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The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project
Colin Marshall

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29. Ant Farm's Dirty Dishes, Part I (1968-1978)
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First, these dates are all over the place. Ubuweb's page title says 1968-1978, its description says 1970, the video itself says 1971, and I'm sure, with patience, I could turn up yet more signals of chronological inconsistency. But the liquid-y gray Portapak visuals that open the video date it more evocatively than any number could. As the description above suggests, this is a dog's breakfast of material, some quite interesting, some less so. If nothing else, it makes me wish I could have put in a stretch as a scrappy early-seventies art team. (Are there "art teams" any more? Sure, Blue Man Group, I guess, but they're the polar opposite of scrappy.)

Speaking of that decade, I'm convinced that the creators of That 70s Show lifted their signature rotate-the-camera-from-within-a-circle-of-characters-getting-stoned setup from this video's opening. I have no hard evidence to confirm this notion and Google hasn't really got my back, but... come on. Behold the uncanniness. If "lifted" seems like an ugly word, sub in "paid homage to Ant Farm with." Not that I'd really care if they did lift it; I'm not exactly into those "big corporate entertainment lucratively swipes pure bohemian artistry" narratives. I bet Ant Farm could've eventually had their own sitcom, though I don't bet they would've wanted to work in such a pre-debased form.

There's some footage of a dude in eating a burger (which, despite its wobbly lo-fi look, feels somehow modern, at least nineties-modern), girls discussing Warhol and a "Top-Less Talk Show from Topanga", in increasing order of the gulf between how interesting they sound and how interesting they are. This all precedes Inflatables Illustrated, a long middle segment on what appears to have been Ant Farmer Curtis Schreier's prime avocation at the time: ironing together scraps of plastic to make gigantic balloon-ish constructions.

These "inflatables," for what it's worth, actually do look kind of fun. A few striking color Super 8 (so I assume) sequences show kids tumbling around on top of one and hanging out inside another. I'm reminded my early elementary school "movement" class, wherein we would lift a large parachute into the air and then bring it down behind us, offering us a few moments in a gradually collapsing dome. It's anyone's guess why Ant Farm would be attracted to something like this, though; how much public attention could even the grandest inflatable attract compared to, say, a Cadillac crashing through a wall of TVs?

The final segment, "World's Longest Bridge, 1971, Ant Farm Truckstop Tour" is, in its way, the most effective. Whether or not this really is the world's longest bridge is unclear -- and if so, the record's no doubt been superseded in the intervening near-40 years -- but it's long enough for the video's purposes. The whole thing's a first-person view of a drive across it. After the Ant Farmers pay the toll man, it's just a straight-ahead cruise down what's made to look like a bridge that stretches on into infinity. The cloudy sky, choppy water and eerily unoccupied asphalt, rendered by Portapak, almost become an abstraction of mildly varying grays, set to a soundtrack of flute and percussion. But gray happens to be my favorite color, so if you prefer purple or whatever -- if you're Prince, for example -- just tint it in the closest available video editing application.

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