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PLEASE FEEL FREE TO REPOST (if you are curious about the cassette, check the end of the text) 1.3.93 DESCRIPTIVE PACKAGE FOR : "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, mono) (copyright 1991: Blair) contents: Description of WAX Newspaper reviews Periodical reviews Quotes and review capsules Reviews from the net Exhibition release Technical profile Screening dates / cassette availability CONTACT: David Blair P.O. Box 174, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276 artist1@rdrc.rpi.edu "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is set in Alamogordo, New Mexico (1983), where the main character, Jacob Maker, designs gunsight displays at a flight simulation factory. Jacob also keeps bees. His hives are filled with "Mesopotamian" bees that he has inherited from his grandfather. Through these bees, the dead of the future begin to appear, introducing Jacob to a type of destiny that pushes him away from the normal world, enveloping him in a grotesque miasma of past and synthetic realities. The bees show Jacob the story of his grandfather's acquisition and fatal association with the "Mesopotamian" bees, in the years following the First World War. The bees also lead Jacob away from his home, out to the Alamogordo desert, slowly revealing to him their synthetic/mechanical world, which exists in a darkness beyond the haze of his own thoughts. Passing through Trinity Site, birthplace of the Plutonium bomb, Jacob arrives at a gigantic cave beneath the desert. There, he enters the odd world of the bees, and fulfills his destiny. Traveling both to the past and the future, Jacob ends at Basra, Iraq, in the year 1991, where he meets a victim that he must kill. Independently executed over six years, "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" combines compelling narrative, in the realistic/fantastic vein of Thomas Pynchon or Salman Rushdie, with the graphic fluidity of video technique. The result is an odd, new type of story experience, where smooth and sudden transpositions of picture and sound can nimbly follow and fuse with fantastical, suddenly changing, and often accelerated narrative. The result resembles story-telling in animated film. Yet location photography and archive research form the backbone of the piece. "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, mono) provides an example of a new type of independent "electronic cinema" that will become more common as the 1990's progress. =============================================== "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, 1991) REVIEWS FROM THE NEW YORK OPENING AT THE JOSEPH PAPP PUBLIC THEATRE, 8.21.92 NEW YORK TIMES, 8.21.92, Stephen Holden David Blair's "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is so obsessed with looking and sounding like nothing that has come before that it defies the conventional wisdom that movies should be clear and well-focused. Set in the vicinity of Alamogordo, NM, with some of its more striking scenes filmed in the Carlsbad Caverns, the movie reimagines the world as it might be perceived through the blurred eyesight of a bee. That world is a surreal video dreamscape in which visual phenomena are continually metamorphosing in ways that used to be called psychedelic. In scenes shot in the New Mexico desert, the landscape unfolds like a shivering mirage, with the images of faces and mountains furling and dissolving like pictures on a flag in the wind. A bomb-sight grid becomes a honeycomb that becomes a map of the brain. The letters of a riddle float in the air and rearrange themselves into another slogan that seems to answer the first riddle. "WAX" goes so far as to imagine an alternative alphabet used to communicate by the spirits of the dead. The story of "WAX", which opens today at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, is almost impossible to describe. It is narrated by a character named Jacob Maker (Mr. Blair), who designs gunsight displays at a flight-simulation company in New Mexico. Jacob also keeps a hive of very unusual bees that were taken to Europe from Mesopotamia between the wars. Through the filmmaker's witty use of archival material, Jacob's family history in the 20th century is told as a sort of pseudo-documentary on the development of photography and its relation to the occult. Maintaining a dispassionate, scientific tone, Jacob methodically expands this family history into a fantastic story of time travel, reincarnation and communion with the dead that conflates science fiction, biblical myth and entomology into a convoluted fable. The tale, among other things, is a multi- generational family saga as it might be imagined by a cyberpunk novelist. It flashes all the way back to the story of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel and forward to the narrator's own death, birth and rebirth in an act of violence. It all begins when Jacob starts experiencing an eerie communication with his bees, Before long, he begins suffering mysterious blackouts. During one, the bees drill a hole in the side of his head and insert a television whose supernatural images begin controlling his movements. Propelled on a journey into the desert, he visits the site where the first nuclear bomb was tested, and eventually he ventures below the earth into a radiant underworld where the bees are preparing new bodies for the dead. Ultimately he is instructed to commit a murder in Iraq. The character of Jacob involves a visual double-entendre. As he wanders about the desert in a beekeeping outfit that looks virtually indistinguishable form a space suit, he suggests a refuge from "2001, A Space Odyssey." That film is one of many to which "WAX" pays homage, though it looks a lot more like a movie by Jim Jarmusch than one by Stanley Kubrick. With its shifting, alternative realities, "WAX" might also be described as an electronic video answer to "Total Recall", with the weirdness multiplied exponentially. What should help make the film a cult favorite is the intricate design of Mr. Blair's story. Eccentric as it is, the fable has a rigorous interior logic that puzzle aficionados should enjoy deciphering. Beyond that, "WAX" reverberates with implication about the relationship between video and the modern world. There is a sense in which we have all had televisions implanted in our heads. And those sets broadcast television's version of reality. Who really knows what those endless reruns are doing to us? NEW YORK POST, 8.21.92, Jerry Talmer LIVING IN A DREAM WHIRL written that movies are dreams. Now a young fellow name David Blair comes in with a movie that's so much like so many of my own dreams - and yours, too, I bet - that it's scary. Also, in its crazy way, its kind of wonderful. Actually this "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees," opening today at the Public, is not a movie per se. It's "electronic cinema," an 85 minute omelette of motion picture, video, and whirling, blossoming geometrical computer graphics. I'm not a sci-fi fan - rather the opposite - but "WAX" isn't truly sci-fi; it just pretends to be. What it is another kind of omelette: of history and poetry and legend and current and ancient events, all stirred together with concern - basic or banal,if you will - over man's basic propensity to extinguish himself, and the planet. I could not, if I had this entire newspaper to do it in, reduce the "plot" of the film intelligibly, but you must start with the idea- as I think Mr. Blair might ave - that a beekeeper's white protective suit and headgear look mightily like the suits and helmets worn by people in nuclear plants, combat pilots of the jet age, and astronauts walking the moon. Given that basic interchangeable image, all else follows. Our hero, after a fashion, is Jacob "Hive" Maker, an aircraft gun-sight designer who puts in his days at a flight simulator chasing targets through an x of cross-hairs; at home, he's a beekeeper. Jacob's grandfather before him, back there at the Garden of Eden, Kan., was also a beekeeper - as well as a Supernatural Spiritualist cinematographer who hoped to photograph evidence of life after death. Grandson Jacob was born in the Garden of Eden on July 16, 1945, the day the A-bomb was first tested out in the desert at Alamogordo, NM. One day, hands deep amid the swarms in his back yard, Jacob hears the bees talking - the bees who will presently drill a hole in his head through which they insert a mirrored crystal TV that travels back and forth in time and space. And with Jacob and the bees we travel too: to actual sites like the Trinity pylon where the sky lit up like a thousand suns to White Sands, an Air Force bomb range, the Carlsbad Caverns, to Ypres battlefield in World War I, and to a hundred other imaginary places. We also travel - in past and present time - to Mesopotamia, where the bees came from, and where this story begins and ends, as Jacob - protesting: "I wasn't a killer, I was a beekeeper" - finds that the X in his gun sights is also the mark of Cain on his forehead. If I'm not much for sci-fi, I also generally have minimal interest in "special effects." This picture, however, uses a host of simple special effects and dozens of others not so simple - a landscape rolled up like a tube, for instance, then unrolling and floating through the air like a winged magazine, or vice versa - more ingeniously than a hundred huge-budget smash-crash blockbusters. It took 36 year-old David Blair - much aided by Florence Ormezzano at the computer - six years to complete the job. Mesopotamia is today Iraq. It is here - indeed at Basra - that Cain confirms his X a bit anti-climatically with the destruction of a single Iraqi tank. Of course George Bush may render this a little less anti-climatic any day now. NEW YORK NEWSDAY, 8.21.92, John Anderson "Wax"-ing Visually PoeTech It is a paradox of sorts: With the increased capacities of electronic cinema, filmmakers can bring to the screen a more perfectly personal vision. At the same time, with so much electronic magic at his or her disposal, the less a filmmaker has to rely on a common visual vocabulary. And the results can be pretty obscure. It is obvious that filmmaker David Blair is fascinated - no, infatuated - with the possibilities of the new technology, but in "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (which is one off-putting title) he never seems to lose himself in it. While availing himself of a smorgasbord of visuals - archival footage, time-lapse photography, film, video, computer graphics - and drawing on influences that range from experimental video artist Nam June Paik to James Joyce, Blair has created a film about film that takes a cerebral route to a visceral response. The story, as it is, begins in 1914 Antarctica, where James (Hive) Maker, beekeeper and a member of the Supernormal Film Society, is trying to photograph the spirits of the dead by capturing on film the decaying radiation of their souls.