As a student receiving an Art History degree in December, it is only natural that I was drawn to “A Brief History of John Baldessari.” Not only was this video portrait not boring, but also a very effective video portrait. The thing I loved most about the approach was that it was basically just a hodgepodge of strategies that all overlapped and intertwined to create this erratic video – which is perfect to sum up the personality of Baldessari. Throughout the video his interjections allowed the audience to understand and connect with him, even understand the way he thinks.
Text & Images: Another strategy at play here was the pairing of bold words and images (sometimes containing words) and the brief amount of time the audience had with these each of these words and images. It helps the audience feel that Baldessari is a rather simplistic man. His commentary was short, direct, dry and hilarious. All of these workings paired with the music (sometimes trumpets, sometimes a fanfare, sometimes a slow paced piano riff) helped to hone in on some of the characteristics that make Baldessari who he is.
Commentary: Tom Waits provides the commentary simply because “he has the best voice.” His voice is deep and manly and rather monotone – kind of like Batman’s. His commentary adds another layer to Baldessari’s brief history. It gives a sort of dry tone, in particular when he picks out everyday objects, for example, “This is John Baldessari’s pencil. This is John Baldessari’s dog, Giotto. This is John Baldessari’s coffee maker.” These objects are associated with mundane daily activities, something you would include in a boring video. Somehow, with the combination of text, commentary and imagery, these objects are brought to life like they are under some kind of magic or spell. This element definitely gives us a deeper, subtle connection with Baldessari. As an artist, Baldessari strived to stay away from boring things but often found that using boring things in extraordinary ways (putting dots on people’s faces for entertainment) made things exciting and un-boring.*
Knowing almost nothing about how to produce film, I feel this video would have been very difficult to create. Although it was probably made with many small cuts, I think it takes a lot of talent to present a character that well in about 5 minutes. So, my question is, can this hodgepodge of brief text, images, commentary and voice over successfully be accomplished for other emotions? How important and vital are these short but sweet snippets of film? Does this style of film truly document how epic John Baldessari’s life is? Will people in the future understand it ?
* Let it be known that I do know that un-boring is not a word.