Without embarking on a textual analysis of The Commission, I would like to suggest a few of the ways that Woody - and Steina, who did the camera work for the tape - have applied some of the techniques developed on their previous work. In each of the 11 segments, a different effect is employed and then excersized through a series of variations. This enables correlations to be made between that particular device and the scripted text. And since the action is minimal, the text is thus underscored, rather than diffused.
Perhaps the most important, though, is the almost obsessive repetition in every segment: interweaving of nuances and variation of sound, image, and, in the process, meaning. At the opening of the tape, we are told that toward the end of his life, Paganini lost his voice and had to speak through his "beloved illegitimate son." The exactment of this relationship becomes a metaphor for interpretation but is also a device which aids the audience in apprehending the story. In the next scene, a gaunt Paganini whispers - through the use of a sound processor - into the ear of his son. The son repeats - not always accurately - what his father has just said. In subsequent scenes, sections of the text are also repeated, and the voices are all processed in a variety of ways that reinforce the actor's speeches. For instance, in one segment, the narrator describes the intense feeling of expectation that a follower of Paganini experienced when he thought he would get the opportunity to hear the virtuoso play. The pitch of the processed voice rises and falls as he tells of his anticipation and eventual disappointment.
The video, too, is carefully conceived. In one scene Paganini hands Berlioz an envelope containing commission for a musical score, acting as an intermediary for an anonymous patron. Here the images of the two men are rapidly switched. This device - first used in Steina's Sound and Fury - emphasizes the gesture of giving; however, the stiff jerky movement which results provides a visual counterpart to Paganini's false pretenses. Woody also uses the potential of the Rutt/Etra very effectively in the scene of Paganini's embalming; the web-like effect used earlier in Woody's "time/energy objects" is used here in conjunction with Bradford Smith's set to vividly create a death chamber space.
Such instances demonstrate how the Vasulkas' electronic devices may be used as narrative devices in the future. Woody has made a difficult tape that attempts to rethink complex problems of characterization , plot and even representation.
In trying to distinguish between various videomakers' work with imaging devices, my first impulse was to invoke an old dichotomy within modernist art discourse - that is, to make a distinction between two basic approaches that can be identified as formalist and expressionist. According to this framework, the first approach would be represented in the "first generation" of video artists the Vasulkas, while the latter would descend from
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