(In assigning such power to the camera, Blair pokes a little fun at himself). The narrative - which is always serving the visuals, rather than vice-versa - flashes forward to Alamogordo, N.M. in the '80's, where Jacob Maker, the grandson of James, is working on weapons systems for the Army and keeping his grandfather's Mesopotamian bees. These bees plant a television in Jacob's head and through it reveal to him the dead of the future, and an Otherworld through which he passes to the future and meets the person he is destined to kill. The story is a vehicle for Blair's visual sense of adventure. His use of sound is crucial to the overall effect of "WAX". Where and when does the sound of a bee's humming become the sound of a violin string singing, or the hiss of summer heat frying the New Mexico landscape, or the scream of a human voice? And where does the mind stop reading film and begin simply experiencing it for what it is? Blair's playful and provocative "WAX" not only asks the question, it gives you some answers. (PG... An adventurous, dizzying exploration of experimental film and video techniques that isn't afraid to be funny, too) NEW YORK PRESS, August 19, 1992, Michael Atkinson *** SELECTED AS ONE OF YEAR'S TEN BEST, 1.93) *** What a Buzz. An inspired, maddening, nuclear-powered bughouse rant, David Blair's kaleidoscope SF video feature "WAX, or the discovery of television among the bees" belongs to the same post-atomic tradition of hallucinatory cultural discourse that runs from Thomas Pynchon to the Epcot Center to the Weekly World News, gobbling up everything in between like a siege of driver ants. High-tech Dada- what Blair himself calls "independent electronic cinema" - WAX (showing at the Public Theatre Aug. 21 to Aug. 27) has the genuine flavor of inmate dementia, while effortlessly conjoining its loopy hero's umsummarizable spiritual journey with the quite palpable realities of modern warfare. Wax is only nominally a linear narrative. Held together by a deadpan narration, the furious current of electronic images, computer animation, found archival footage, video warping, and fresh tape shot on location at Trinity Site during Air Force bombing maneuvers frequently threatens to explode from the constrictions of story and fly off in every direction. Since it's world premiere on German Tv in 1991, WAX has been referenced to nearly every available postmod landmark available, including M.C. Escher, cyberpunk, David Lynch. Rimbaud, A.E. Van Vogt, 2001, Peter Greenaway, MTV, Samuel Beckett, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Most frequently cited are J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs, whose narrative function/form experiments and field trips through the post-industrial scrap heap are obvious ancestors to Blair's extravagant hyperbole (though he never sinks so low as to allude). Working for six years on-and-off, from grant to grant, to finish his project, Blair comes off as a twister of unorganized ideas, arcane obsessions, and crazed totemic visuals; forcefully conceived and realized, Wax is a one- man show of free-associative pyrotechnics. My own analogues would include Philip Jose Farmer, Kenneth Anger (specifically "Lucifer Rising"), the electronic abstractions of Jordan Belson and Scott Bartlett, Jay Cantor's novel "Krazy Kat", virtual reality, Jungian archetypes, Tribulation 99, and the paranoid cosmologies of longtime amphetamine junkies. All of which can seem to deny WAX its real- world relevance- chiefly, as a critique of the Gulf War. As evocative of its antecedents as it is, WAX is still an aggressively private work. It's often hermetic beyond patience; Blair's techno-delirium nearly makes an implicit wager with the viewer to make narrative or even thematic sense out of the last half hour. Told in first person, it's the story of one Jacob Maker, the son of the famous paranormal cinematographer and beekeeper James Maker, from whom Jacob has inherited hives full of rare "Mesopotamian" (read: Iraqi) bees which, we soon see, converse with the dead, traffic in alternate realities and literally implant a crystal-shaped tv monitor in Jacob's head. Add to this Jacob's guilt about his work for the Army on designing computerized targeting systems, and you have a launch pad from which WAX takes off in a dozen directions at once. The plot-arc, if that's what it is, follows Jacob's metaphysical journey through the world of the super-bees and into other realms of consciousness, climaxing, as does Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow", within the mind of a falling bomb - this time, though, the bomb is targeted for Iraq. Wax covers its ground with absurdist logic bridges and a New Age democracy, touching on the Manhattan Project, inner-earth theory, entomology, the Old Testament, post-Nintendo technology hatred, time travel, reincarnation, UFO's, the transmutation of souls, ghost photography, and more. Once Jacob enters the Land of the Dead, Blair employs a battery of computer effects that simultaneously bests and updates 2001's Stargate sequence; Jacob's bee-keeper's bonnet resembles Kubrick's space suits as much as it does the uniform of toxic waster workers. The space travel here is strictly inner, though, and the film's form is a valiant stab at pictorializing dream states. For all its recklessness, Wax has the druggy rhythm of radioactive, bible-drenched delirium tremens. Along with its other ambitions, it also endeavors to demarcate brand new territory for visual narrative. Rather, it's a shrewd adoption of many established experimental video tropes in the service of a psychotic rewrite of modern history. It may not change our visual culture, but WAX is a startling, ballsy trip, one that runs around in your head like a ricocheting bullet for weeks. VILLAGE VOICE, 8.19.92, Amy Taubin Hailed by literati on the sci-fi/cyberpunk continuum as "authentically peculiar, like something form the network vaults of an alternate universe" (William Gibson) and "the future direction of sci-fi film, if not of film itself" (Brooks Landon), David Blair's "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (The Public Theatre, August 21-27) interfaces a first person narrative told cheapo-noir style with visuals produced via state- of-the-art electronic editing and image processing. Blair combines real and simulated archive footage, video shot at Alamogordo, Trinity Site, and Carlsbad Caverns, and computer- generated imagery to suggest a lysergically elastic space/time. Imagine if 2001's "Jupiter and Beyond" sequence were miniaturized, accelerated, extended to 85 minutes, and if Dave Bowman had been afflicted with logorrhea. WAX's protagonist, Jacob Maker, designs military gunsight displays at a flight simulation factory. He becomes obsessed with the rare Mesopotamian bees he inherited from his grandfather James Hive-Maker, a member of the Supernormal Film Society, who may or may not have murdered Zoltan Abbassid, his rival and Siamese twin. Among other things, the bees tell Jacob that they are the dead of the future, and that "vengeance was their life." Entering their world, Jacob travels in time and space, making beelines from White Sands in 1945 where he becomes Fat Man, "the loneliest of bombs", to Iraq in 1991. he dies and is born again as "the X-shape", a floating gunsight and the mark of Cain" that explodes on top of a tank killing two Iraqi soldiers. After his death, he discovers the planet of television and investigates the mystery of his origins and the origins of language in a Tower-of- babel/Garden-of-Eden/hive-of-weapons beneath the desert where past and future intersect. Jacob's paranoia (his image of himself as a vessel of military aggression) is a metaphor for Blair's knowledge that the electronic artist's studio is equipped with scaled down spin- offs of Pentagon playtoys. Transcending visual pyrotechnics, this paradox gives WAX a double cutting edge. In his white beekeeper's coverall that looks suspiciously like an anti-radiation suit, Maker/Blair might have wandered out of a Hollywood sci-fi flick- specifically Gordon Douglas' 1954 THEM (La Cinematographe, August 