Category Archives: Video

Annie Hall on the Wall: Remaking a Classic as Contemporary Art

Fine art tends not to be funny. Of course there are many, many exceptions (basically, all of the examples that everyone immediately thought of upon reading that first sentence), but it’s no stretch to say that galleries and museums only infrequently resonate with giggles and guffaws. Or at least we become suspicious of our own aesthetic pedigree when something in a putatively fine art setting seems funny, because maybe the piece is actually supposed to be, like, serious art and the artist is making a statement about apartheid or something.

And there is nothing less enjoyable than trying to figure out whether or not you should laugh at something.

The Clifton Benevento gallery in New York is currently holding an exhibition of five artists entitled “Hello? I Forgot My Mantra,” of which the title is a reference to Jeff Goldblum’s memorably random line of dialogue in Annie Hall. The show features painting, sculpture, and an unusual post-perfomance piece that involves the having-thrown of dice. To me, though, the most interesting work in the show is Anhedonia, a work of video art by Aleksandra Domanović that isolates the entire audio track from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall  and replaces the film’s original scenes — you know, all the stuff that happens — with an elaborate montage of short clips of stock footage from the Getty Archive. As though the reverse premise of Woody Allen’s  re-dubbed What’s Up Tiger Lily?, Domanović’s piece uses all of the dialogue, diegetic sound, and music (of which there is surprisingly little, it turns out) of Annie Hall and supplants the familiar action of Alvy and Annie with generic bursts of video that are specifically cued to what is being said. For example, the phrase “how I feel…” is juxtaposed with a woman rubbing (i.e. feeling) her neck, and “…about life” becomes black-and-white video of spermatozoa wriggling toward an unfertilized egg. 

Anhedonia is therefore akin to a 90-minute motion-rebus, a kinetically hieroglyphic account of everyday existence. It’s worth recalling that Anhedonia was Woody Allen’s original working title for Annie Hall during most of its production, and Domanović adopts it in this instance to evoke not only the generic and sterile quality of the stock footage and photography  that constitutes way more of  what we see every day than we probably realize, but also the base boringness of how we tend to picture what life looks like.

With that being said, though, the piece — intended or otherwise — is really pretty hilarious. This is perhaps because what many of us have practically memorized in Annie Hall is subverted and supplanted by a Borges-level library of images that are wacky enough on their own, to say nothing of having been meticulously reconfigured to recreate Allen’s original study of the absurdity of everything that we do.

And so in Anhedonia‘s final seconds, Allen’s famous joke about “needing the eggs” is replaced with actually seeing the eggs, which — both in the end and as the end — literally depicts the original film’s conclusion about the delicate surface of the world we’ve constructed for ourselves.

The entirety of Domanović’s oddly mesmerizing piece is available for view online, and you can read more about the show itself at Contemporary Art Daily.

[Thanks to Amelia Colette Jones for the tip!]

Stand-Up Sunday: Richard Pryor on the “N-Word”

Tracy Wuster

When I teach classes on race in America, I often like to use this clip as a way to talk about the “n-word,” a word that I don’t say but which I spend a whole class discussing.  After discussing the origins and history of the word, I will have my class watch the following clip from Richard Pryor’s 1982 concert film, “Live on the Sunset Strip.”

In addition to being a brilliant piece of comedy, I enjoy the clip because of the audience reaction–and I am always intrigued to watch my students watching the film.  I also enjoy this piece because Pryor’s concert was one of the first stand-up specials I watched as a young (too young) person, and I have always appreciated my brother and step-brother showing me the movie, which taught me both new swear words and introduced me to the fine art of swearing (this should serve as a warning about the language of the clip below).  The film also helped introduce me to important discussions of race, ones that I was not aware of in my sheltered, mostly white, hometown.

I like to follow this clip with a piece of music/spoken word featuring Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, and Tavis Smiley.  While not comedy per se, the clip is an enjoyable and illuminating discussion of the use of the word–one in which humor and laughter play a key role.  Enjoy.

Happy Birthday Hal Holbrook!

Tracy Wuster

Today marks the 87th birthday of Hal Holbrook.  Hal has performed the character of Mark Twain longer than Samuel Clemens.  Much has been written and said about the importance of Mark Twain Tonight! and Hal’s performance as Mark Twain (not to mention his other wonderful acting work).

I want to offer my own story of meeting Mr. Holbrook in Elmira at the 6th International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies (which should be renamed, “Mark Twain Summer Camp,” in my humble opinion).  For a graduate student, Mark Twain Summer Camp already meant meeting top scholars in the field–rock stars, if you will (if you are a nerd, that is).  But Hal Holbrook is as big a star as you will find for Mark Twain fans, unless the man himself were to appear.

