ponedjeljak, 5. studenoga 2012.

Mike Hoolboom - filmovi i roman o paničnim tijelima

Hoolboom je iznimno plodan kanadski filmaš (eksperimentalni filmovi i video-radovi), kritičar (autor je knjiga o "fringe-" i underground-filmu u Kanadi) te književnik (otkačeni roman The Steve Machine "postmilenijska je inverzija Smrti u Veneciji" - misteriozni umjetnik Steve Reinke, nazvan po zbiljskom video-umjetniku, stvara video-vrpce koje liječe besanicu i otkrivaju tajne burzovne obrasce...). Zanimaju ga vanjske granice percepcije, jezika, tehničke reprodukcije, tjelesnih čula...


Artist info

“what he sAID: 12 stories about the end of the world that made me smile.” 1999-2000 na Vimeu

Mark + Lacan Palestine + Glass + Hey Madonna + Portrait + In My Car + The Game + Rain + Tom + Mexico + Moucle's Island & Positiv (from Panic Bodies) + Imitattions of Life na Vimeu

still from <i> Panic Bodies </i> (Eternity)

Click on the film name for more details
Lacan Palestine 70 minutes 2012
Forest Walk 8 minutes 2011
Mark 70 minutes, video, 2009
Fascination 70 minutes, video, 2006
Public Lighting 70 minutes,video, 2004
The Invisible Man 18 minutes, video, 2003
In The Dark 8 minutes,viedo, 2003
Imitations of life 75 minutes,video, 2002
Tom 53 minutes, video, 2002
Panic Bodies 70 minutes,16 mm, 1998
House of Pain 50 minutes, 16 mm, 1995-8
Letters From Home 15 minutes, 16 mm, 1996
Escape in Canada 9 minutes, 16 mm, 1993
Frank`s Cock 8 minutes, 16 mm, 1993
Indusium 10 minutes, 16 mm, 1993
Mexico 35 minutes, 16 mm, 1992
Modern Times 4 minutes, 16 mm, 1991
Southern Pine Inspection Bureau No 9 9 minutes, 16 mm, 1990
The Big Show 7 minutes, 16 mm, 1989
Now, Yours 8 minutes, 16 mm, 1988
Song for Mixed Choir 8 minutes, 16mm, 1988
White Museum 32 minutes, 16 mm, 1986

How to die: the films of Mike Hoolboom by Jack Rusholme 

Originally published in MESH (Journal of Modern Image Makers Association, St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia), Spring 1994.