20-23).... CITY PAGES, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 11.18.92 Phil Anderson BUZZ BIN Just the other day I heard a fifth grader say "Church sucks," and yet all around us are signs of a continuing interest in the spiritual and otherworldly. Most of these traces are pretty feeble - witness "Jacob's Ladder", "Bram Stoker's Dracula", "Sister Act", even "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" or TV's "Quantum Leap". Depicting a life that transcends the daily slog can get kind of ordinary all in itself. This is not the prelude to a sermon but a reference point for a movie that reaches out to that particular post-industrial phenomena, as well as to several others. It's David Blair's ""WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" , and it seems almost unprecedented. Maybe if you caught Wim Wender's "Until the End of the World" where people watch videotapes of their dreams, you've seen something like it. Or maybe you're old enough to remember some of the great avant-garde works of Bruce Baille or Stan Brakhage, you've seen something that flows abstractly, like this does, around a central metaphor. But what Blair's mostly electronic "movie" has on those prior examples is a strong and coherent central point to make. using the swirling imagery of computer animation and archival film, drawing on the language of cyberpunk, he's made a feature- length meditation on war and the afterlife, on history and duty, on bees and television. It's wildly eclectic and a bit esoteric, but it does reach a real conclusion; and it happens to end during the Gulf War, in what starts out being called Mesopotamia but is now called Iraq. There's a character or two in the story, primarily a narrator named Jacob Maker. He's been working on electronic gunsights for smart missiles in Alamogordo, New Mexico, but is also the grandchild of a man who raised Mesopotamian bees and tried to photograph the spirits of the dead. Through a process that remains obscure, Jacob's consciousness is taken over by his own bees; he learns that they are the representative s of the dead, who demand vengeance,and he sees space and time from their perspective. He ceases being mortal and becomes a bombsight headed for Iraq; but then he transcends the whole business in a stirring finale, hinting of both inner and global peace. (there is far more plot to away than this - don't worry.) Maybe another way to explain the film is to quote from the script: "The next morning found me at White Sands, a great stretch of pulverized gypsum - the main ingredient in wallboard. Out of the haze, a giant floating light appeared. It's body was a poem written in the language of Cain. Here was a missile that had left the earth, and returned to touch me. the desert became the past. the dead marched across the sands to reach me. their shadows touched my face, and I began to cry." Blair mixes this kind of kitsch and wonder frequently. It can be pretty hypnotic, although his droning voice risks inducing heavy eyelids just at the points when the imagery gets most compelling. he is, however, a real poet of our image-laden life: Along with the whirling computer graphics and high-tech image "wraps" (a picture turns into a cylinder), I counted quotes from the first tv image ever recorded, fragments from a 1924 French avant-garde film, and a cameo by William S. Burroughs as the grandfather. There is more, much of it to do with refocusing the journey out of Eden. maybe you'll find something else there, too; anybody who sees this amazing new thing can feel like an explorer, because David Blair sure is. ===================================================== PERIODICAL REVIEWS VARIETY, 11.2.92, Fred Lombardi In welding film to video, "WAX" provides an appropriate look for a visionary science fiction film, and while rejecting both conventional dialogue format and look will restrict exhibition to very specialized locales, pic has the potential to command a dedicated following. "WAX" blends an avant-garde sensibility with mystical sci-fi and, save for one instance of synchronized sound (from the real scientist who discovered Pluto), depends totally on off-screen narration. the plot moves through all kinds of bizarre twists, from excavations of the Tower of Babel to spirits of the future dead inhabiting the bodies of bees that implant a special form of television inside the head of the protagonist. there is enough mumbo-jumbo in the sprawling narrative to make the theories of Erich von Daniken sound like models of sound scientific deduction. Fortunately, filmmaker David Blair's script and distinctive voice keep the narration's cacophony of associations fluid and almost mesmerizing as it lurches from semi-parody to surreal poetry. (Not inappropriately, William Burroughs has a cameo). Pic's visuals draw from old stock footage, location video and computer animation to evoke its world of the mind. There is also a sort of creative letter-boxing technique where Blair splits the screen in various ways with black spaces. Like much else in this film, this is done in adroit and expressive ways. =============================================== WHOLE EARTH REVIEW, Winter 1992, Richard Kadrey Combining archive footage with new video, David Blair gives us this extraordinary feature. As densely layered as any novel, WAX is a tale of transcendence. It tells the story of a computer programmer and beekeeper Jacob Maker, and the discoveries he makes when he hears the voices of the bees in his hives (he learns that the bees are the link between this world and the land of the dead....). But's that's only a small part of the multi- generational, multidimensional story of WAX. Moving between his past and his future, maker travels to the land of the dead, and to Iraq during the Gulf War, ending his time on earth as a smart bomb zeroing in on an Iraqi tank. The force of blair's vision is in every frame. both the writing and visuals are superb. Working on a low budget, he made an end run around ordinary special effects, and used simple computer images to create startling and memorable visions of the bee's world view and the land of the dead. It's not often that a film or video comes out of nowhere, kicks down the door, and demands to be seen. WAX is the exception to the rule - a low budget independent feature that heads off in directions that most video- and filmmakers wouldn't go near. ============================================= MONDO 2000, Volume 7, 8.92, Richard Kadrey Throughout the history of the film biz there have been occasional attempts to shoot whole novels. The silent era gave us Greed, a 12-hour misery-fest that was ultimately chopped up and sold as guitar picks by the studio heads. Fassbinder was more successful with his 15-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, but that was shown in installments on TV, so the accumulation of action and information was greatly diminished. In the literary world, J.G. Ballard experimented with "condensed novels" in his book The Atrocity Exhibition. The idea was to boil away all character and plot and leave just the steaming residue of motive, action and response, to create the cumulative effect of novel-like density in just a few pages. David Blair's video, WAX or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees, is sort of a combination of these earlier experiments, and yet is something wholly new. Through a combination of archival film footage, new video and computer animation WAX achieves the effect of a novel (density, the passage of time, dramatic changes in character), and it does so in the 85 minute running-time of a regular feature film. It's almost impossible to describe the plot of WAX; it's a Zen koan told as a Burroughs cut-up. We open with experimental cinematographer James Maker, a member of the Supernormal Film Society who accompanies a British Royal expedition to Antarctica in hopes of filming the spirits of the dead. Flashfoward to James Maker's grandson, Jacob Maker, a computer programmer working on targeting systems for the Air Force at their Alamagordo test range. Jacob keeps bees, the bees that once belonged to his father and grandfather, a semi-famous keeper of bees himself, friend of the man who first imported Mesopotamian bees to England. Jacob grows unsure of the work he is doing for the Air Force, telling us that "To hit a simulated target was to prepare murder against a real target." As his uncertainty grows, he spends more and more time with the bees. He has blackouts; time turns liquid, and he loses hours at a time. The hives are endlessly fascinating to him. And then one day, he thinks he can hear voices speaking to him from inside the hives. . . . After that, Jacob quickly leaves behind almost everything we would consider normal life and embarks on a Ballardian quest that takes him from his home in Alamagordo, to Trinity site (location of the first nuclear bomb was detonation, coincidentally on the day of Jacob's birth), to the underground lair that is the real home of the bees (where the bees commune with the dead, and prepare new bodies for them), to the Land of the Dead itself and to Iraq during the Gulf War where Jacob is reborn briefly as a bomb, guiding himself with the same targeting system he worked on back when he was a programmer. Blair labored for six years to finish WAX, working when he could from grant to grant, scrounging and convincing people to contribute to the project through the force of his vision, the strength of which is evident in the extraordinary production quality of WAX. The scenes set in Alamagordo