Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shouting "Movie!" in a Firehouse

Dada is orchestrated chaos.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In 1916, Dada was created by a group of ex-patriates who found themselves in Zurich full of outrage over World War I.

Some members of the original group saw art's potential as an instrument for political change. Others just rejected the "rationality" of the world, arguing for absurdist or primitive approaches to what was traditionally defined as art. Content was less important than audience reaction. They sought to break down the barriers between forms, mixing and matching them in new, unexpected and sometimes shocking ways.

They were certainly able to do that at that time. People weren't staying at home zoning out to American Idol. They sought art and entertainment. They had their expectations of what to regard as art or entertainment in galleries and cabarets. Dada threw everything the audience knew out the window and, sometimes, the audience themselves.

How can you have this sort of effect in this day and age? People have more control over their entertainment than ever before. They can preview it, buy it, carry it with them, Tivo it, rent it, stop it or start it at will, see it whenever they like wherever they like.

It's hard enough to get someone to choose theater over other easier-to-control mediums. There's no pause button and, oftentimes, if you don't like what you see on stage, it's difficult to impossible to leave. If you're bored, you suffer. So, how do you get someone to come see Dada? They won't be bored, but it's unlikely they'll have the same whack-to-the-side-of-the-head experience audiences had almost 100 years ago. Or even that they are looking for such a thing.

The artists, though, are coming from a near identical place as the founders.

Outrage at war. - CHECK!

Rejection of popular art. - CHECK!

While Dada is certainly good for creativity, what's in it for the audience? Were there Dada fans in 1916? Were the artists just performing for one another? What the hell good is Dada any way? Then or now?

The people most likely to come to our show know what they are getting into. They've seen Dada before or they know enough to be curious. They aren't coming expecting to see anything familiar or safe. For people who who keep a steady flow of money going through the pockets of the producers of Tony and Tina's Wedding or Wicked, I have no doubt that Soiree Dada: Blinde Essel Hopse will be an invigorating experience. But why would they bother to come? What value would they see in it for themselves?

It's a good question to ask and it's okay to not have an answer.

Dada is a question. Dada was never an answer.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Louisiana State University researchers have discovered that a common cold virus also promotes what?"

50% answered "Baldness"
- No. Although it would explain why I always have the sniffles and leave a trail of hair.

12% picked "Rickets"
- No. I just like the word. Say it with me, slowly, "r-i-c-k-e-t-s." Fun, yes?

Nobody answered the virus promotes "New Prince CDs"
- If it were possible, he would. Until then, no.

38% got it right with "Obesity"

According to an AFP news report, a common virus that causes colds can be a factor in obesity. What's that saying? "Feed a cold, starve a fever?" Apparently, this virus feeds the cold Krispy Kreme doughnuts.


Unknown said...

Here's a question for you, Mr. Janes! In my History of Cinema class at Columbia College, we talk about the emergence of dada filmmaking and for the life of me I can't find any Dada films that satisfy me as Dada, and there's so many conflicting sources that call, say, Rene Clair's "Entr'acte" dada and others that call it surrealism. What would YOU say is the major difference between dada and surrealism and whether you know of any films you would decisively call dada? Not a trick question. :D

Paul Rekk said...

And a question for the ages at that.

The irony of it is that to create an experience equivalent to that had by original Dada audiences, we can't call it Dada anymore.

Being accepted in to the Pantheon o' Art doomed Dada, which had (has?) to become at least on some level anti-Dada in order to continue to question. Leading to anti-anti-Dada, etc., etc.

Ack, I have to stop now before I write a novel; anti-art, both in practice and theory, these are a few of my favorite things.

How can we give an audience a true Dada effect today? There's ways. My favorite -- lie to them. How fantastic would it be if an audience packed into the Oriental with Wicked gear in hand and the curtains rose to Blinde Essel Hopse? Now THAT would be Dada.

Paul Rekk said...


I would say the definitive Dada film is Fernand Leger's Ballet Mecanique. It's on two DVD releases, but make sure you see the one from the Unseen Cinema boxset, which includes George Antheil's insane score -- it's every bit as important to the experience.

Dada and Surrealism are closely related; the Surrealists were basically an offshoot of Dada, but one big difference is Surrealism's focus on automatism and the extraction of pure thought in a visual (or auditory) form. Surrealism is very much an inside-out attitude, as opposed to Dada's reactionary style.

Anonymous said...

Surrealism is what happens when people create dada for a while and get tired of the nihilism. It's a natural outgrowth -- people want to create something, and dada lives to disassemble.

The original dadaists were proving a point about peoples' obsession with art. They were the Ashton Kutchers of their time, and when they got tired of the game they left. Except some didn't want to stop playing, because they saw something worth preserving in their games.

The original surrealists were heavily influenced by the new religion of psychology/psychiatry and generally believed that there was a subconscious reason behind what was coming out of their mouths, which led to their experiments in automatism. What that illustrated, who knew or cared. But it was important to them to keep playing. They were trying to Figure Out Something. What they figured out was this goofy toy called automatism led to some gloriously fscked-up works.

There was a different aspect to their playfulness, as well: more of a kid playing with chalk on the sidewalk while wearing a blindfold, as opposed to dada's kid pulling legs off of ants and then gluing them back together. It's not a surprise that the Parisian offshoot of dada -- with the highest quotient of folks playing wordgames -- is the one that eventually gave rise to the surrealists.

Finally, I don't speak for WNEP as a whole, but for me WNEPdada has always seemed more surreal than dada, and I'm fine with that. Really, really fine with that. We're the vaudeville version of dada, without becoming the Hall of Presidents version. If there is an American version of dada, it's got to include that vaudeville feel of "wanting/needing to please" while also pushing the desire to "smash everything to little pieces", and surfing that line is what we do.

Joe Janes said...

Thank you for all the intelligent, thoughtful responses, boys.

Rob - My experience of dada on film from the era is limited to segments in documentaries. As I recall, they were mainly just black and white geometric shapes moving around. No attempt at narrative whatsoever. Early animation that seemed like a go at using cinema as a form of scupture. And boring as hell.

Paul R - I love the idea of us promoting an evening of high - falutin' Walt Whitman poetry or something equally stuffy and then bursting out with our show.

Paul - Your take on surrealism is well thought out. To me, it's sort of like improvisers who move into sketch and plays. Tired of the rough and disposable, they want something more polished and durable.

Unknown said...

I love the idea of us promoting an evening of high - falutin' Walt Whitman poetry or something equally stuffy and then bursting out with our show.

And I love the idea of us promoting SD:BEH and then bursting out with a video documentary on the history of paint.

Not even actors. Just a video. On one of those old video projector screens, like from grade school.