For the past decade and a half Mike Hoolboom has taken the body as his subject, and offered a fascinating glimpse at the intersection of flesh and machine. If outrage and transgression have been his hallmarks, these have been graced with a careful attention to the materials of cinema itself. Here are bodies exposed at the limits of representation, the protuberances of organs and bone wrapped in cinema's second skin, our own flesh the product of an assembly line manufacture. His work may be divided into three periods of production – the first narrating an encounter with the materials of cinema, the second deploying these materials towards a diary practice, and the third describing the shattered compact between body and machine after the filmmaker discovered he was HIV-positive.
Hoolboom's first period is marked by a materialist practice which interrogates the limits of the cinematic medium. Individual aspects of the medium are selectively excised and examined in a formalist's catalogue which imagines that our tools of perception shape our experience, that our bodies have been engaged in a machine-inspired elaboration – feet have become cars, eyes become telescopes, hands become bulldozers. These mechanical prostheses are not without ideology or syntax, the rules of their deployment actively reframing the subject that seeks to use them.
That cinema is comprised of a succession of still photographs is detailed in Book of Lies (1985), in which an airline commercial is extended by placing decreasing amounts of dark between each frame. The film's subject is a male climber whose cropped attitudes of traversal are re-examined in the frame by frame scaling of a mountain. Upon reaching the summit he prepares to dive headlong into the waters below, the dark passage between the frames narrowing, until sound and image merge at the instant of his plunge into the water. Here, the body displays itself as an attitude of parts, broken by a machine-made compact of representation, its gestures of ascent subject to a narrative gaze of tumescent arousal and deflation (emblematized by the climber's rise and fall), and viewed as an accumulation of fragments.
Scaling (1988) remarks the aspect ratio of 16mm cinema as Hoolboom paints black the space of the frame. Once again, the rules of the machine are pitted against its human protagonist. Hoolboom is naked throughout, the camera tipped on its side to underscore a gravity bent to the rule of representation, the body made to accommodate the camera's rectangular vision, outlining the arena of encounter. This image is run twice simultaneously, printed backwards and forwards to show the filmmaking painting the rectangle black on one side of the frame, while he unpaints the other side. This doubling of intentions ensures that action and unaction arrive together, he patiently undoes all that he does.
Modern Times (1991) is an essay on the motion picture camera, miming its subject to assume its own shape. Framed by passages of black leader, the film appears as a black box, while illuminated interiors draft a harrowing image of industrial consciousness. As a film camera is wound, images of Chaplin from Modern Times intercede, the little tramp tightening screws on the assembly line. Soon enough he is swept into the line and pushed through a passage of cogs and wheels that bear an unmistakable resemblance to the film path of a camera. The remainder of the film shows a male nude rendered in a frantic and broken montage, his body reduced to a flailing maelstrom of parts. The understanding that the camera imparts to the body is literalised here, its movements shattered in the gaze that doubles it.
Hoolboom's diary practice takes up the issue of the body from another vantage, elaborating a paternal home movie practice and deploying it towards a critique of patriarchy. In Was (1989), he punctuates images of a marital dissolution with a hallucinatory Ford commercial. As the potential buyer looks at the car of her future, she glimpses, matted into its interiors, a number of fantasies. She wins a beauty contest, has a Parisian idyll with two men, another man offers her flowers and, finally, she sees her own marriage. That these fantasies are male-inspired and projected onto women is further underlined in the film's longest montage sequence. As we watch images of Hoolboom and his partner talk, quarrel and make love, a women's voice recounts a dream of patriarchy from Italo Calvino's Invisible Citie s. In this story, she flees naked through a city while a number of men chase her. While she manages to elude them, the sites of her escape are marked by each of her pursuers as they build lodgings and walls for themselves. Altogether, this city comprises an ugly architecture of containment and repression, its masculine imperatives designed to frustrate the Other. At once an auto-critique of the film he laboriously constructs, and an indictment of a masculinist longing for mastery and control, Was 's fragmented bodies demonstrate the effects of a rationalist will-to-power, the body refigured through the crucible of representation.
In Eat (1989), Hoolboom returns to these diary images and escalates the ferocious montage, dissecting the gestures of the everyday into two and three frame passages, shattering the bodily compact of these two lovers. Into their broken flesh he pours the pop effluvia of TV commercials and beauty contests, pornography, rotoscoped passages, titles from Dante's Inferno and a wash of landscape imagery. These are combined in six picture rolls which are overlaid via printing and then played twice, firstly while a woman recounts her anorexia, and a second time as a man recalls a friend who ate himself to death. In both Eat and Was , the body is ravaged, torn apart through montage, its perimeters shattered to admit the capitalist issue of its televisual landscape. In both instances, this order is rendered as a masculine preserve, its accelerating codes of containment signified by a spectacle and death on the one hand, and in a lover's body viewed as part of an object universe on the other. The grammars of intimacy are recast as an industrial concern, a combination of mass production and a lost subjectivity, our technical prosthesis relearned as a model for love.