and Trinity Site were really filmed at those locations. Blair convinced the Air Force to let him take his video crew deep inside the highly restricted WSMR bomb range. On the day Blair and company were shooting, a celebration was on nearby, an annual party marking the anniversary of the first nuclear bomb test. Technicians set off a small chemical explosive, sending up a tall, white mushroom cloud, a moment captured by chance by cinematographer Mark Kaplan, and incorporated by Blair into the finished film. Stealth bombers practiced bomb runs over the shooting site, using the Trinity marker as ground zero on their targeting grids-- Blair and his crew were being virtually bombed the whole time they were filming. Another striking sequence in WAX is the underground cavern where the bees make wax bodies for the dead to inhabit. Blair shot these scenes in off-limit locations inside Carlsbad Caverns, conning and cajoling his way into sectors of cave that even the park rangers generally avoid. It's during this act that Jacob enters the Land of the Dead, and the audience gets a tour of the afterlife via Florence Ormezzano's lovely computer graphics. WAX neatly avoids the problems of mainstream films like Lawnmower Man where films and effects live and die by their flash quotient. WAX refuses to compete with Hollywood's ideas of special effects. The computer images we get are startling, from the bat-winged and multi-skulled spirit guide to the biomorphic squiggles that are the alphabet of the dead. These are dream images from a lost digital tribe, pixelated runes and hieroglyphs. Imagine what the Maya might have left behind if they had vanished into a virtual world instead of the Mexican jungle. WAX is the first generation of a new video-based artform that Blair calls is "independent electronic cinema." Like home-recording studios and the zine world (like the zine you hold in your hands) recent advances in technology have put powerful editing tools into the hands of anyone with the need and desire to use them. WAX was assembled using the Montage Picture Processor, a relatively new "non-linear" video editing system, which allowed Blair to work quickly and intuitively, digitally cutting and pasting the work together from as many as six video segments at once. Both Blair and WAX, however, are having to pay a price for their ambition. Nobody wants to show or distribute WAX. The art video crowd has rejected it because it's too long and too expensive, a PC no-no. The film community is strictly hands-off because WAX is video-based. This is almost always the fate of the new. Tuxedoed and tiaraed royals rioted at the premier of the Rite of Spring. Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg and Burroughs were all banned at one time for obscenity. And the Elvis was shot from the waist up because white boys weren't supposed to move like that. And who can really blame the critics? The New is always frightening. It makes you look at everything, your own work included, in a different way. It makes you question your methods, your ideas, all your assumptions. Worse, the New can make you feel old, and when you're in art, where coolness and affect are half the game, old is not where the beautiful people are hanging out. Blair is optimistic, though. With praise from the likes of William Gibson, he knows that he accomplished want he set out to do. He's already at work on a new feature, an alternate history piece linking the fate of the modern Japanese and Jews in an alternate Israel located in Manchuria. Not exactly the kind of material destined to give Terminator 9 a run for its money, but Blair is playing in a different league, where film has the density of a novel, where new thoughts are always welcome and where memories, dreams and desires are as close as your skin, and as dangerous as a smart bomb. ======================================= SCIENCE FICTION EYE #10, 3.92, Paul Di Filippo VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE: Suppose you took the two guys... and through surgery turned them into Siamese Twins joined at the head. Then, to mutate their already twisted sensibilities... suppose that you juiced their commingled brains with a syrup of minced grey cells, equal parts Dick, Ballard, Jarmusch, and Escher. Next, give them a videocam, some NEA funding, and drop them in the New Mexico Desert for a few years. Hand over the tapes plucked from the hands of their desiccated skeletons to the Paintbox/Toaster production wizards at Entertainment Tonight, and allow them during the edit to insert items plucked at will from the Bettmann Archives, along with snippets of Edison's old kinetoscopes. Then slap on a soundtrack composed by the illegitimate child of Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson. If you went to all that trouble, you might end up with something as deadpan-surreal, as cerebrally whacked, as mystically trippy as David Blair's WAX. But then again, maybe not. So why take a chance, and waste all that effort, when you can go straight to the pure quill? Let's dispense with the film's storyline, at once the most and least interesting thing about WAX. WAX's narrative is not precisely non-linear, in the usual pre-postmodern sense. (It's more Lynch than Bunuel.) Except for standard-issue flashbacks, the action proceeds in a straightforward fashion. The protagonist, Jacob Maker- a defense industry programmer, played by Blair himself- begins to experience a sense of the layers behind conventional reality, specifically as relayed through messages from the bees he keeps, first by their buzzing then through a "bee television inserted through a hole they drilled in the side of my head." Propelled by these visions, he undertakes a strange odyssey in the New Mexico desert and the Carlsbad Caverns, experiencing a fusion of past, present, and future that eventually terminates in his death and resurrection. There is never any obfuscation of the actions or motivations or whereabouts of Maker, thanks to Blair's affectless voiceover narration which constitutes the entire spoken portion of the soundtrack and which keeps the viewer abreast of each new twist. Yet, despite the seeming coherence of the plot and the clarity of each individual sentence issuing from Maker's bee-stung brain, the ultimate effect on the viewer is like listening to a dopefiend recite a stew of Rimbaud, Poe, Van Vogt, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Blair's narrative is poetry, not prose. In the films' own terms, Maker speaks "the language of Cain, the language of the dead". WAX's "story" is an assemblage of tropes and metaphors- intimately matched to the visuals- which are best perceived and integrated by the viewer's subconscious. "Semi-intelligent weapons, attempting to escape the earth, become our UFO's." "White Sands... a great expanse of gypsum, the main ingredient in wallboard" "The bees rode on broken fragments of Time." "Astronomical instruments of planetary size." "The bees had become the dead of the future." "Now there was twice as much time on the television planet." If you try to impose your cortical logic on these sentences- all of which, natch, are astoundingly matched by the appropriate visuals, hard as that might me to imagine- then you are not going to appreciate WAX properly. Which is why I say the narrative- however poetically beautiful and apt and even dreamily consistent it may be- is not as important as the feast WAX presents for the eyes. The ratio of processed to unprocessed shots in WAX is at least fifty-fifty- and probably higher in favor of the special effects. This has got to be some kind of record in science fiction filmmaking, and Blair deserves top honors for his ingenuity and persistence (WAX took six years to finish.) Your monitor is blank except for the center portion, which holds a concave prism shape that is all human eye. A beehive unpeels like an Escher head, the strips twirling away like unfurling DNA in a cell. The landscape billows like a flag in the wind, then curls up into a tube down which you plummet. Runic characters dance singly, then form elaborate strings whose meaning you can almost grasp, before the strings themselves become a slippery chute. Mirror-image Jacob Makers advance towards each other on split screen, then cross the split, becoming four. Images from a flight simulator segue into footage from the war in Iraq. A car turns into the space shuttle. A bombsight-grid menacing frames domestic scenes. Computer- generated dancing planets give birth to pseudo-Egyptian winged skulls and heads on gunsight spikes. Flying tiles coalesce into the three-dimensional analog of a honeycomb hexagon, the bee-tv in Maker's brain. Atop this flow is laminated the intelligent and intriguing, by turns soothing and jarring, ambient score by Beo (Bee-O?) Morales and Brooks Williams, a crafty blend of dynamo hum, Jews- harp, sampler-distorted honky-tonk and muezzin wailing, and industrial clangor. If it's not issued soon as a standalone, someone's missing a bet. If you're in the mood for a unique fusion of "First Men in the Moon" and "Eraserhead", "Forbidden Planet" and "Down By Law", the you couldn't do better than to get WAXed! ====================================== SOUTH ATLANTIC QUARTERLY, from a review/interview to be published in Winter 1992, Larry McCaffery (editor of "Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Post-Modern Fiction", Duke University Press, 1991) Once viewers have recovered from the shock of having their minds expanded, warped, and otherwise bedazzled by the stunning visual pyrotechnics