I was convinced that my panel would be empty, as it was scheduled opposite that panel at which Mark Dawidziak would be discussing “Mark Twain Tonight!” with Hal Holbrook in the audience.  I was thus shocked and delighted when Lou Budd walked into my panel just as I began to give my paper (causing me to lose my place for a moment).  For Twain scholars, you can’t get much more important than Lou Budd.

Hal Holbrook Speaking at Mark Twain Summer Camp

Photo Courtesy Patrick Ober

This video is the audio of Hal Holbrook’s brief remarks at the conference.  Recorded by Patrick Ober and combined with images from the beautiful campus of Elmira College.

I had witnessed first hand the star power of Hal Holbrook the night before.  After a full day of conferencing, I  meandered down toward the evening’s banquet a bit early.  In front of the building I found Shelley Fisher Fishkin and Hal Holbrook quietly talking.  Shelley introduced me to Hal and mentioned I lived in Austin.  As Hal began to say something, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of scholars who had been momentarily possessed by the spirit of teenagers at a concert when they spot the band backstage.  That is to say, I was elbowed out of the way by a gray-haired college professor who had been star struck.

Hal was now surrounded by a group of admirers jostling for his attention.  In my memory of the event, they are waving pictures for him to sign and taking photos with old-fashioned flash cameras.  My memory may not be exact.  As I stood there awkwardly outside of circle, a momentary gap opened and Hal said to me, as if our conversation had not interrupted:

“I was in Austin recently.”

I replied:  “I know.  I saw you perform.”

“When was that?”

I pondered a moment.  “Spring.”

“What is it now?”

“Summer.”

“Sounds about right.”

And then Hal was engulfed by the adoring crowd of academics-turned-teenager.

The following night, the conference ended with a party at Quarry Farm, the summer house of the Langdon and Clemens family.  I experienced another nerdy rockstar moment.  While talking with Tom Quirk–no slouch of a Twain scholar himself–Lou Budd walked up and mistook me for a waiter.  I will leave the story he told in explanation to his mistake out here, but it more than made up for any confusion.

After a wonderful dinner and a tour of the house, many people made the trek up the hill to the spot where Twain’s octagonal study sat.  There are moments in one’s life that you know you will tell stories about for years–maybe 5 or 10 or even 20–but there are few stories you know, at the time, that you will tell for the rest of your life.  For those of us who walked up the hill at Quarry Farm to the spot of Mark Twain’s study to smoke cigars, to sing songs, and to listen to Hal Holbrook tell stories, there is no doubt of the fact.

A heck of a time, then, to test out the video function of my new camera.  I wasn’t even sure it recorded in sound… but it did and in pretty good sound, too.  Since a number of people couldn’t hear Hal speak, or were on the porch playing music, I have posted the below clips of his story of meeting Clara (and Isabel Lyon).  I stopped recording as he described his heartbreaking meeting with Nina, which seems fitting in retrospect.  I hope you enjoy.
Click to see videos.

. . . ’tis the season to be jolly . . .

A journalist once asked actress Sophia Loren to explain the secret to her long, happy marriage. She reflected for a moment. “I have no explanation,” she finally said. “If you want to dissect something, you have to kill it first.” In that same spirit, I bring you this “only in America” holiday video with no analysis. (Thanks to my surname, I can post it without blinking.) Of course, if you have any pointed insights you wish to share, your comments are welcome.

Joy to the world. God Bless us everyone.  . . . fa-la-la-la-la, let’s lighten up . . .

. . . For better or worse, songs are poems.

Dominick the Donkey” was written by Richard Allen, Sam Saltzberg and Lou Monte, an Italian-American singer best know for novelty records. It charted at number 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in December of 1960. The story has no specific connection to folklore, though the donkey is a well known symbol of Christmas in Italy.

Happy Birthday…Estelle Getty!

Born July 25, 1923 (d. 2008).

While spending a week in a city outside of Detroit helping my wife’s grandma transition from a rehab hospital to home, we rediscovered the comedy gold of The Golden Girls, which was one of my favorite shows as a child and remains incredibly funny.  Getty’s character of Sophia Petrillo is a gem.  A reminder of how few older women (and men, for that matter) are represented in TV comedy now (apart from Betty White).

Fourth of July

 

An excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”  An example of a use of humor (specifically his call to mockery at approximately 3:00) of a great power.

Happy Birthday…Gilda Radner!

Born June 28, 1946.  This sketch was played on Saturday Night Live in 1989 following Radner’s death from Ovarian cancer, as introduced by host, Steve Martin.

Appropos of a first post…

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