" Look how she moves! That’s just like Jell-O on springs. "
— Jack Lemmon (regarding Marilyn Monroe), Some Like it Hot

MRQE Top Critic

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

With any luck, The Sorcerer's Apprentice will conjure up a bigger audience on Blu-ray. —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Something has gotten into the folks over at Other Cinema (or maybe they’ve got into something) because they have come out with yet another ultra-oddball DVD. These are the same people who brought us Animal Charm Golden Digest, and Not 4 Sale: TV Sheriff and the Trail Buddies and now they’ve outdone themselves with Negativland: Our Favorite Things.

Negativland is a self described “musical collective of flopheads” originally from the Bay area known for their ability to work with other people’s recordings. Favorite Things is a natural for Other Cinema, and I think it is the pick of the litter.

Culture-Jamming Audio Fizz, Now with Visuals!

If dadaists aspired, they might aspire to Negativland's visual style
If dadaists aspired, they might aspire to Negativland’s visual style

I first ran across Negativland’s brand of culture-jamming audio fizz back before they ran afoul of Island Records in 1991 for using “U2” on some cover art ( please note that “U2” is used here for review purposes only and should not be construed as an infringement on their copyright of the letters U and the numeral 2... and, OK, Negativland did sample some of the real U2’s music).

Negativland’s brand of cut-and-paste sound sampling and repurposing of found audio remains a benchmark of the art. Once heard, they are not soon forgotten. So I was eager to see what they had done by way of added visuals. The soundtrack remains so strong and effective that it would have been easy to set any visual against it and the result would have been interesting. Fortunately Negativland delivered some original and striking imagery, and they have once again set the mark for aspiring dadaists (if dadaists ever aspire, that is).

My personal favorite is “Time Zones,” a pre-Limbaugh but still kook-centric take on late night talk radio and socialist short wave sampling. It is a set piece about the old Soviet Union. “It has 11 time zones!” the western DJ repeats over and over and the dull witted caller responds with “I didn’t know that”... over and over. That’s the description, but like any good piece of art, unless you have heard it yourself, you haven’t got the full effect; a written description will not suffice. Added to that are CGI scenes of missiles, clocks, and wire-frame humans... perfect.

Almost as good ” is “Christianity is Stupid” (here renamed “The Mashin’ of the Christ”... well, we all make mistakes now and then). This is not the way I would have visualized the audio, but it’s Negativland’s party, they can do what the want. If it’s your first exposure, you’ll not have a problem. It’s still crazy stuff of the first order. And yet, so sane it’s scary.

The Enemy of My Enemy

It is said that you are known by the enemies you have fought. Through Negativland’s troubles with Island Records their profile raised above the obscure art horizon. This has brought some respectability to the group, and somewhere along the line they went from avant-guard audio experimenters to champions of the copyright-free digital world. So in a way this is a retrospective. Much of the ironic content is no longer timely, but sadly, so much of the general tone of commercial brainwashing is still valid.

Negativland is still swimming against the tide of culture, but boy, do they do it in a grand way.

DVD Extras

There’s a really great extra with this DVD... a separate full CD of the music of Negativland performed by the a capella doo wop group The 180 Gs. I was very surprised by this addition... what a treat! The discordant audio-collage work of Negativland is an odd choice for the harmonious voices of an a capella vocal group, but it works. This is one of the best extras I’ve ever seen included in a DVD package. Equally as good is the short video collage “Visit Howl Island,” which reminds me of Firesign Theater at their best.

Also included is a sort of interesting visit to the home of Negativland member known as The Weatherman. If he’s faking the OCD, it’s a good job, and if not, it’s about as fascinating as watching someone limp or stutter. Still, fans of Negativland will be charmed.

And just to show that they can re-purpose their own work, there is a video cut from the main menu but this time with a small child narrating the bizarre imagery as best they can. Usually stuff adults do will bore children, but this kid is hanging on, trying to keep up.

Picture and Sound

Good on both counts.

How to Use this DVD

Be sure to carefully read the FBI warning at the beginning. It goes something like this:

“WARNING: This Digital Video disc shall remain the property of Negativland and Seeland MediaMedia and must be returned on demand. It has been distributed n loan of for sale, free of chard for money or for promotional or sale purposes only.

Under no circumstances may any person copy it, sell it, rent it or view it, including any member of the viewing public. Any such copy, sale rental, or viewing gives rise to civil and criminal liability”

Whew! That about says it all.