Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Video Narcissism

So when Halloween rolls around, and you're scrolling through Netflix for DVDs to show at your get-togethers, you might come across something called TV Party: Halloween Show. The description mentions Blondie's Chris Stein and Debbie Harry, as well the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and one can easily think "cable access, downtown art scene, punk scene circa 1979, Halloween -- that sounds great!"

Unfortunately, sometimes you just had to be there. The DVD works best as a historical curiosity, for research purposes, because it's not actually entertaining. What it mainly resembles is fuzzy home movie footage of people talking to each other, often so you can't even hear what they're saying, and occasionally with a background of industrial music made with power tools and electrical boxes. That latter part isn't so bad, but it might annoy your neighbors and/or your cats, especially if they're not used to that sort of thing.

The biggest impression is made by guest Dave Street, supposedly about to cut a record of "punk comedy," who performs a piece on the "Me Generation" and how it's not going to fade away just because the '70s are almost over. Instead, he envisions a "ME ME ME ME ME ME Generation," when people will no longer be satisfied wearing t-shirts with their own faces on them, but will carry video cameras to record and watch themselves. "I'm on TV; don't I look great?" he says.

As someone with more than one blog, this led to a whole feeling of "whoa, he was a little early in his prediction, but lo, it's come to pass." As he talked to a monitor with footage of himself on it, I couldn't help thinking of Videodrome, which would be made in 1983 and star... Debbie Harry.

A large chunk of the show is given over to a call-in segment, in which New Yorkers take the opportunity to make obscene suggestions to Harry, read their incomprehensible poetry, plug their own events, and occasionally comment on the actual show. This portion also features massive feedback, as well as people carrying on various conversations at once; again, like a camera was plunked in the middle of the room and everyone ignored it. An interesting technique, but dull to watch.

I did see Basquiat in the background of a scene, but just for a second.

There is something interesting on the extras, for those of us who weren't there at the time. I've read much about Debbie Harry as an integral character in the early punk scene. Since I also grew up hearing her smooth, slick radio hits, I've always had a little cognitive dissonance about that. Here there's a clip of Blondie performing a very jerky, dischordant version of "The Tide is High" (while Harry endearingly reads the lyrics off a slip of paper) that helps bridge the gap.

When I get a chance to see the DVD release of the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special, maybe we can do a compare-and-contrast on the perils of the video time machine. Personally, I've been looking for copies of the old Night Flight cable show, but maybe it's best that it stays buried. Still, if you have a burning curiosity to see what NYC hipsters were doing on Wednesday nights in 1979, go for it!

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