used throughout David Blair's remarkable new film "WAX, or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00), what's likely to leave a lasting impression is the haunting lyricism and emotional resonance of the narrative voice he's created here. Mixing together equal measures of Gibson's flashy techno-poetics, the understated anguish and humor found in Kubrick's HAL, and a kind of suggestive, poetic minimalism found in Beckett's tales of lost voices recounting and reinventing the nature of their existence, Blair's narrative voice here is somehow up to the task of rendering experiences lying so far outside of language (or buried so deep inside of it) that it would seem to be quite literally "unspeakable". Viewers being led through WAX's journey through the labyrinths of space and time, life and death, body and memory, annihilation and rebirth, are going to encounter images not soon forgotten. WAX, then, strikes me as a truly major accomplishment, intellectually rich, verbally inventive, visually stunning, and -- perhaps most remarkable of all --- as emotionally resonant as any film I've come across in recent years. Unless I miss my guess, Blair's mysterious Mesopotamian bees, along with the space-suited, bee-bonneted figure through whom these bees are able to transport the dead past into the living present, are going to be buzzing around the heads of audiences for years to come. ============================================ This is the long version of a review tentatively scheduled to run in the magazine "Cinefantastique" in Spring 1992) by Brooks Landon (author "The Aesthetics of Ambiguity: Science Fiction Film in the Age of (Re)Production" Greenwood Press) Forget about comparisons -- "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, 1991) is like no other film you've ever seen. Call it postmodern, postcyberpunk, postfuturist, postavantgarde, or postcinema, call it strange, weird, surrealistic, hallucinogenic, call it brilliant, enigmatic, cryptic, or just plain goofy, the point is this 85 minute celebration of the possibilities of "electronic cinema" may well indicate the future direction of SF film, if not of "film" itself. Indeed, to try to label WAX "post" anything is probably a mistake; more likely this highly technologized experimental work should be considered "pre" something -- pre- virtual reality theatre, pre virtual surreality, pre-image processing cinema, pre-whatever it is that comes next in electronic visual entertainment. This six year video project, co- produced by David Blair and the German Public Television Channel ZDF, and supported by numerous grants, is a pioneering example of what Blair called "independent electronic cinema," explaining that term covers "the use of all the techniques of computer and video graphics, in a strict narrative context, with the feature length form." And yet for all of its pioneering and experimental aspects, this is also a work with remarkable ties (some direct and intentional, some oblique and accidental) to the history of SF film. Premiered at a private screening in the Museum of Modern Art, NY, in September of 1991, and now touring the US and Canada as part of a seven film theatrical package entitled "The Festival of Grand Illusions", WAX tells one story having to do with beekeeping and war that is very hard to describe, while its making illustrates another story having to do with the emergence of what might be called "techno-narrative" which is actually far more important for us to understand. Insofar as its traditional narrative or dramatic semblance can be summarized, WAX: "is set in Alamogordo, NM (1983), where the main character, Jacob Maker, design gunsight displays at a flight simulation factory. [The description quoted by Landon is provided on the first page of this press kit] I've used the above plot description, supplied by Blair, because even after three viewing of WAX I can't offer a summary that makes half that much sense. And even Blair's description leaves out spirit cinematography, the Garden of Eden in Kansas where concrete creatures perch in trees, a brief history of the atomic bomb, and other noteworthy elements of the hyperactive plot. "Authentically peculiar. Like something from the network vaults of an alternate universe," is how Neuromancer author and seminal cyberpunk William Gibson describes this production, perfectly capturing its blend of familiarity and strangeness. While the narrative is more or less linear, it is also more or less a collage or cut-up, with the events proceeding in the smooth but impossible logic of a very realistic, but completely bizarre dream. I mention this out of admiration rather than out of frustration, however, since WAX derives its impact from its look and feel and experiential logic rather than from its discursive story. Like David Lynch's early films or David Cronenberg's most recent, WAX does not derive its power from any rational sequence of events. What WAX does do is to combine seemingly incongruous found archival footage, impressively sophisticated computer animation, and eerily banal location shots of Jacob Maker, always dressed in his white bee-keeping suit and hood, always reminding us more of Dave Bowman in 2001 or of men in radiation or toxic cleanup suits than of beekeepers. Then Blair and his production team, particularly Florence Ormezzano who provided striking computer graphics, process these images with state of the art post- production and non-linear editing, allowing them a degree of control over each shot, sequence, and scene never before achieved in a low budget feature and probably rivalled by only a very few mega budget productions. The resulting roller-coaster ride of heavily processed images has the formal coherence, slickness, and visual wallop of a big budget music video --- that lasts for 85 minutes. Unlike most hyperedited music videos, however, WAX displays the textual density, a clear sense of layers of meaning and multiple formal and thematic connections, that we expect in complex art. This sense of coherence is further unified by a completely computer-based musical soundtrack by Beo Morales and Brooks Williams and is nailed down by Blair's calmly loopy voice-over narrative, delivered with the genial earnestness of a chainsaw murderer's confession. Taking a clear trend in commercial SF film to its inevitable conclusion, WAX actually discovers its narrative in special effects technology, finding new images in the electronic processing of older ones, its story turning in new directions supplied by image processing capability. In this sense, production technology drives its narrative, yielding the strangely disconnected but somehow inevitably "right" effect that William Burroughs achieves in writing through cut-ups and fold- ins. Rather than trying to come up with some traditional story that would allow him to make sense of new special effects (as was clearly the case in TERMINATOR 2 or LAWNMOWER MAN), Blair has tried to discover the story inherent in the technology he employs. Rather than limiting himself to a set number of special effects shots, Blair has created an entire feature that can and almost must be seen as consisting entirely of electronic effects. Striking examples of this kind of total image control can be seen currently in numerous short computer animation pieces such the "boid/fish love story," STANLEY AND STELLA, or PIXAR'S award winning TIN TOY, but WAX both sustains its digital narrative for the length of a feature film, and, more important, focuses that narrative on a vital social issue. Cut through the grotesque and fantastic turns of this story, boil down it manic manipulation of images, and what WAX seems finally to deliver is a haunting critique of the simulation technology and image manipulation that made the Gulf War seem t first like such good clean fun --- our first Nintendo War. Whether by accident or by design, both Blair's story in WAX -- the quest of Jacob Maker -- and the clear story of WAX as a hyper-technologized production support French theorist Paul Virilio's thesis in War and Cinema. Virilio argues that developments in military technology have always been driven by the dream of being able to destroy what can be seen. Consequently, military history marks a sequence of discoveries in new ways of seeing, a sequence that Virilio claims so intertwines with the new ways of seeing in cinema that it is literally the case that "war is cinema and cinema is war". The "discovery of television among the bees" is such a way of seeing for Jacob Maker, and through a series of transformations (digital metempsychosis) Maker becomes a destroyer, as he metamorphoses into a "smart" bomb used to destroy an Iraqi tank during the Gulf War. Although he fears that he doesn't really understand the implications of his job programming simulation gunsight displays, Jacob realizes that "To hit a simulated target was to prepare murder against a real target". Similarly, WAX focuses our thinking on "smart" bombs that let us see targets at the moment of impact, on computer simulations that allow us to destroy their "real world" referents, on virtual reality technology that allows us to extend warfare into cyberspace just as surely as we are determined to extend it into outer space. The "X" at the end of WAX is a powerful icon that appears in many forms throughout this feature, most notably as the mark in Cain's forehead and the crosshairs on gunsights everywhere. The Gulf War seems the inevitable conclusion that Blair must have been working toward for the six years he took to make WAX. Yet the