Vol. 2, Issue #23 December 7th - December 20th, 2007

DVD Review:
Nam June Paik: Lessons from the Video Master (Facets)
By: Wilhelm Murg

Nam June Paik was one of those larger than life figures in the late 20th century avant-garde; Paik was to video art what John Cage was to music, or what Christo is to covered landscapes. Paik didn’t invent video art, but redefined in such a way that his concepts will be at the root of the art form for decades, if not centuries, to come.

That said, this new video by “Skip Blumberg and 63 collaborators” is a major letdown. Rather than make a documentary on Paik’s work, or even just collecting some of them, Blumberg went to Paik’s funeral and the reception and asked Paik’s friends, a who’s who of experimental video and film, to say a few words about him. Though from time to time there is a reference to a specific work that appears in the corner of the screen, for the most part this looks like something your obnoxious uncle would make at a wedding. Blumberg gets a few seconds from each of the greats, including Yoko Ono and Merce Cunningham, but when each person is asked what they learned from Paik, none of them are able to put their finger on what it was exactly.

The “highlight,” for lack of a better word, is Yoko’s tribute to Nam June, but it’s a variation on an old piece she did on “The Mike Douglas Show” in the early ‘70s; she shattered (off camera) a vase and had each person there take a piece so they can remember Nam June (on “Mike Douglas” she broke a tea cup and pasted it back together, one piece each day, for world peace).

Is it video art? Yes, but when you realize that Nam June not only predicted contemporary technology, but helped to usher it in, then so are a million other things one can find on YouTube. What Blumberg has yet to understand is that Paik’s video was art, but it was also interesting and evoked debate, often in the viewer’s own head. Here the debate is more like “why am I watching this?” We get long shots of Nam June in his coffin, and the whole time I kept feeling like this is the last way such an artist, who celebrated life, would want to be remembered. The disc is an absolute waste of time.

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©2007 NONCO Media, L.L.C.