It’s probably pretty obvious, at least to those who know me, that I’m a pretty huge Negativland fan. I’ve got loads of their posters in my room at home, pretty much everything they ever put out (a notable exception is a real copy of the U2 single, but, hey, I’ve got the music and the incredibly extensive “bootleg” release These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit), and, well, basically I just think the world of them and their work.
Given all that, you can imagine that I was basically in heaven when Negativlandland, their touring art installation played Seattle a couple years ago. I didn’t ever think I’d get to play with a Booper (complete with video from the Weatherman to show me how), or to see the other artworks they’ve made, or the original artwork from their albums (which are always so well done), or well, basically any of that. I know, I can turn into a drooling fanboy, but at least it typically takes well-done stuff to do it.
One of the rooms in Negativlandland was a video loop of a lot of short flms made for their songs. Reference was made that this material was going to come out on their upcoming DVD. It took a while, but it’s finally out! And it’s worth it to be able to watch these brilliant media satirists in my own home.
Some of the videos appear to be made for this project (the stuff from the Free album appears too modern to be made in 1993), and some were for the original albums (I remember seeing stills from the various Dispepsi shorts around the time the album came out, though I’d never seen any of the videos themselves). Perhaps the most affecting are the two from Free, “Freedom’s Waiting” (which has an amazing punchline — the same as the original song, but underscored by seeing the visuals as well) and “The Bottom Line”, which combines advertising and home-shopping visuals with text taken from interviews with people who had been tortured. It’s incredibly depressing to think about how prescient the audio was in 1993, and how relevant, topical and damning it is today.
The DVD includes a host of bonus materials as well. A short, Gilliam-influenced film by a very young Mark Hosler that’s a silent retelling of Frankenstein (which, again, foreshadows the collage-work he’d be doing later in life), a half-hour with the Weatherman and Richard Lyons involving shoe-washing, electronic equipment, belching and webcams (complete with two competing audio commentary tracks), an amusing promotional short for the now-closed Fridayland, C. Eliot Friday’s amusement park on Howland Island, and a pretty amusing (though perhaps too long) easter egg.
The bonus features might be mostly for the hardcore Negativland fan only, although they’ve often experimented with the presumed mundanity of everyday life in their work before. Their earlier video No Other Possibility (now found as a bonus DVD on the reissue of their early A Big 10-8 Place album) and much of the Over The Edge work with the Weatherman’s tapes of his family. It’s these materials which seem to resonate with me — perhaps the realness of them — I don’t know. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but for some reason, I’m much more drawn to a tour of the Weatherman’s family home in Martinez than I am to whoever’s Crib is on MTV at the time. It’s a rare thing where I can rationally recognize something as what most people would find completely boring — but am still enraptured and have no desire to hit the fast-forward button.
The entire package — like everything Negativland does — is outstanding. The artwork, the look, the material, the copy on the back, and the faux FBI warnings that open the disc. Again, I’m not sure how much this would be a good starter for a new Negativland potential fan — I’ve long ago lost my ability to tell that. I guess perhaps the U2 single, Escape from Noise or Dispepsi would be my guess. But that doesn’t include, say, Helter Stupid or the moving, profound and gorgeous Deathsentences of the Polished & Structurally Weak. I guess the best thing would just be to get the slew of it and go through all of it.
One last thing — this DVD comes with the outstanding 180 d’Gs to the Future CD by the 180 Gs… but more about that later…