“Dig This” is the first public presentation of four newly preserved film and video works made between 1969 and 1971 by Northwestern University professor of film and media studies, Dr. Hamid Naficy. Made during the heyday of the counterculture movement in southern California, they provide insight into the social and political concerns of the time. Naficy’s artistic experimentation with early video, computer graphics, and visualization technologies reflects the aesthetic and political focus of his later scholarship. The program encompasses a variety of stylistic approaches including documentary realism, absurdist theater, abstract video, and avant-garde animation.
Ellis Island: A Commune (1969, 37 min.)
Named after the leftist, hippie commune in Los Angeles where Naficy lived when he was an MFA student in Film and Television Production at UCLA, Ellis Island documents his fellow commune members as they grapple with the influx of newcomers, new drugs, and new politics. Shot using the newly released Sony Portapak system and edited on 2” video, Ellis Island portrays the complexity, anxiety, discord, camaraderie, and conviviality of the commune members during a time of transition. Despite the complete turnover of its original members and physical relocation, the commune has survived.
The Piano Player (1969, 10 min.)
The Piano Player is a multi-camera, studio-produced surrealistic melodrama based on a short story by famed American writer Donald Barthelme. Centered on a man playing with a roll of toilet paper and his football pad wearing female partner, The Piano Player taps into Naficy’s interest in counter-realism, self-reflexivity, and absurdist humor.
Blacktop (1970, 7 min.)
An experimental video transferred to 16mm film that combines abstract video imagery and the sounds of the filmmaker’s footsteps walking back and forth in a tight space, Blacktop marks the beginning of Naficy’s turn to abstract imagery and non-narrative form.
Salamander Syncope (1971, 24 min.)
Salamander Syncope is a visualization of Naficy’s conception of the creation of the external world of outer space and the cosmos, as well as the internal world of inner space and human consciousness. Screening as a newly preserved 16mm film print, Salamander Syncope was made using digital and analog computers at a time when computers were primarily accounting machines. Originally presented as Naficy’s Master of Fine Arts thesis project, Salamander Syncope was made using 2” color videotape and utilizes cutting edge video effects and animation techniques. Vinton Cerf, then a grad student in computer science at UCLA, and now the “Chief Internet Evangelist” at Google, was the principal programmer for this project. Ken Yapkowitz composed and performed its quadrophonic, stereo audio track on a Moog synthesizer.
The photochemical preservation of Salamander Syncope was made possible by the generous support of the Pick-Laudati Fund for Arts Computing. The preservation scans of Ellis Island: A Commune, The Piano Player, and Blacktop made possible with the generous support of the Postcolonial Fund at Northwestern University. Preservation work was done by Colorlab, the Chicago Film Archives, and the Bay Area Video Coalition.