[11 January 2009]
When I first received the DVD of Lost Broadcasts: Videos by Eileen Maxson I was less than excited. As someone who tends to shy away from “experimental” film for fear of being subjected to pretentious attempts to become the next up and coming film maker (or simply attempts to be cool), Lost Broadcasts: Videos by Eileen Maxson was a refreshing and impressive find. Thus, it is not surprising that Maxon’s work is shown in underground film festivals as well as in museums and microcinema. Watching Lost Broadcasts: Videos by Eileen Maxson is a trip through familiar sights and sounds that have to be processed and reprocessed in order to understand not only the medium but the subjects, as well.
The DVD, specifically the introduction, “Is This On?”, by Thomas Beard, founder and director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn, did little to help dispel my stereotypes. But if you can get through the Andy Warhol anecdote, Beard provides insight not only into the medium itself but also into the work of Eileen Maxon whose videos, he argues, “evoke a world of faulty transmissions, moribund formats, and women under the influence of both”.
But more than this, Maxon not only captures the subtle irony of the medium, she also captures the mundane nature of suburban America. As much as we try to capture it on video, it cannot be captured—whether due to technical failures or our own shortcomings. However, through these technical failures certain elements or certain words resonate and Maxon’s lost videos capture these.
Beard is largely concerned with the style and medium in his DVD introduction. Since the DVD is subtitled “videos by Eileen Maxon”, this makes sense. As Beard points out, the signs of video recording are a constant from the snow to the “block-lettered PLAY against the blue screen”. Beard analyzes these techniques most as they appear in Maxon’s most well-known and award-winning piece, the first video, “Tape 5925: Amy Goodrow”. Maxon won the first Arthouse Texas Prize for her work on this video. Other pieces are more dense and require more contemplation, such as “A Protected Witness” and “Tonite (Reprise)” which are both comprised of song lyrics rather than the kind of rambling stories found in “Tape 5925” and “Michigan, 1971”, a piece about “youth, commitment, and his dedication to a corporation”, narrated by Maxon’s father.
Of all of the pieces on the DVD, “Tape 5925: Amy Goodrow” is the most layered and has the most contemporary feel to it, despite it being the earliest video on the DVD which includes videos that range from 2002-2006. Together these videos invite a taste of nostalgia without the desire to go back. Given Maxon’s upbringing in suburban Texas and her infatuation/revulsion with television, her work embodies and rejects the limitations of video and suburban blah. Such insight into Maxon’s work is lightly augmented by the two “extras” on the DVD—“About Eileen Maxon” and “About Aurora”, which provide some background to both the artist and the distributor.
Ultimately the DVD case is helpful in that it provides not only an expert’s context but, more importantly, short blurbs about each video. Without these blurbs viewers are left to figure out not only the message, but in some cases, what is going on. For instance, while watching “Tape 5925: Amy Goodrow”, the fact that Amy Goodrow is making an audition tape for The Real World might go unnoticed until she mentions the show’s name and the audience must also distinguish the voice that interrupts Amy’s narrative as an MTV casting executive.
But this kind of detective work is exactly what is fun about Maxon’s videos. Each has a familiarity to it that comes with years of video mishaps from sound problems to unraveling tape. “The aura of a forgotten artifact” as Beard explains Maxon’s work. But rather than result in an inability to watch our video post-mishap, with Lost Broadcasts: Videos by Eileen Maxson we have to watch more carefully.
Microcinema International provides a variety of titles that capture, “the art of the moving image”, and Lost Broadcasts is certainly an important part of that collection. Without this distributor and without Aurora Video, works such as Maxon’s that are “experimental, avant-garde, short artist made films and videos” would be much more difficult to access. More so, the collection of Maxon’s work here, with its overarching structure and themes, is a gem for those interested in video production, art, and film as much as it is for those interested in films that critique society and culture. In this case Maxon not only captures a dying medium, but also preserves—an interrupts—an era of uncertainty and miscommunication.