[More NEWS Than Most People Can STAND1]
“When it wants to destroy, the creative blood attains geyser-force and collective, non-zoological vitality is heralded, inscribed in short-hand on the piano of anti-artistic isthmuses”
Tristan Tzara, 1919 2
other articles. I want to talk about how his films FEEL and what they might MEAN. The first and most obvious thing to say is that these films are FAST. That’s not just a quantitative description but a qualitative one. These films are fast in the way that Not I is fast, or Roger Turner’s drumming is fast, or Tautologos 1 is fast, or Mincemeat See-Saw is fast, or Pharoahe Monch’s verse in Bring It On is fast: in a way that uses different registers and techniques with such precision and speed as to dislocate perception and create vertigo. As such, they’re difficult to describe, as they must be.3
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell) crawls at spider-speed past a felt-tipped pin-up and punk-Klee masks, only to be blasted by a burning asteroid and erupt into a medical encyclopaedia which immediately transforms into a patchwork of Léger Tubist-vines, magazine foliage and coy glamour-shots; royal blue airbrush spray marked “Jungle Vapours”. A characteristic passage which last four seconds. Examples could be multiplied endlessly. Taking only the early Cineblatz, a spectacularly dense three-minute film, and merely attempting to describe the onscreen events would produce a document of thousands of words.
an incredible quantity of data. These films are not just FAST but extremely DENSE. Since the advent of DVD, or earlier VHS home video, it’s been possible to isolate and view these frames, but in 1967, when Cineblatz was constructed, these films were shown to audiences at full speed, in public venues, with no opportunity for a pause-button-re-run, and most likely with Keen and his entourage performing in front of the screen too. The best chance you might get for detailed further study was an encore. Even after multiple viewings, it’s inconceivable that some, or even MOST, of this data wouldn’t be lost to the naked eye. The point isn’t that Keen predicted the technology needed to view these films 'properly': the means to stop these things moving and look at them as a series of easel paintings. That’s like using Joyce’s preparatory notes to whittle Finnegan’s Wake back down to a Bourgeois novel: idiotic. The point is that’s it’s MEANT to push your eye and brain to the edge of cognition, to the edge of what you can physically process: “At 24fps the brain trembles”. Which is to say that the overload is the real information. The primacy of overload disintegrates the very form: opening titles of forthcoming features – Graffico-Raze, Panic News, Virus Scatter, Tee Vee Whisper s-s-s-s, Word Melt – are abandoned, recycled and subsumed before they’ve even started – caught up in the irresistible turbine. Likewise, endings – 'Happy Ending', 'The End', 'Part Two'–appear scattered throughout, like dead roadsigns in molten magma.
GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen'7, with that organisation’s stated aim of “preserving and restoring the most significant film collection in the world for today and future generations”. Like all modern art worth its salt, Keen’s work has a distinctly ambivalent attitude towards its own claims to quality and 'significance', and to attempts by institutions to fix its value. The final message which abruptly fills the screen after the preposterous closing section of Meatdaze: “Made with the assistance of the BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE PRODUCTION BOARD” didn’t make me roll my eyes, or question Keen’s independence, but BURST OUT LAUGHING. He doesn’t play by the rules: he reuses old footage continually, chunks of old films appear pasted into new ones, things that seem utterly unfinished and inscrutable, like Blazon Blatzom: El Pistolera Blatzo, sit next to highly-conceptualised, formally-integral works. Complete stand-alone works like ArtWar 3: Irresistible Attack are presented only in twin-screen format, combined with other films. His silent films are silent only because they don’t happen to have a soundtrack, But they may well pick one up at a later date, like Instant Cinema, a silent film made in 1964-65 which didn’t get its soundtrack until 2007. Rayday Film was a 'finished' multiple projection piece until Keen chopped it together into something different in 1976. The “fastest films alive” sit next to lengthy montaged 'diary films' of family holidays, air shows and birthday parties, replete with passages of cheap action adventure and monster movie pastiche.
Longsight, November 2011
1. Subtitle of 'Panic News', a subsection of Victory Thru Film Power, 1980s.
2. Tristan Tzara, Lampisterie on Francis Picabia “l’athlète des pompes funèbres” “rateliers platoniques”, 1919.
3. Although Keen has such blithe disregard for the traditional 'light and shade' of formal design, that his films are also differently fast.
4. In 1947, Pierre Boulez composed his one and only symphony. It has never been heard, for shortly after completing a work he still regards as the summation of everything he knew up to that point, it got thrown on the fire by Boulez’s over-zealous cleaner when she was tidying his desk.
5. Cobbing founded the London Film-Maker’s Co-op, for which body Keen made The Five Fingers Of Dr Gaz in July 1976 (and which was later incorporated in The Cartoon Theatre of Dr Gaz), and along with Keen and Annea Lockwood, recorded the soundtrack to 1967’s Marvo Movie, sounding disconcertingly similar to Return Of The Son of Monster Magnet; “what freaks sound like when you turn them loose in a recording studio at one o'clock in the morning...” according to Frank Zappa in the sleevenotes to Freak Out! released the year before Marvo Movie. SEE Marvo Movie HERE:
From HOMER to OMOZAP
From the poem of actions
The song turns full circle
As the fast gun fires the nerve
In ARTWAR: The Big Engine.
(poem reprinted in Prisoner of Art, an A4 booklet with DVD-r available only from Keen himself. See: kinoblatz.com/html/prisoner.html)
7. It’s a fucking good job they did, otherwise, not being a film buff, I’d never have seen any of them.
8. to those that say, like “the infidels who claim that all Funkadelic albums look alike!” on the reverse of One Nation Under A Groove, “SAME OLE SHIT” – THIS IS CAPITALISM, FOOLS: if you’re not talking about sex, war, commodity life, then what ARE you talking about?"
9. See ALL OF THEM, IMMEDIATELY, but perhaps particularly those left steaming on the table after revolution hit Europe: Picnic with Weissmann (1968) and A Quiet Week In The House (1969). Jan Svankmajer remains the only man who could FILM Marx’s Capital. And he could do it without needing to add anything to his vocabulary. I wish he’d just fucking DO IT.
10. From “THE HAND DRAWN MESSAGE:”, undated and reprinted in the booklet for “GAZWRX”, BFI, 2009.
11. From “RETUNE YR ORACLES:”, also undated and also reprinted in the booklet for “GAZWRX”, BFI, 2009.
12. Walter Benjamin pointed out in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935): “If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war.” A sort of 'libido-theory' of war, and a restatement of the formula: 'Socialism or barbarism'. He concludes: “Fiat ars—pereat mundus” ["Let art be created. Let the world perish"] says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of l’art pour l’art.”, a description of fascist Futurism that chimes disconcertingly with Keen’s 'Artwar'. The splitting of early 20th Century Modern Art into a left (Dadaism, Russian Futurism) and a right (Vorticism, Italian Futurism) has not been clean. Traces of revolution hang around in the body of Futurism. Likewise, the ghost of reaction haunts Tzara: those elements of Nietzschean bluster still traceable in the Dada manifesti (of which his later “quasi-buddhist” interpretation of Dada is the flip-side, see his rather poor 1922 Lecture on Dada) are not of the Left. The definitive Dada-Bolshivik critique of Futurism, which would rescue both Tzara and Keen from Right deviations, remains to be written...
13. From 'THE HAND DRAWN MESSAGE:', as above.
14. Again from 'THE HAND DRAWN MESSAGE:', as above.