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The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project
Colin Marshall

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15. Doug Aitken's Autumn (1994)
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Just reading about Doug Aitken's career as pre-viewing research got me so intrigued that I darted right over to the library and checked out his book Broken Screen, a heavily-designed compendium of short conversations about nonlinearity with luminaries no less luminescent than Carsten Nicolai, Mike Figgis, Rem Koolhaas, Alejandro Jodorowsky and, yes, Werner Herzog. Sure, I hadn't seen any of Aitken's stuff yet, but how could he not be just my kind of guy?

As regards Autumn, Aitken's earliest piece available on Ubuweb: I would totally watch an early-mid-1990s high school period piece with these aesthetics. Its starring elements appear to be two girls, a guy and a jet, of which at least three look highly era-specific. The fellow sports a buzz cut, necklace, Woody Woodpecker shirt, BMX bike, floor bed and retro lava lamp. The first girl, a brunette in low-top Chuck Taylors, has one of those angsty glares you can tell was shaped primarily by "alternative music." The second girl, with extremely short, artificially blonde-looking hair and a perhaps ironically-patterned flannel shirt, adopts what I've come to call the "failed pixie" look. At no point, from what I could tell, does anyone drink a Surge -- but I wouldn't be surprised if someone did.

So maybe the character's aren't strikingly original in appearance, but were I a bigwig television exec, I would immediately commission Aitken to produce a series based on Autumn solely due to the evocativeness in which it places them. It's got the long shadows, blurred analog edges, solid fields of black, blinding patches of white and dreamy motion that simply scream the teen equivalent of mono no aware. A young filmmaking hopeful with a few pieces of vintage video gear and a Youtube director account could take this visual perspective and run profitably with it.

Semi-contrary to the description, the shots don't look so much like bits of music videos as they do bits of music video-ified life. But things turn frantic and creepy in the piece's final third, when the shadows take over. We see slow-motion video voyeurism, eyeball closeups, amped-up grain, scanlines and a host of other amorphously freaky things. What's more, the music gets all insistent. This may be too abrupt a genre change for mainstream television, but don't long-running fictional narratives thrive on that sort of thing? Hear this, whoever's gunning to produce the next teen hit: you might consider hiring a video artist from the 1990s. That's my advice.

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