PLEASE FEEL FREE TO REPOST (if you are curious about the cassette, check the end of the te
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO REPOST
(if you are curious about the cassette,
check the end of the text)
DESCRIPTIVE PACKAGE FOR :
"WAX or the discovery of television among the bees"
(85:00, mono) (copyright 1991: Blair)
Description of WAX
Quotes and review capsules
Reviews from the net
Screening dates / cassette availability
P.O. Box 174, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"WAX is a treat for the eyeballs, a delight for the receptor
sites, a brilliant illumination for our left brains and our right
"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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
Ten thousand maniacal bees.
Four life-threatening technologies.
One or more mysterious murders.
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
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?
WAX, OR THE DISCOVERY OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES
A film review by Thomas E. Billings
Copyright 1992 Thomas E. Billings
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
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
EXHIBITION RELEASE FOR:
"WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" (85:00)
"WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" was awarded
the Grand Prize (shared) at the 6th Montbeliard International
"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".
"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,
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)
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)
"WAX or the discovery of television among the bees" has screened
at the following festivals:
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
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.
"WAX or the discovery of television among the bees"
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Roxie, San Francisco
Sat, Sun: 2,4,6,8,10 / Mon-Thur 6,8,10 (except no show Wed. at 8)
Friday: 5,7,9,11 / Sat: 1,3,5,7,9
Jan. 14, Jan. 21
Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio
(video projection... one of the best in the country)
Media Lab, MIT
closed screening (but not sure)
(video projection; maker present)
Knitting Factory, New York
7:30 pm (Knot Room)
(video; maker present)
Jan. 27, 28
Watershed Cinema, Bristol, UK
Cornell Cinema, on campus of Cornell University
part of the VR-film weekend
Feb. 11, 12
Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK
week of Feb. 16th
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, UK
sometime that week
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)
Hillus Intermediale Projektforschung, Vienna, Austria
as part of an Austrian symposium called "On-Line"; no more info
available at this moment
(video; maker present)
Saratoga Springs Public Library
(video; maker present)
Proposed for this period are a number of dates- not firmly fixed
yet. These are:
STUC, Leuven, Belgium
(film; maker present)
Upstate Cinema, Rhinebeck, NY
(film; maker present)
The Movies, Portland, Maine
Clinton St. Theatre, Portland, Oregon
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
Thanks for your attention. If you think of a good venue, let me
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
P.O. Box 174,
New York, NY 10276
in the UK, PAL versions, within this numbered sequence, are
available for 22 pounds (postpaid) from:
c/o Chris Reed
PO Box 625
Sheffield S13GY, UK
P.O. Box 174, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276
PLEASE FEEL FREE TO REPOST (1.3.93)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank