Video Lycanthropy

[First published in Australian Perspecta 1989, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, 1989.]

Assemblage has always been one of the basic principles of the avant-garde. Lycanthropy, the insane belief that one can be transformed into a wolf or some other animal, has often made for some of cinema’s most fascinating depictions.

There is nothing particularly new in taking things from the realm of every-day experience, relocating, reassembling, mythologising and transforming them into something very different. What has changed however, is the method by which this is achieved.

In the case of contemporary videomaking that takes found images and sounds as its exclusive raw material, this everyday world comes to us in the form of electronic information. Television and video do not simply provide a link to the world; they structure, compose and order the very world itself. Video provides a pragmatic way to transform the substance of that world into another. But, like those Hollywood werewolves, cat people and man-made creatures of the forties, video must assume the logic, dimension and form of the monster it wants to overcome. Perhaps the processes at work in much of today’s video are more akin to a kind of lycanthropy than they are to familiar notions of assemblage.

The cinema has played an important role in the evolution of totally electronic media, but its relation to them remains ambiguous and impossible to define absolutely. Much of my work in video is concerned with the impossibility of this question: of how these forms are joined, where they are disconnected, how they mutate and transform. While the cinema may provide a variety of languages for other reproducible forms to work with, there remains a dynamism of electronic microprocesses which is not at all reducible to cinema. Here, video becomes an impure synthetic hybrid of forms.

Beauty and the Beat is as much a formal analysis of cinematic devices as it is an example of the kinds of ‘insane’ transformations possible in today’s digital video culture. For this reason the interconnections between its lycanthropic subject matter, as well as its cultural and cinematic specificity, is paramount (sources include images and voice-overs from House of Frankenstein, Cat People, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man, and scores by Bernard Herrman, Ennio Morricone, John Zorn, Albert Glasser, and Quincy Jones).

When recombined and mixed into its final form, another cultural dimension emerges. Not that of pure cinema, nor that of pure video, but that of a stranger, more monstrous amalgamation, the skeleton of a synthetic creature that is yet to become.