Final Searcher Blog – Wenxin Yan


This is the official music video (shot on Jan.26.2002) of the song Sleep Now In The Fire (from 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles) by Rage Against the Machine.

Although this looks different from what we have studied, I still want to write about this, not only because I see it as an experimental short film, but also because the shooting process itself is an experiment.

Michael Moore, the famous documentary filmmaker, and political activist collaborated with the band to make this music video by asking the band to perform in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Before the shoot, Moore got the permission to use steps of Federal Hall National Memorial, but did not have permit to shoot the streets, or creating loud noise. In the video, we can see Michael Moore taken away by the police, but he did not let the camera stop rolling. Indeed, he told the band to continue playing no matter what happens.

After learning about the transition from film to digital, I started to think about the content of this music video as a product of digitalization. First of all, Rudy Giuliani’s smiling face was playing and rewinding on repeat, reminding me of Ballet Mécanique (1924). It is surprising to see that experimental expression like repetition still being applied after 80 years. The mass entertainment and TV element reminds me of Nam Jun Paik’s Global Groove (1973). Of course, after 27 years, we are all aware of the rapid development of technology which brings the world together, but different in its ideology, this music video is displaying mass ignorance and the influence of capitalism (in USA). For example, the constant footages from Who Wants to Be Filthy F#&%ing Rich? (The parody of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) intertwined with the band’s performance imposing on backgrounds like gigantic green US dollars, nuclear explosion, and TV commercials (mostly capitalist items). The experimental expression in the film is very simple, but the symbolization is successful and powerful, like when Zack sings in front of puppet faces of Al Gore, George W. Buch, and John McCain.

Gary Bauer’s voice appeared at last, “A band called The Machine Rages On… er… Rage Against the Machine, that band is anti-family and is pro-terrorist.” Note here, Bauer was once appointed by Trump to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and a person holding a board that supports Trump as president appeared in the music video. Nobody would have thought that would come true after 20 years. Going back to the point we have discussed in class about if a film can make people act, my answer is not sure, but they certainly have the potential. In this video, the riot of people storming into the hall happened during the film shoot.

And who would have thought Limp Bizkit’s music video of Break Stuff won that year, instead of this one… I seriously, seriously, DO NOT understand how that happened.


This is the more recent video. It is the official music video of Depeche Mode’s song My Favorite Stranger, in their latest album Memento Mori (2023).

I have a fascination with music videos. Most rock band music videos seem very experimental to me. I picked this one because this looks exactly like what I wanted to film. Just a black and white visually great cool guy/woman walking in places that you cannot tell if it is modern or not. I forgot to mention that my first homework film was also inspired by this video.

The cinematography creates a clear contrast in this black and white world. The black outfit, especially hat, symbolizes mystery. The stranger looks like to be pissing on a tree, but after the stranger moves away, what we see are blood stains. The picture is black and white, so you cannot tell what the liquid really is. However, you just know it is blood.

Throughout the video, the stranger walks in slow motion, so the high quality camera captures every little detail of the cool walking style and the movement of the long coat, creating a dream-like quality that resembles Maya Deren’s works. What makes the scene even more like a dream is the fact that the stranger walks along forest and streets (a contrast between primitive and modern) that not a single person can be seen. It seems like the whole world is muted and dead, and the stranger is the only one alive.

At one point, the stranger stops in front of a shopping window to see self-reflection. Not only the clear window, but also multiple vintage television sets on display reflect the figure. Like the lyrics say, the perfect stranger might just be ourselves. The figure in the video is a reality encapsulation of the dark side of our personality that we never reveal in real life.

In the end, we finally get a good frontal look at the stranger’s face, and guess what? The mustache is fake. This is an androgynous figure.

Week 12: Searcher Post

When I first watched Vertical Roll (Jonas, 1972), I struggled to understand quite what Joan Jonas was presenting us with. The disjointed, scrolling shots of Jonas’ body broken up by black bars and accompanied by audio of the repeated clanging of a spoon made for a challenging viewing experience. The constant fragmentation of her body within the video frame made me consider the idea of the fragmentation of one’s identity (possibly in relation to the medium of video?). Then, in the final minute, Jonas’ head enters the frame in front of the video screen, and she stares at the camera. While this conclusion might point to the liberation or unity of Jonas’ identity/body outside the screen or serve as a confrontation of the viewer, I failed to fully grasp the meanings of the film. I still don’t have a complete understanding of Vertical Roll, but this 2020 interview with Jonas provides fascinating context to her work and her fictional screen character of Organic Honey. The interview was conducted by Kristin Poor, Barbara Clausen, and Tracy Robinson from the Joan Jonas Knowledge Base. 

