The dialogue between Tim and I came out of early blogging when I was writing short essays and Tim and his crew were experimenting with digital images, even if they had to use sat-phones in the desert. Then they settled in Paris, inhabiting a loft studio plus increasingly sophisticated equipment, Tim has been an excellent photographer since his San Francisco years and the boys quickly caught on. Another of Tim’s media has always been poetry, the kind of ecstatic free-form word play familiar to us through the Beat movement.
At that time blogging seemed to be a way to go around a publishing embargo. Both Tim and I were blocked but still thought of books as a goal. One of the most ancient and intriguing genres of writing has always been correspondence and since Tim was blogging the ongoing saga of his art school for boys with HIV/AIDS, I saw it was a kind of Odyssey, especially if I could make it more accessible by adding a context or frame. The result was “Orpheus Pressed Up Against the Windows of the Catacombs,” which refers to the boys who die in spite of every effort on the part of Tim.
Innovative as this dialogue was, it was still print, for a book. At the same time the videos had become multi-layered: one moving image on top of another, carefully planned and edited so that your eye was guided. A good example is a simple sequence of two boys dancing. They are not in the same space or time, but they are in a pas de deux of visual space, actually moving through each other.
One day the concept of Vlogging leapt out -- combining videos with print, voice-over, music, talking head -- so Tim and the guyz plunged in. The video I’m analyzing here combines different media as well as different genres. It is not a conventional story and yet there is a narrative embedded into it. How does one watch this mix of genres? How does one deal with the knowledge that this is something happening right now? To real people? And how does the artist cope with image, word, and music while shaking with his own emotion ? Shoot vid, go straight to editing that same hour, then post as soon as it is compressed? Incredibly producing something that is permanent while still steaming with body-temperature life?
Is this a straight line from James Joyce? Yes, yes and yes. The strategies are more symphonic and liturgical than they are literary. The familiar “entry,” “rising action,” “crisis,” and “resolution” might be there but they might not. Meditation -- holding one’s focus on one concept until seeing deeply into -- might dominate. Rhythm and motif are very important. It is experiential. It does mean, but also simply is.
I'm being very head-trippy here. Tim doesn’t like backstage tours: he doesn’t want to dispel the magic. He is a natural auteur who internalized all this stuff long ago. But my unfinished seminary thesis is about the poetics of liturgy, which I’ve used in conventional Sunday services, memorials, and private ethnological ceremonies -- it’s not just theory, it really works. But I worry that if people aren’t helped to see what’s going on, they will flip it off without really seeing it. It’s hard enough to grasp that it’s a technique developing alongside and within new instruments: NOT a way of reading on a computer tablet imitating paper, but a new way of shaping communication in several genres at once. Kids can get it.
The video I’m going to link at the end is in three parts, a triptych of movements. The first will be recognized and “enjoyed” by lots of people because they are used to “pretty pictures” with symphonic music, this time a cello. What transforms the vlog is Tim’s poetic words: shocking, death and sex entwined, as we realize that Tim has brought this boy with AIDS dementia to a distant stony place to protect him as he dies. Tim says that poetry is all that can keep him sane in the face of this, but fishing also works. Poetry and fishing entwine in his emotional life.
The first section is an essay and a moving painting at once. It "quotes," sets themes, gives us beauty, fallen leaves like butterflies, gulping bright fishes. All the symbolism an analyst could want. Fish and fishing are abiding classic metaphors to many people. The rushing stream means the catapulting through events that we call “time,” urgent morphing as we try to study it out: where are the fish we want for supper? Where are the dangerous places that will drag us under?
The second part, “Intermission,” which is simply Tim with his dogs, will seem artless, but it is not. This is a deliberate genre that grows out of what Qi used to call “impersonating yourself.” Tim with his Harley-Davison hat on backwards (Hells Angels meets hip-hop) and his dark glasses is telling us the straight facts as clearly as he can. Tim used to do stage soliloquies “in character.” Though he’s here as himself, he is showing himself in a certain way, a disarming and protective mode, innocently physical with the dogs. He does not allow this kind of petting and hugging with the boys -- at least not until they’re dying. Human beings are not less sincere or real for being able to portray themselves. Even “reality” TV shows are shaped and edited by a director. So far the only real “reality” videos have been the Andy Warhol films of a fly crawling on a naked person for a VERY long time. Most people find it intolerably boring.
The "intermission" reminds us that Tim is a real man with dogs, sitting alone in a room with a camera and letting us into his private life as though the camera were us. The dogs are enough of a distraction to keep him from bursting into tears, but only barely. This is a test of empathy. “Can you get it?” The purpose is to WIN. But if the reward is more suffering, then . . .?
Third we see who this anguish is about: Tris -- or someone very like him -- in seduction mode, halfway between Grace Kelly and Brad Pitt, plunging down the stairs as if to say, "I'm a fly-high bird, but my wing has been clipped -- you might be able to capture me if you were up to it." It's a portrait but the aware viewer will realize that this beautiful young man is a reality and it is this seductiveness/vulnerability that has signed his death warrant. And yet he is so innocent, so truthfully acting. Watch for the sleeping babe. AIDS is paradoxical, unjust, and final. Images of an androgenous still-transforming boy have been valued among human beings everywhere, celebrated in painting and sculpture, not least in the pages of our contemporary slick magazines where they ensorcel perfume and designer clothing. Yet it is among our most forbidden sexual transactions, because the boy is drunk on testosterone in a way some men envy, even resent, but use.
Another dimension is added outside the video. These posts are going on Facebook, among other places, as they are completed. Tristan and Tim are fighting this battle REALLY ACTUALLY NOW. This is not a memoir. Tim has found a community of poets who comment. Aad de Gids says, “As a bedouin woman, as an inuitman, as a yanomami woman in the amazonian abyssal river of death, tristan now knows these voyages too and already is longing for them, darkening his shadows into the dark refuges of the shack, loosing himself in sleep, painfully for his friend disremembering the last beacons, dismembering the last threads, loosening, like a young albatross fostered by his mom, fostered by his real dad in the heart, now he is learning to walk, to fly, to use his brilliance in pure radiation and velours indigo drapérie, the drapérie of death and elevation, and he is loved, he lives, and we're preparing for his ultimate event, and we love him.”
Carolyn Srygley-Moore and Dom Gabrielli also making these inspired singing responses, like a kyrie elieson in the Mass. This is community. This is not creation alone in some self-indulgent or therapeutic way, but congregational sharing. For those who get it.