origins for this feature seem quite distant for its powerful ending. Blair explains that idea for WAX actually had its roots in his early watching of bad SF movies like IT CONQUERED THE WORLD and its remake, ZONTAR THE THING FROM VENUS, although his production will almost certainly strike knowledgeable audiences as having more to do with the killer B's of postmodernism -- Burroughs, Ballard, and Baudrillard --- than with the killer bees, invading bee-girls, and giant bugs of traditional SF film. Fascinated by the strangely disconnected narratives, the "clarity and confusion" of bad SF films, films he found "understandable and complicated at the same time," Blair wanted to capture in WAX the odd effect of watching these films. Accordingly, on of his goals was to fuse "narrative, sound, and image to concretely describe a virtual world, and at the same time hypnogenetically induce a strong sense of hallucination." That he does... and then some! Although Blair notes that he didn't necessarily plan for WAX to be science fiction, that genre seemed to offer him the clearest expression of the fantastic in literature, and he was further attracted to a technologically focused medium for his technological subject. He thinks of the finished product as science fiction, with obvious ties to cyberpunk, but also with an emphasis on the grotesque. Insightful and enthusiastic reviews by SF writers Richard Kadrey in Mondo 2000 and Paul DiFilippo in Science Fiction Eye suggest that Blair has indeed caught the interest of the SF world. He deserves it, since the example of WAX goes straight to the heart of the current relationship between SF film and SF literature -- between science fiction thinking and science fiction seeing. Blair's innovative electronic production serves as a stark reminder of the extent to which traditional SF film has become something of a museum piece, a historical genre like the western that recycles its past much more than it even attempts to extrapolate the future. Electronic cinema offers SF a future in which the media brings about the realization of science fiction thinking rather than just the representation of SF narratives. Blair's work in progress is, inevitably, another SF piece, this time an alternate history of Israel relocated to Manchuria, so it seems likely that the impact of his vision will continue to grow in SF circles. =========================================== QUOTATIONS William Gibson (author, Neuromancer, Count Zero) on WAX: "Winningly strange video narrative from a singular talent. Authentically peculiar. Like something from the network vaults of an alternate universe." Larry McCaffery (editor, "Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook on Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction", Duke University Press): "WAX strikes me as a truly major accomplishment, intellectually rich, verbally inventive, visually stunning, and -- perhaps most remarkable of all -- as emotionally resonant as any film I've come across in recent years." Brooks Landon (author, "Aesthetics of Ambivilence: Rethinking SF Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production", Greenwood Press) "WAX is like no movie you have ever seen. Call it postmodern, postcyberpunk... or post cinema, the point is this 85 minute celebration of the possibilities of "electronic cinema" may well indicate the future direction of SF film, if not "film" itself. William T. Vollman (author, "You Bright and Risen Angels", "The Iceshirt", "The Rainbow Stories", all Penguin/Viking Press) "One of the successful cerebral films I've ever seen ... I admire your dark and paranoid visions in all their intergalactic complexity." Timothy Leary "WAX is a treat for the eyeballs, a delight for the receptor sites, a brilliant illumination for our left brains and our right brains!" David Byrne "To whom it may concern: Here's a film/video that came my way recently, called "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees". Given the title, I wasn't sure what to expect, but was pleasantly hooked after the first few minutes. As has been said before by others, "IT's like nothing else I've ever seen". In this case, the statement is true. Here's a piece that defines easy categorization, yet seems to make perfect sense, given its own peculiar brand of logic. It's logic from a world that is strangely similar to our own, a parallel universe on our own planet. It's a world that is wonderful, strange, and awe- inspiring to inhabit. A place where the past, the present, and the future interpenetrate one another in organic ways that feel almost like a new kind of sex. Erotic irrational logic. I hope you'll give it a look. Or pass it on to someone else who will give it a look. i have no financial interest in the piece. I only know that a piece like this might have trouble, as it doesn't fit established categories. It's not a conventional Art film, or a regular Science Fiction film, or an Independent film, or an Experimental film. It's all of the above. FILM REVIEWS Now Magazine, Toronto, 1.23.92 (Cameron Bailey) "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is without doubt one of the most technically impressive films of the year. That it also works as a movie is one of its loopy bonuses... Accomplished with a complex rush of electronically altered images, and reminiscent of everything from the Winnipeg Film Group to Kurt Vonnegut, this is a masterpiece of virtual surreality. Eyeopener, Toronto, 1.23.92 If you've been waiting to explore modern Hades through state-of- the-art video technology, "WAX..." is the film for you. Vancouver International Film Festival (1991 Catalogue) Undoubtedly the most unusual entry we received this year was "WAX...", a compellingly original, complex, high-tech independent feature from first time director David Blair... Much of the computer-generated visuals are carried to astonishing extremes and yet the director also displays an elegant sense of the photographic image, and of cinema. VIDEO REVIEWS Sydney Morning Herald, 11.14.92 (John Conomos) how does one describe adequately David Blair's truly astonishing video "WAX" in a couple of sentences? This inspired, paranoic narrative of a beekeeper whose special bees push him into a hallucinatory hell conveys, in its' intertextuality and deadpan humor, a work that is already becoming one of the cult sleepers of the 90's. Village Voice 4.1.92, CRITIC'S CHOICE (Amy Taubin) David Blair's sci-factoid video feature "WAX..." criss-crosses the 20th century (and several continents), churning up uncanny relationships between science and politics, biology and electronics. With its rival paranoid geniuses, fin-de-siecle anxiety, and rampant image processing, "WAX..." suggests what some of Peter Greenaway's early films would be like if he remade them on video. But more than that, Blair is one of the most eccentric talents around. Chicago Reader 1.16.92, CRITIC'S CHOICE (Jonathan Rosenbaum) A fascinating... feature length narrative video by David Blair with remarkable computer graphics and other special effects... the constant visual flux often suggests a graphic novel translated into MTV. Southtown Economist, Chicago, 1.17.92 Those with an attraction to the strange will find everything they could possibly want in "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" ... a decidedly different choice of video entertainment that seriously challenges the viewer with its technical innovations and outright weirdness. TELEVISION REVIEWS Taz, Berlin, 10.23.91 As if Steven Spielberg and Nam June Paik had collaborated on an episode of "Nature"... A story about enigmatic, Mesopotamian bees, state of the art weapons, wandering souls, and strange planets... as fascinating as it was bizarre... An original virtuosity... Frankfurter Rundschan 10.23.91 ... contained sharp reflections on the fascination for a war that appeared clean to the world, because images were manipulated. Beyond that, it sheds light on the alienation of an "image-addicted' world in which everything can be shown and therefore everything seems possible. Sudkurier Konstanz 10.23.91 Samuel Beckett is alive; he denied nihilism and started working as a video artist. To comfort his followers: his style is still absurd. In his radical work-of-art, David Blair explores the limits of existence and the growth of images. ======================================================= NET REVIEWS sfraves list: copyright Bob Carasik David Blair's video "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" was the best movie I've seen in a long time. Many thanks to whoever posted it on the list and whoever first posted it to alt.cyberpunk or wherever I first read of it. WAX is a multi-layered narrative of the crackup of a Los Alamos computer scientist who grapples with the realization that his work on "virtual reality" pilot training software is ultimately intended (need we ask for killing people. He drops away from his spouse and his job and becomes obsessed with the video images implanted in his head by the bees that he keeps out back. Turns out the beekeeping dates from his grandpa who made a fortune in Britain by importing tough hardy bees from basra (Mesopotamia), just as a plague wiped out a lot of native bees. Gramps gets a partner from the Near East (as the Brits still call it), partner marries his sister, they all emigrate to Kansas. Sis develops a machine for reading auras, involving psychic energy from the bees. Oh, and did I mention that grampa made a pioneering photographic mission expedition to Antarctica in 1914, before the bee-plague. So