by JC Gonzo
In 1993, David Blair debuted his feature WAX or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees online, making it the first film to be transmitted on the internet. Pulling from actual New Mexican locations and natural wonders, Blair distorted reality and created a faux-history that blurred perceptive lines in a way that merged technology and psychology. WAX over the years has become a cyberpunk keystone and is still viewable online in an ever-evolving interactive experience at WAXWEB.
Since WAX, Blair has been relatively quiet. An occasional short film would emerge, but nothing feature length. Blair’s works post-WAX share themes of telepathy, pilgrimage, and lost tribes of a distant past. These shorts were installed at various video art festivals since 1994, and now Blair considers them sketches for a much larger endeavor – a spiritual sequel to WAX – titled The Telepathic Motion Picture of The Lost Tribes. He has recently released a precursory film entitled Finding the Telepathic Cinema of Manchuria, giving a sneak peek into the highly anticipated Lost Tribes world.
Release for The Lost Tribes is still TBA, although Blair’s updates have become increasingly frequent over the last few months. Stay up to date on the new project at Telepathic Movie. I sent Blair a few questions via e-mail. Here is the response:
Recording and communication devices such as the camera – motion or still – captures actuality, but faces the criticism of its validity. Your work shows these technological tools as vessels and portals for human perception, and the conversation of “actuality” or “truth” expands. As cinema centers around simulated perception, but still rings as a true experience, so can memory. Do you use memory the same way your characters use technology?
David Blair: Well, simply put, making a movie is always difficult balance between tools of memory and memory itself, at the level of technique, and composition. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that memory and memory tools resemble each the other, and both are really different. Throw in dreams, which resist memory, and you end up in a sort of 4th dimension of description.
Now, whether I use memory the same way my characters use technology… well, I think the best thing to do is to point to what I’m currently working on: http://telepathic-movie.org/place , which is a writing through of 20 years of thoughts and themes I’ve collected for what I’m calling the sequel to my first movie, “WAX or the discovery of television among the bees” . It is a way to remember and render memorable [for me] aspects of the real or imaginary world I’ve assembled for “The Telepathic Motion Picture of THE LOST TRIBES” [that's the name of the sequel], in preparation for a movie rendering of it. Blogs are kind of like filmstrips, take the above as a sort of reversed movie.
We hear in FINDING THE TELEPATHIC CINEMA OF MANCHURIA that films are made for movietalkers, not vis versa. This reminds me of the Benshi tradition. Do you follow a similar practice for yourself; creating the visual aspect before allowing the verbal narrative to take shape? Do you see yourself as a modern-day Benshi?
David Blair: The description is directly taken from the benshi tradition [e.g http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benshi not a great entry however ]. They stood by the side of the screen and told the story of the movie as it played. Most lost their jobs when sound came in. Many of these unemployed became kamishibai presenters [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamishibai ], telling stories of painted pre-manga card stories they presented from bicycle-mounted theatres… there were so many of these in post-war Japan that television, when it came in, was apparently known as denki kamishibai, or electric kamishibai. In my um story, benshi in colonial Manchuria control the new studios there, and to stave off their own extinction, make sure to invent a type of telepathic narration.
As for me, yes I like to narrate, I like to see words give form to movies and the reverse.
Some believe projected film reels induces a subconscious hypnosis through the flicker effect that simulates motion. I’ve heard this cited as an argument against digital cinema. As a videographer how do you feel hypnosis (or the broader idea of subconscious viewership) can be achieved?
David Blair: I would think that hypnosis, like many things, including interpretation, depends on the will of the spectator, and those most likely to be hypnotized are probably trying to figure out how to do it to themselves with the help of others, either present, or embodied in frame rates, etc.
As ethereal as your work can be, it centers around very physical realities and geography. WAX OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES frequents various historical and practical sites scattered throughout New Mexico: the infamous Carlsbad caverns, the Russian orthodox monks of St. Anthony outpost, NASA facilities and military laboratories are all part of WAX’s surreal world. I’ve noticed that recently you’ve been creating sculptural objects derived from the films and installations that further the cinematic world you’ve created. Is this a new practice for you? What comes first, the object or the narrative?
David Blair: I realized after Wax how much of the story and its meaning were spatial [the grotesque , which I thought a good bit about in the years before, is a genre that often depends on spatial tropes]. And so yes, I did think, a couple years ago, to work with literal space, and that was one of the reasons to start that.
The objects, and kamishibai-style paintings, were at first an attempt to take the Lost Tribes movie out of the computer, where it was difficult to grasp, being made of terabytes and all. So that was an additional useful reason [using space and objects to remember and recompose]. The objects and paintings are lined up in two series, about a hundred of each. I did a couple expos with them, one near Paris, and another during the 2011 Rotterdam Film Festival [also did a live mix concert there, part of another um series of hours of live telepathy]. Right now, I’ve got these in line ready to be written about in the blog mentioned above, and I’ve decided to use them as objects for video. Some of them are already up, if you scroll through the filmstrip blog.
Generally speaking, the object/story relation is pretty much like the historical fact/story or voice/picture/music relation… each comes first, and all come after the others.
It has been about 20 years since WAX OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES — the first film on the Internet. Since then, the Internet has become a common venue for cinema, especially independent cinema. Where does WAX’s follow-up lie in terms of release and distribution today?
David Blair: Well, first off, I think the same sales rules apply. One thing, as an independent, you can’t quite know in which direction your release is going to go, and where your best success will be. I really mean the first in a basic sense…. I thought Wax was going to sold to television, not shown in movie theaters, and as for internet, well…. A second rule is that, as a marginal player, your audience is really almost built one person at a time, until you finally get the chance to get up to one venue at a time.
Last time I made the movie [Wax], and then the online version [Waxweb, http://waxweb.org ]. The latter was a sort of experiment for the second project…. and now I’ve decided to follow the logic and experience of that previous work, and actually do it online first… there’s a better explanation of that here: http://www.telepathic-movie.org/place/en/2012/04/08/about-this-site So in some way, the current ambition is “make” the movie online, or at least record the Making Of, and turn that into a regular movie, like Wax. So, that’s to say that distribution and composition are a bit mixed up, but that was something I anticipated would happen.
I’ll have to run a Kickstarter or equivalent campaign in the next year, to get the music done, and get through the film,and so audience building is of course part of the Making Of site. . Other than that, I’m still figuring it out, as I have been for years. My shoes are on fire, so I’m running to put it out.