One of the first topics Jonas discusses in the interview is the relationship between film and video. She states her fascination with the connection between the vertical roll on TV sets and the frames of film scrolling by. This fascination is incredibly apparent in Vertical Roll, as it essentially serves as the broad structure of the entire film. Another interesting section of the interview is Jonas’ discussion of how her performances/work was influenced by a video shoot of Marilyn Monroe. Joan explains that she read something about someone watching Marilyn Monroe being recorded by a camera pointed at her, while the viewer watched Marilyn from the side. The viewer was interested in the difference between the camera’s view of Marilyn versus his view of her. This story about the differing views/perspectives of someone influenced Jonas’ performances and the concept of being watched by an audience. Lastly, I was fascinated by Jonas’ discussion of the use of mirrors in her work. I didn’t realize when watching Vertical Roll that the opening shot of a spoon striking an image of Jonas’ face utilized a mirror. While the artist didn’t reveal any of the meanings behind the use of mirrors, it was fascinating to learn about the prevalence of different kinds of mirrors in her performances. Furthermore, it made me consider possible themes of the film relating to the mirror, such as trying to escape one’s self-image or serving as a further fragmentation/distancing of the subject from the viewer.

Week 12: Viewer Response

My experience of viewing Vertical Roll (Joan Jonas, 1972) was certainly a complicated one. The persistent sound of metal tapping, spanning a daunting 18 minutes, not only constantly diverted my attention from the visual but also stirred a sense of irritation in my mind. Jonas’s use of this sound, as I interpret it, follows a similar approach to Buñuel’s famous eye-slicing scene in Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel & Dali, 1929). It presents a challenge and even a taunt to the audience while implicitly underscoring that the work is not designed solely for entertainment. As the film commences, we observe images of a woman emerging in the vertical direction, coming closer and then away from the screen. This design not only echoes the film’s title but, more significantly, emulates the operation of a film projector. Given the era when the work was created, it is reasonable to deduce that Jonas intentionally made this choice to illustrate that video art, as an emerging art form, held a broader potential compared to film as it could produce a similar outcome with greater ease. Another piece of evidence supporting this notion is that each segment of the sections in which the motion of the feet and legs of the woman is captured is a dynamic video sequence rather than a static photo as in traditional film projection. Therefore, the audience is offered a series of moving videos instead of images.

As the film proceeds to its end, a woman enters the screen, disregarding and disrupting the projection-like framework. Slowly, she turns her face to look directly at the audience which shatters the fourth wall. After maintaining this gaze for a while, she slowly departs from the screen along with the vertical motion of the background frame. This design distinctly ends the resemblance between this video and a traditional film projection, serving as a vivid reminder to the audience that they are engaging with a completely new medium that can offer diverse presentation forms.

My questions for this work are:

  • First and foremost, what is this video about? Is the woman who appears at the end the same individual as the subject of the video?
  • How can we interpret the breaking of the fourth wall in the final scene?

Week 12 Reader Blog


The Aesthetics of Narcissism

The article starts with, “It was a common place of criticism in the 1960s that a strict application of symmetry allowed a painter to ‘point to the center of the canvas’.” (Krauss, 50)

       It reminds me of the passage Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus Jean-Louis Baudry wrote. Both that passage and this one mention painting traditions. In fact, all art forms tend to position towards the center. In paintings, we usually see the main subject matter in the center, something like this (that I randomly found and drew):

That reflects the self-centered narcissism, which “describes a psychological rather than a physical condition.” (Krauss, 50)

       Video art is indeed a mutual process. When the filming apparatus works, the body that is recorded also has to respond to this process, creating a feedback loop, which connects to the artwork Boomerang (1974) in which the performer experiences a weird self-awareness when she hears her own voice keep getting send back to her earphones instantly after she speaks, like a “mirror” experience.

       Krauss also states the difference between “reflection”, which means external symmetry and “reflexiveness”, which is asymmetry from within. Reflection usually involves the use of mirrors, and it produces the exact same symmetrical image in the outside world. Reflexiveness in the context of video art is like the feedback from the artist’s inner mind and creates an interaction with the art medium itself.

       My question: A clearer explanation of the relationship between the projection on screen and the projection of oneself?

The Rio Experience:

Video’s New Architecture Meets Corporate Sponsorship

The content in this reading got me thinking that I have the gradual feeling that larger art projects involving using a large wall or a building’s exterior are becoming more and more prevalent all over the world. Coming from China myself, there are some buildings used for 3D animation artwork at major shopping malls in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.