the family plot is about exploration of technology. There's some awkward, even fatal moments for some. There's not much mention of the intervening generation which begat Our Hero, but somebody had to have survived, nay, prospered. yet our man is haunted by the murderous uses of his VR pilot training program.. gorgeous stock footage here, to *die* for. haunted by the bees, and their polygonal crystalline intelligence that he understands Too Well. Driven to Ground Zero, where the first nuclear blast initiated the age of Anticipated Genocide, brighter than a thousand bad science fiction books. The video will probably get fame'n'fortune from the superb, even lavish effects, the three-dimensional tilings, the VR, the subliminal soundtrack will get tons of ink from some people, but only mgs from me. Cuz the great thing about this movie was the exploration of one person's character, which requires the exploration/exhibition of the great whizzy stuff. Great whizzy computer graphics bores this lad to tears after 10 minutes (10 seconds for Claymation). But this work gave me synesthetic skin effex, and I hadn't even had any coffee beans to eat. Why! Why I *cared*, that's why! Three characters. No breasts. Ten thousand maniacal bees. Three continents. Four life-threatening technologies. One or more mysterious murders. Four Stars. ======================================================= rec.arts.sf.movies: WAX, OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES A film review by Caleb J. Howard Copyright 1992 Caleb J. Howard Hi there. I just thought I'd share a small thing. Last night I saw a movie by the above title at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto as a part of the Festival of Grand Illusions. The film is 85 minutes, produced by Independent Electronic Cinema, and consists of a powerful mixture of computer imagery, military footage of weapons guidance systems, state of the art video post-production techniques, and a *lot* of Babylonian subterranean bees. I'll use the terms I'm familiar with to describe the movie as it appealed to me, because that's my option. The plot of the film traced the karmic journey of the protagonist, a designer of targeting sights on flight simulators and beekeeper, through his links backward through time to his grandfather, and forward through time to his destiny. The concept of time was illustrated as fluid and malleable at the spiritual level. The use of video processing and computer techniques to smoothly move the viewer from the spiritual perspective of the protagonist to the perspective of a huge hive of bees to the perspective of the dead souls held on reels of magnetic tape that contain the landscape data of the flight simulators. This is intended to convey the flavour of the film rather than as an in-depth review, so I will leave it as such. Concepts of interest to me especially well illustrated in the movie include the state of consciousness of the hive of bees taken as a whole and how this state of mind reflects the global state of mind of humanity and all life taken as a whole. Also well illustrated are the interactions of mind, television, reality and virtual reality. Especially neat was the exploration of the state of mind of a semi-intelligent guidance computer in the nose of a tank-killer missile in the Gulf War. As far as I'm concerned, the movie is absolutely inspired, and is a precursor to the future of media events. I was consumed by the imagery and enlightened by the vision of the film and the mastery with which it was executed. I also felt at the end of the film that perhaps a half a dozen others in the theatre were similarly enthusiastic, and that the majority were left completely cold. Several people left the theatre during the film (one man was really angry at having wasted his money on the film). At the end, there were only about six or seven of us applauding, and the rest were looking at us, puzzled. I thought it was great, but would only recommend it to people with an appetite for the surreal and the symbolic. Has anyone else seen it? -caleb ================================================================= rec.arts.sf.movies: WAX, OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES A film review by Thomas E. Billings Copyright 1992 Thomas E. Billings Synopsis: A computer programmer and part-time beekeeper who lives in Alamogordo, New Mexico is introduced to an alternative, electronic reality by his bees. The bees are really the souls of the future dead, and communicate with the beekeeper via "bee television", projected telepathic images. An inventive and innovative video that includes striking computer graphics and special video effects. Although the effects are repetitive at times, the video should appeal to those with an interest in computer graphics. However, it's probably too weird for a general audience. U.S.A., video, color, 1991, 85 minutes. Director/Writer: David Blair. The video begins with the story of Jacob "Hive" Maker, who went to Mesopotamia (Iraq) early in this century, and brought "Mesopotamian" bees to England. Later he moved to the U.S., and brought along his bees. The story then jumps to the present, with Jacob Maker's grandson living and working in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The grandson is a computer programmer, working on flight weapons simulators. He is currently working on a helicopter simulator for the U.S. Army. In his spare time the grandson, also named Jacob Maker, takes care of a number of hives of Mesopotamian bees, descendants of the bees his grandfather brought back from Iraq. He is mesmerized by the bees. Slowly they open a communications link, "bee television", to their world, which is another dimension, an alternate electronic reality. Set against a backdrop of missile shots and (beautiful!) computer graphics from a flight simulator, the bees explain that weapons have souls too. Eventually the bees lead Jacob to a secret cave, under the Trinity Atom Bomb test site in New Mexico. To the physical eye, it is just a cave. But for the bees, it is a major center of their alternate dimension or reality. The story continues as Jacob seeks to accomplish the task the bees have assigned him.... The plot outline above is only a brief simplification; the complete plot is rather more complicated. The story frequently shifts from past to present to future, from physical reality to the electronic reality of the bees, and back again. Despite the frequent shifts, the story unfolds smoothly. I found the video to be enjoyable and interesting, and particularly appreciated the extensive use of computer graphics and special effects. The graphics are not as flashy as in TERMINATOR 2, but they are interesting anyway. Some of the special video effects are used to excess, but this does not detract from the video too much. Some viewers may be overcome by the total weirdness of the video. However, it is not a campy weirdness, and appears to be integral to the story line. The frequent time shifts may bother a few viewers, particularly the shifts into the past, the relevancy of which is not fully realized until the latter part of the video. I would recommend the video to people interested in computer graphics and video art. May also be of interest to some fans of science fiction and fantasy. Not recommended for a general audience. ================================================ EXHIBITION RELEASE FOR: "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00) PRIZES: "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" was awarded the Grand Prize (shared) at the 6th Montbeliard International Video Festival. BROADCAST: "WAX..." was created in co-production with ZDF, the second channel of German Public Television. The project had its broadcast premiere 10.21.91, as part of the national broadcast of the weekly program "Das Kleine Fernsehspiel". THEATRICAL (FILM): "WAX..." will tour Canada and the United States in 1992/3. The film opened 1.92 at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto. Bookings in the US began with a 2 week stand-alone run at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre in New York that garnered rave reviews (8.92). Beginning in the summer of 1992, "WAX" will also tour the UK, playing at repertory cinemas as part of a package organized by the Film and Video Umbrella. The tour will open with "WAX" playing for 1 week in August in the Cinematheque at the ICA, London. SCREENINGS: FILM: Bloor Cinema, Toronto, Canada (1.92) Metro Cinema, Edmonton, Canada (3.92) Donnell Library Media Center, New York (4.92) Regina Public Library, Canada (4.92) Montreal Cinematheque, Canada (5.92) Public Theatre, NY (8.92) ICA, London (8.92) Kunstmuseum, Bern (9.92) University Film Society, Minneapolis (10.92) Cleveland Cinematheque (11.92) Arizona Center for the Media Arts, Tucson, AZ (12.92) Scala, London (12.92) Roxie Cinema, San Francisco (1.93) VIDEO: Facets Video Theatre, Chicago (1.17-19, six screenings) Pacific Film Archives, Berkeley (2.20) LACE, Los Angeles (7.92) Stanford Computer Systems Lab Colloquium (EE380, available on SITN) Cyberfest at New Langton Arts, San Francisco (11.92) FNAC, Caen, France (12.92) X-Works, Paris, France (12.92) FESTIVAL: "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" has screened at the following festivals: FILM: Vancouver International Film Festival, Canada Victoria International Film Festival, Canada Santa Fe Film Expo, New Mexico Figueroa da Foz, Portugal Hawaii Int'l Film Festival, Hawaii VIDEO: European Media Arts Festival, Osnabruck, Germany Montreal Intl. Festival of