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Spike's Season

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If you're looking for invigoration beyond film, allow me to mention a new, hourlong video by Christopher Wilcha, a young provocateur whose diary of corporate life, The Target Shoots First, restores the honor of amateurism.

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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In 1993, fresh out of college with that ever-useful degree in philosophy, Wilcha took a job in New York as a marketing assistant at a record club, Columbia House. The band Nirvana had just startled the music business by selling a gazillion units out of nowhere; now the executives at Columbia House were staring at a new market niche, and they didn't know what it was. Maybe this Wilcha could explain it to them. So, to his amazement, he was given an ID card, an office with a nameplate and access to the employee cafeterias at both Sony and Time Warner. (Columbia House, he explains in voiceover, combines the clout of two media conglomerates.) The only equipment he brought to his job, apart from a knowledge of college-radio rock, was a Hi8 video camera, given to him by his parents as a graduation present. For the next couple of years, Wilcha brought the camera to work every day, videotaping his entire stay at Columbia House.

"Get Alice in Chains and Beavis and Butt-head for one low price." If you don't quite understand this proposal, you are in the same situation as Wilcha, whose task, initially, was to figure out why anybody would want the things Columbia House had decided to sell. Having done so, he was expected to descend from the nineteenth floor to the seventeenth, where the company's casually embittered writers and layout artists would translate his message into a sales catalogue. The Target Shoots First presents the wondrous gallery of sardonic grins, blank stares, forced smiles, exasperated grimaces and open-mouthed horse laughs that Wilcha encountered--and generated--on his trips from floor to floor. Here, too, are the social rituals of today's office: lunches, parties, visits with babies, the unveiling of new braces for carpal tunnel syndrome. Wilcha kept at it until he succeeded, and Kurt Cobain committed suicide--which seemed like a signal that it was time to quit.

As Marx once wrote, there will be no video artists in communist society. There will be no need for a separate category of "artist," because all people will get to make videos as part of their full range of activity. (I may have paraphrased a bit.) Anyway, the usual American capitalist response is: No problem. Technology has already saved us. The portable video camera puts moving-picture apparatus into everybody's hands; the Internet makes everybody a publisher or music distributor. In The Target Shoots First, Wilcha hilariously illustrates both the potential of techno-democracy and its limits. Yes, he was free to make this video (and, along the way, to create his own alternative-rock sales catalogue, which mocked the other Columbia House mailings). But in doing so, he converted the rebellious music he loved into one more revenue stream for Sony and Time Warner--corporations that also wound up owning the right to reproduce Wilcha's face. It seems he signed away his image to Columbia House, for future use in its catalogues. Talk about alienated labor.

I don't know about future showings of The Target Shoots First, but I can tell you it will be shown on July 20 and 21 at the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center. It's in a program titled "Working for the Man"; and if you're in the neighborhood, you can find ten more programs on the bill. The ideal match, of course, would be "Do All Music Videos Go to Heaven?", the latest of critic Armond White's periodic surveys of the field (July 19). His presentation is guaranteed to turn you on and turn you around. As for the rest: Stop by the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center if you can, where you can browse and videate from July 16 to 22.

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