The cost is usually very high, so it poses challenges to artists who wants to achieve this kind of art. Another issue also lies in the uncertainty of whether these arts can make profits. An imbalance and conflict between major corporations and independent artist thus forms. Unless the artists are extremely rich themselves, it is impossible to do without sponsorship. It is probable that these artists are respected better and have lesser difficulty in acquiring the funds they need nowadays. In future media landscape, there should be less conflict between the commercial and artistic value in order for video arts to thrive.

Week 11 Viewer Post

Global Groove:

“This is a glimpse of the video landscape of tomorrow, when you will be able to switch to any TV station on the earth, and TV guide will be as fat as the Manhattan telephone book.”

What follows this sentence is a video of woman dancing dressed in fashion of the time the film came out. The image has been altered with electronic methods I am not familiar with.

What follows the dancing are television clips or other videos with celebrities in them. I believe this urges us to reflect on the presence of media in our lives (of course, when this film came out it was still in the 70s in last century). I am not an expert on the female music performer, but I do connect Allen Ginsberg with the hippie movement that is in its prosperity then, and his relationship with the Beat Generation. When audiences watch this video now, this information might not be immediate to people who are not acquainted with this culture, but at the time, it should be obvious. I assume it is the same reason why John Cage appears in the film as well — public figures on media platforms, delivered by the medium of a video.

       I have some reflection on the film’s name: Global Groove. “Groove” is a term specifically associated with African American music, but the adjective “global” is added before it. It might indicate the period in which the film is made is a time of globalization. To state that, there are clips of performances derived from different cultures juxtaposed together. The video itself is also a manifestation of how technology connects people of different races, from different places, and with different believes, together.

       Anyways, the whole film is a mashup of all sorts of videos. I guess that is also one of the reasons it is called “video art”.

Above are unfortunately all I can interpret from this film.

Questions I have:

1, The clips selected must have some significance. Two are music performers, one is a literature representative. They all appear in the same film. What does that mean?

2, What is the relationship of this film with commercials?

Week 10 Responder Post

Mothlight :

The film was produced by what seems to me like a groundbreaking technique at the time. Brakhage did not use a camera but pressed all the items he collected between two strips of 16mm Mylar tapes. The images seen are leaves, grass, and dead moth wings. According to Brakhage himself, the dead moths were brought back to life by the filmic machine when the film was played through the projector. That also reinforces the title of this film.

The basic principle of how film works is the projection of light on a screen. When the light reflection of the dead moths is presented on the screen, they seem to be brought back to life in another way to the audiences. It is the re-representation of life by inanimate objects.

The other interesting aspect of the film is how it focuses on the matter that is non-human. While normal films all have a primary focus on human and a narrative, Brakhage took elements of nature into consideration and presented an abstract expression short film about the life (or death) of plants and moths.

Synchromy :

I find this film somehow similar in some sense to Mothlight. It also departs from the human-centered filmmaking we are used to.

The soundtrack is not pre-recorded but happens synchronously while the film is being played. Because McLaren assigned certain colors and shapes a corresponding note, audiences hear the sounds simultaneously while seeing the color when these images are projected. This concept is named as “graphical sound”, which particularly interests me.

Notes on (nostalgia) :

The film’s name is very suitable for the content. The whole film shows what happened in Frampton’s past by photographs and the narration by Michael Snow. What struck me is the act of burning photographs while telling each story. It seems to me that the slowly burning of each photo symbolizes the fading of each period of time that photo represents. By burning the photos while telling the story, Frampton creates a sense of nostalgia while actively recalling the past.

The photos bring me to recall one of the issues we discuss in class — index. The photos serve as an indirect existential bond between the real past, Frampton, and audiences (in this case also Snow). Before the next photo is shown, audiences see the previous (relatively) photo still in the process of completely turning to ashes while actively imagining the next story because the narrator already goes on telling the next one.

At last, I keep asking myself two questions: 1, Why are the photos burnt on a stove? 2, Why is the story narrated by another artist instead of Frampton himself?

Week 10: Searcher Post

Among all the pieces we watched this week, I was deeply captivated by Norman McLaren’s Synchromy (1971) in terms of his innovative approach of translating sounds into visual images. Specifically, I was curious about the techniques McLaren employed to create the soundtrack as well as his intention to construct a film like Synchromy, given the fact that cinematic digital sounds were not invented until the 1990s, five decades after McLaren embarked on his career as an experimental filmmaker.