New Cinema and Video The Geneva International Video Festival American Film Institute Video Festival, Los Angeles Berlin International Video Festival New Visions, Glasgow World Wide Video Festival, The Hague FIFOM Computer Film Festival, Montreal MuuMedia Video Festival, Helsinki Atlanta Film and Video Festival Mediawave '92, Hungary Montbeliard Video Festival, France (Grand Prize) TISEA (Third International Seminar on Electronic Arts), Sydney Experimenta, Melbourne, Australia The world premiere of "WAX..." took place at a private screening in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, on September 19th, 1991. ======================================== TECHNICAL PROFILE: "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00, mono) copyright: Blair, 1991 "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" demonstrates the narrative and visual forms that are emerging as the wide availability of new technologies make possible an independent "electronic cinema". Though the specific combination of story, production work, post-production work, and sound design that make up "Wax..." are unique, there is no doubt that the increased availability of the technologies used in this project will lead to the creation of new ways of making feature- length narrative, at which time "Wax..." will become an example of a type, rather than an idiosyncratic phenomena. ELECTRONIC PRODUCTION: High quality video production is already an established fact. As has often been noted, the ability to shoot cheaply allows a director the ability to sketch out story ideas, even under the pressures of location production. Over fifty hours of location material were recorded for "Wax...". There were three production periods, totalling twenty days, spread over three years. The location work included travel to the a sculpture garden in central Kansas, and to a wide variety of locations in Southwestern New Mexico, including such restricted areas as the White Sands Missile Range, and the Carlsbad Caverns. The ease of video duplication aided in stock footage collection. In addition, small format video allowed the collection of archive footage during travel. ELECTRONIC POST-PRODUCTION: NON-LINEAR EDITING The mass of material collected during video production and created during video and computer effects work (see below) is difficult to organize and edit. This bottle-neck was overcome by the extensive use of non-linear editing during off-line. "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is the first long- form independent production to fully exploit the capacities of this new technology. Organization of production material began early on at Film/Video Arts, a non-profit media access center in NYC, where simple 3/4" editing equipment was used. This work was shifted home when, in the course of the production, inexpensive home editing equipment became available. A thermal video printer allowed simple sorting and cataloguing of shots. After the final shoot, all organized material was input to a Montage non-linear editing system, where the real work of off- line editing began. More than 1800 hours were spent on this system. Non-linear editing allows an editor to instantly rearrange, trim or lengthen all shots within a sequence, while previewing simple opticals. On such a system, a director can work at the levels of shot, sequence, and scene simultaneously, allowing both the complete exploitation of large amounts of production material, and the opportunity for associative patterning at all levels. Off-line editing acquires both the speed and creative flexibility of writing. "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is a clear example of this new functionality. ELECTRONIC POST-PRODUCTION: VIDEO GRAPHICS/COMPUTER GRAPHICS As is already obvious in short-form work such as the television commercial and music video, the combination of electronic post- production with computer graphics allows a director both complete control over production material, and the ability to integrate this footage with completely synthetic material, in an artificial graphic space. "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is the first independent production to harness these technologies for fiction-feature storytelling. Effects production began simultaneous with the initial production and editing work. More than forty hours of processed material were recorded, using a wide variety of image processing and image synthesis techniques. These ranged from frame-based PC work, both 2-D and 3-D, to the real-time work, initially executed on analog voltage-control systems at the Experimental Television Center in Owego, N.Y. Of special interest is the fact that a simple Amiga-based system was used to create over 90 minutes of 3-D animated elements. In the final tape, there are several long sequences of narrative 3-D animation, totalling almost ten minutes. Both the PC work, analog work, and the majority of the production material were fed through a real-time 2-D/3-D joy- stick controlled, key-frame based device called Impact, from Microtime. The machine was loaned to the production by the manufacturer for 24 days, and installed at Film/Video Arts, NY. The extraordinary plastic qualities of this easily programmed device provided, within the shot, the same compositional flexibility that the non-linear editing system provided across shots. ELECTRONIC POST-PRODUCTION: MUSIC At the completion of editing, the finished picture was given to the composers, devoid of any production or stock sound. All eighty-five minutes of sound were created from scratch by the pair, using samplers and other computer-based instruments at their PC-automated audio-for-video studio. The inexpensive, yet powerful, technologies of contemporary music allow the independent composer/sound designer to create long-form works with a speed and sophistication previously not possible. INDEPENDENT "ELECTRONIC CINEMA" At the current time, "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is an unusual, perhaps idiosyncratic project, in the style, content, and length of its' narrative, and in its' visual composition. However, these elements have proceeded in unity with, and in many cases have been born from, the technical aspects of its construction. It should be noted that, as the 1990's progress, real-time 2-D and 3-D image processing and synthesis will become available in affordable desktop computers. Inexpensive non-linear, PC-based editing systems will replace cassette-based, mechanical systems. These new technologies, combined with the already established practices of video production and PC-based electronic music, will be the material basis for a new "electronic cinema". As a wide range of producers gain the ability to investigate this possibility, what is unusual here may become common. Distribution for "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" is planned both on tape and on film. ============================================= UPCOMING SCREENINGS Jan. 1-7 Roxie, San Francisco Sat, Sun: 2,4,6,8,10 / Mon-Thur 6,8,10 (except no show Wed. at 8) (on film) Jan. 8.9 UC, Berkeley Friday: 5,7,9,11 / Sat: 1,3,5,7,9 Jan. 14, Jan. 21 Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio time ? (video projection... one of the best in the country) Jan. 15 Media Lab, MIT closed screening (but not sure) (video projection; maker present) Jan. 21 Knitting Factory, New York 7:30 pm (Knot Room) (video; maker present) Jan. 27, 28 Watershed Cinema, Bristol, UK (film) Feb. 6th Cornell Cinema, on campus of Cornell University part of the VR-film weekend (film) Feb. 11, 12 Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK (film) week of Feb. 16th Filmhouse, Edinburgh, UK sometime that week (film) Feb. 24-28th Brown University, Providence, RI as part of Vanguard Festival, mainly experimental, cyberpunk, and hypertext writers, with some visual artists. Attendees include Kathy Acker, Mark Leyner, Larry McCaffery, and about 30 others. Sponsored by the English Department (Robert Coover). If you're in Providence, check it out! (film; maker present) March 4-7 Hillus Intermediale Projektforschung, Vienna, Austria as part of an Austrian symposium called "On-Line"; no more info available at this moment (video; maker present) March 26th Saratoga Springs Public Library evening (video; maker present) Proposed for this period are a number of dates- not firmly fixed yet. These are: early March STUC, Leuven, Belgium (film; maker present) mid-March Upstate Cinema, Rhinebeck, NY (film; maker present) late-March The Movies, Portland, Maine (film) April (?) UNM, Albuquerque (film) May (?) Clinton St. Theatre, Portland, Oregon (film) Film openings in Boston, Chicago, Washington are also possible (in case you're curious why you're not listed). A Japanese-language film version will open in Tokyo in the early summer. Thanks for your attention. If you think of a good venue, let me know! ============================================ CASSETTES I am selling a limited edition of 500, signed and numbered, to help pay off the post production and distribution expenses. They are $36 postpaid. My address is David Blair P.O. Box 174, Cooper Station New York, NY 10276 in the UK, PAL versions, within this numbered sequence, are available for 22 pounds (postpaid) from: NSFA c/o Chris Reed BBR PO Box 625 Sheffield S13GY, UK =================================== CONTACT: David Blair P.O. Box 174, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276 artist1@rdrc.rpi.edu PLEASE FEEL FREE TO REPOST (1.3.93)

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