the e-poets network Videotheque


Why build this website?

The short answer is, because I can. But seriously, the real answer takes a lot more explaining.

I've watched a lot of art in moving pictures -- or attempts at it -- over my life. Much of my early film education came from attending screenings for touring film festivals. The range of pieces I witnessed spoke to the wide range of potential expressions in film.

The films I saw in college were often from the Ann Arbor Film Festival. When I moved to Chicago as a young man, I attended screenings by the School of the Art Institute, the Center for New Television, and the Independent Film Coallition. My friends sometimes attended, too, but I often found myself making friends with the presenters. I grew familiar with them not just because I was a regular "student" of their programs, but because of my curiosity. They brought me art that was both experimental and collegial. Art was a social enterprise, not a sterile edification, and my colleagues made it tick.

WIth easy access to the films -- and often to the filmmakers who would tour with them -- watching independent cinema was an interactive and conversational activity for me. Filmmakers justified their actions to me directly, or sometimes they unconsciously revealed their flaws. All of us could chat over drinks: producers, directors, writers, and viewers alike. I recognized this was a special privilege that consumers of commercial films typically do not enjoy. It was not like auditioning the "producer's reel" of a DVD, where the commentary is audible; the conversation was two-way. After meeting the artists, I could "read" the films with the artists' ideas in mind. The artists' and their films' purposes multiplied.

For me, whose life is strewn between waves of independent motion picture making and performance poetry, it's important to make this point of critical comparison. Slam poets whom I wouldn't even meet for years would often go out fo their way to typify their work as an antidote to the academy, particularly in their marketing efforts. But I found that the 1970s and '80s academy in cinema had a lot of things right. It was not boring. The body politic I met were grounded and unpretentious. They were intellectually curious, informed and open-minded. I also found that the sophistication of criticism in cinema was at a level I wouldn't encounter in performance poetry for close to two decades: It was astute, widely and coherently practiced, and relevant to the real world, not just to itself or its own inner motivations.

The filmmakers' relationships to me created staying power for their ideas and their art. I think fondly about an evening in the late 1970s with George Kuchar and his mad (and then new) quasi-horror/quasi-erotic films. I remember enjoying conversation with Steina and Woody Vasulka a few years later, as they toyed with the geometry of the image, in optics and digital form. I still think about Bill Viola's philosophies as he spoke to me about working with new Sony cameras in the field. I studied image processing and field production under Drew Browning and Annette Barbier, and so my video production upbringing took a somewhat Chicago-oriented turn. Pier Marton addressed his emerging social awarenesses in his work, and his gaze at me only underscored his intensity. When I met Marlon Riggs, I heard elegance and insight in his thoughts. I saw daring in his eyes. But I also sensed anxiety and reticence to speak freely, artifacts of the "culture wars" after his work with Essex Hemphill had become a lightning rod for the religious right.

Sometimes my adventures took me into the realm afield. At CalArts, I met Ed Emschwiller and briefly worked in a video studio he oversaw. I had admired his Sunstone for a while already, so meeting the man in working circumstances simply grounded my experiences more. My education was a gift from dozens of inspired minds. I remain grateful to all of them. I consider that, had I lacked the opportunity to watch these pieces, meeting the people behind them would've been much less meaningful. And without the people, the videos seemed less connected. The conjunction of artist and art teaches. It can change lives.

The point I'm trying to make is, good media works are not faceless. They are the products of genuine humans and motivations. As people more and more came to offer me URLs, instead of invitations to film or video screenings, the art acquired a facelessness that I disliked. The people behind the art faded away. I knew I couldn't fight how the world chose to watch or distribute videos. But I could do something about the way these pieces played. And, without an institution of any sort behind this effort, I could make a genuinely individual statement about this art that has changed my life. As repeated encounters with viewers, critics, and even a few scholars have shown me over the years, I have unique experiences and access to productions in the genre of poetry video. I want to speak from that experience.

I publish these videos because they are meaningful to me. I publish capsules of knowledge about the videos and their makers because that information is meaningful to me, too. I don't posit the works on a plateau with Emschwiller's, because writers and independent filmmakers often have much more humble resources. That doesn't detract from the meaning I find in the productions.

Professional filmmakers may watch the single-camera documenation videos and chuckle at their simple look. Published poets may listen to the videos and shrug, "Well, I could've said that long ago," or speculate idly why the language should be so embellished by images and sound. So... what? This is not the conversation of such critics. Rather, it's the conversation of people who sought to commit living language to a form where its actions may live on. I let the videos stand on the merits of their imaging, audio/music, and poetry. I also recognize the significance of the people behind the processes that made them, that others may not even consider.

I assert that the experiences within these works have the power to move you to think, laugh, become somber, or simply change your mind. They speak to the intersection of language art and motion pictures in diverse ways. They are not vanity projects. Videos like these often get into the maelstrom of YouTube, Vimeo, and the like. But in such places, a video is likely stripped of anything to say about the creators. Can it say something more than, "Look at me"? On this website, I certainly hope the videos can do better here. Without my exercise of the Editor's Prerogative, I suspect some of these pieces might fall into oblivion, and therefore so would little bits of the lives of the people who made the experiences possible. These are videos I have the privilege to publish.

The artists and their videos here have affected me in good ways. I have no grand agenda to publish everything significant within a field. I simply want a part of my own education to be available to the public and spoken-for. As means permit, I may expand this collection. My hope is to show that cinematic language arts -- I often refer to these works as poetry video -- have a basis in conversation. This touches the core of why people create, show, and consume art. After decades of listening, watching, and often recording art on my own, this web enterprise is my reply to the world.

- Kurt Heintz, 2012