The first source I’ve found is a journal article that provides a great overview of McLaren’s career and his typical production techniques. According to William E. Jordan, “the popularity of Norman McLaren’s films is certainly due in a large measure to their appeal to the senses” (Jordan, 1). The focus of McLaren’s works lies on “animations”—he designated “‘lifelike’ qualities” to “what is ordinarily considered inanimate”—and thence often involves the visualization of sounds (Jordan, 1). Specifically, he created synthetic sounds by directly drawing on or manipulating the film strips: “I draw a lot of little lines on the sound-track area of the 35-mm film…The number of strokes to the inch controls the pitch of the note: the more, the higher the pitch; the fewer, the lower is the pitch” (Jordan, 6). This indeed helps to explain the shift in pitch as the numbers of cubes in the middle of the frame decrease in Synchromy (0:50-0:57). Moreover, McLaren claimed that “by drawing or exposing two or more patterns on the same bit of film I can create harmony and textural effects”, which is also consistent with the segmented sequence around 4:40-4:45 where we observe two types of cubes that both vary in colors and sizes and hear the chords they create (Jordan, 6).

In addition to the article, I also found a video in which McLaren directly demonstrated the process of hand drawing sounds. In opposition to the conventional way in which sounds were recorded and stored as distinctive patterns of light and dark on the films, McLaren manually drew patterns on the films and explored the possibilities of generating sounds. Such a method is considered to grant the filmmaker “direct, personal control at every stage of the film’s production” (5:16-5:19).  

Week 9 Viewing Post

Peyote Queen (de Hirsch, 1965) was a wild viewing experience full of psychedelic animations and kaleidoscopic images. In the flashing, multi-colored drawings over black that occur forty seconds into the film, there are the symbols of male (♂) and female (♀), along with other undefinable images. When the split screen shots begin, we are treated to a barrage of abstract, kaleidoscopic images of varying colors, most prominently red and yellow. Two minutes and seventeen seconds into the film, de Hirsch finally gives viewers a decipherable image, seemingly a woman’s breast, but even this definable feature is still abstracted into a kaleidoscopic form. Shortly after, there is a stark music change, jumping from an intense drum beat to an upbeat tune (3:07). With this shift in sound, de Hirsch presents us with colorful, flashing drawings of lips, flowers, eyes, breasts, and a clock, just to name a few. However, this upbeat section is short-lived, as we once again return to the intense drum beats over abstract drawings and kaleidoscopic images. The final two minutes are by far the most abstract, presenting us with blurry, kaleidoscopic shots of indecipherable objects. I don’t know if there is any concrete meaning to the film, but it seems de Hirsch sought to give viewers an experience of sensory confusion, ultimately attempting to make us comfortable with viewing something we can’t understand in words. The use of symbols in the film might relate to the idea of how humans interpret arbitrary signs into certain meanings, and it is interesting to note that the upbeat music plays over the section in which these decipherable symbols appear. When the intense drum beat is playing, the images are much more abstract, possibly representing how humans fear looking at things they can’t understand. I relate to this, as I at first tried to find concrete meanings in the abstract images of Peyote Queen. However, by the end of de Hirsch’s film, I found that I had accepted the incomprehensibility of the images and simply appreciated the abstractions on-screen. Do you think the drawings of lips, flowers, eyes, etc. serve any deeper meaning in de Hirsch’s film? 

Samadhi (Belson, 1967) was an entrancing film of celestial-like imagery that felt incredibly grand in scale. What fascinated me most was the fact that I could not once decipher any of the images I was seeing or figure out how Belson created/filmed them. It is interesting to consider that Belson’s film was influenced by his experiences with yoga and Buddhism. While I don’t have much knowledge or experience in either of these fields, I would describe the vibe/feeling of watching Samadhi as meditative and can understand how Belson sought to create a “trip through the chakras” (de Chardin, 172). What do you think of Belson’s statement that Samadhi is “a documentary of the human soul” (de Chardin, 171)?

T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (Sharits, 1969) was a challenging film that toyed with my aural and visual perceptions. The film primarily consists of four rapidly shifting shots: a man holding scissors to his tongue, a hand over the man’s mouth, a close-up of an eyeball surgery, and a close-up of genitalia. Throughout the entire runtime, a voice repeats the word “destroy,” but the word quickly becomes abstracted in the mind of the viewer through its rapid repetition. By the end of the film, “destroy” had morphed into “this straw,” “distraught,” “his story,” and numerous other sounds in my mind. After our screening, Professor Zinman mentioned that this was an anti-war film. While I don’t completely grasp the connection, it might have something to do with the idea of how someone’s mind can be manipulated into holding certain meanings. Through the repetition of the word “destroy” combined with flashing imagery, my brain conjured up different words and sounds even though no other words are spoken in the film. This might show the power that the presentation of words and images has in shaping a person’s perception, relating to a country’s indoctrination of its soldiers into blindly fighting for their side. What do you think the images of the film have to do with the anti-war message?