a 19-year-old son who’s work was being shown at a major art museum was pretty great! They were good sports, but before my piece screened at one point my mother looked at the other work, and the crowd packed into the theater, and told me she thought everyone there “hated the world.” Then as the audience broke into uproarious applause after my piece ended, my father leaned over and scowled with a smile, “Mocking a great American leader? Ehh…not the best thing, son.” I then had to escort them both as they almost sulked back to the museum parking lot.
Of course what some readers of my site will probably find most interesting is the short…um, interview with me that follows the piece. The DVF guys thought it would be interesting to briefly talk to each artist about where they were when Kennedy was shot, and show each interview following the artist’s piece. I was the youngest in the show, and hadn’t been born when it happened, so I tried to make a joke about this. Tried. I didn’t have a way with words…no, I didn’t even have any words, and I ended up making
love loathe to the camera. I was so beyond inarticulate, in comparison today I make George W. Bush sound like Bill Clinton (maybe it’s something in the Texas air—ok, it was taped at 7 AM on a rainy morning in some studio on the outskirts of Collin County, and the hot lights were turning my eyelids into bacon). I was so painfully self conscious, the taping was like a whole other assassination…of me. When I watch this clip of myself now, I cringe so deeply my chest almost forms a black hole. So, obviously I have to share it with everyone. And yes, I really used to talk like that.
The idea of a computer game based on the assassination of JFK has recently become a reality.
Untitled #1, 1981. Directed by Mark Allen. Starring Mark Allen. 8-mm; 2 minutes, 29 seconds; color; silent.
Here’s a movie I made in 1981 where I painted a TV set, then I painted a bathroom mirror, then I cleaned the mirror with Windex. The plot of the film was planned, and intentional—and also includes an unplanned cameo by Jack Klugman. While other kids were outside playing football or discovering sex and drugs, I was in my bedroom laboring over art projects like this one. I actually saved my allowance to buy the film, set everything up, used my parent’s ancient 8-mm camera, rode my bike to get it processed, etc., etc. When it was done I had a screening for my family and friends. If you wanted to guess what kind of kid I was in middle school, you’d probably be right.
Attack of the Killer Prunes/Invasion of the Sleeping Bag People, 1981 (titles added 2007). Directed by Mark Allen. Starring Dave Smith, Tim Flannery, William Hatcher. 8-mm; 2 minutes, 48 seconds; color; silent.
As kids, my friends and I used to make a lot of weird little films using my parent’s old 8-mm movie camera (an antique from the early 70’s, I think). This one, made in 1981, is entitled Attack of the Killer Prunes/Invasion of the Sleeping Bag People (a double feature). First, a young man decides to warm up some prunes in the microwave - for some reason. Unattended, the device’s radiation mutates the dried fruits, which grow to enormous size and creep upstairs to claim their victim, culminating in a life-or-death struggle as both are flung over the second story balcony (it was filmed in this house). Then… strange, unexplained sleeping bag monsters invade the Big Lake Park section of Plano, Texas, harassing and frightening park-goers and bike riders (click above to play).
As a double feature, the film was a kind of homage to our unwitting appreciation of the Roger Corman aesthetic. Both films alternately star my childhood friends Dave and Tim, and the second features William (who’s hidden by a prop - we took our cue from Hollywood at the time, most black actors were still marginalized). Also, a friendly bike-riding family in the park unwillingly volunteer as extras. I’m not in either film, as I was behind the camera.
At our age we had no idea how to splice and edit film, so all movies had to be edited “in camera” and shot in chronological order. If we weren’t sure a shot worked out the first time - too bad, that was “scene.” When it came back from the Fotomat, that was our movie! It was bliss. So, not surprisingly, don’t get your hopes up. At just over two minutes long, it’s as crappily homemade as they come; inexplicable, overexposed and often out of focus. And there’s no sound. Copying television actions shows; in one scene we replace Dave’s body (after he’s strangled by a giant prune, and flung over a balcony) with a stuffed, yarn-haired dummy dressed in his clothes (wait, are those the right clothes?). When he hits the ground, we quickly replace it with the real him while pausing the camera. The results are seamless! I haven’t decided if it’s all so charming, or just terrible. But now that it’s on the internet, both classifications are irrelevant; it’s forever - so enjoy! It’s also bit of a time capsule specimen. These days, six year-olds are making off-the-cuff movies with phone cameras that rival Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. But for us, back then we had to REALLY WORK to make something look like this. The titles were obviously added just now, using iMovie. Thanks to my brother Craig for discovering these rolls of film somewhere in my parent’s house, and surprising me one birthday with a videotape transfer of them. There’s a few more on the tape (this isn’t the worst), I’ll post them here periodically.