This diary work was coincident with the discovery by the filmmaker that he was HIV-positive. These images of a body rent and ruptured are images of the disease itself, madly proliferating in a body doomed to collapse. Hoolboom's response has been typically expansive and diverse. Since 1989 he has produced no fewer than three films per year, and as many a six. This acceleration of production includes five films made in collaboration with other filmmakers, a rarity in the artisanally-based productions of the avant garde. His AIDS work features an assured cine-rhetoric learned in a decade of materialist manufacture, and a practice haunted by death and the dissolution of the body. While only a few of these films explicitly denote the subject of AIDS, it remains an overwhelming subtext for all of this work, as Hoolboom continues to examine the body and its relation to power, identity and death.
Careful Breaking (1992) was one of a half dozen films finished in 1992. Hypnagogically colourised, it is set to a great, discordant soundtrack of shattered glass by composer Earle Peach. Careful Breakin g narrates a body recalling itself, conjuring in its saturated palette a history of flesh. Here is a body traveling its own perimeter in a rapidly flashing montage of light and dark, which gives way at the film's end to a recoloured male nude, rendered initially as a body of parts via frame-by-frame photography, and then lying in repose. The film closes with a fist unclenching, releasing the fiction of the body's wholeness and reconciling itself as a compact of fragments.
One Plus One (1993) is a pixilated romp featuring co-filmmakers Jason Boughton and Kathryn Ramey. Photographed one frame at a time over three days, One Plus One casts Boughton and Ramey as unlikely lovers, the first appearing as a hovering devil in flight, excreting a vegetable life, while Ramey's clock-spitting, bathing-besuited self enclosure lifts weights with frank indifference to his approaches. Their touch promotes a shimmering aura of light which they fight against, finally retiring to the kitchen with an armful of tools where they attempt to fine tune desire. Donning each other's clothes, they fly off together to the strain of Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz . This wordless repast is played out on the body's surface, its movements of opening and closing retooled to accommodate another.
Mexico (1992) is another collaboration, this time with friend and fellow Canadian filmmaker Steve Sanguedolce. An episodic travelogue haunted by death, Mexico unfolds like a series of postcards, accompanied by a voice-over address which insistently converts Mexico into Toronto. Half the film is lensed in Toronto, though the voice-over insists that ‘you' are seeing Mexico. The movie narrates the travels of ‘you,' an individual unable to leave her/his past, or geography, behind. “Behind the wheel you are like King Midas, everything you touch turns into Toronto.” Later, a hilarious montage of B-movie monsters wreak havoc in city streets while the narrator muses, “You watch with surprise as giant lizards walk the street again, wondering that these discarded pictures should have found a new life here in Mexico. After all these years, what were they seeing exactly? What secret horror lies waiting beneath the face of these monsters, slouching towards Mexico City, to be born?” This ‘secret horror' is precisely the visitation of first worlders, and the recently negotiated free trade pact between Mexico, the US and Canada, part of a global pact of homogenizing difference and ensuring economic servitude. If the automobile provides one of Mexico 's many leitmotifs, it serves primarily as a symbol of colonialism. As the narrator describes, looking at the lines on the highway, “If these lines are illegible, perhaps it is because they were made by people who failed to understand that the automobile was less a method of travel than a way of life. That these lines were a chronicle of change, bonding the country with a life beyond its borders, marrying its unfinished geographies with the auto factories of the north.” While the judo teams of Monterey, dinosaurs and aquariums, war museums and jungle factories, float past, the travellers's escape is equated with death, his restless traversals staging a return of the repressed. The film is capped by a vicious amateur bullfight in Mexico City, a clumsy, bloody affair which sees the matador trampled and gored before killing the bull in an agonizingly protracted death scene. Gone here is the glamour and seduction of spectacle, underlined by the scene's binocular matte. In its place stands the cold slaughter of the first worlder, seeking his dissolution in foreign cities, but re-fashioning in place of his destination the place of his origin, which, for this tourist, is an endgame of displacement.
Frank's Cock (1993) remains Hoolboom's most explicit AIDS narrative. Centered around a first person confessional, actor Callum Rennie narrates the saga of ‘Frank,' his former mentor, lover and confidant. He describes the difficulties of growing up gay: his introduction into gay life (“I wanted to be the Michael Jordan of sex. Wayne Gretzky with a hard-on”); being Canadian (“a Canadian is someone who can open a beer with anything”); sex (I never had anyone lick my ass before, I know I'm going to sound sentimental, but, everyone's got their own way to worship”) and, of course, Frank's cock (“I know that size isn't everything, but it just seemed to fit, you know?”). Frank finally succumbs to AIDS and dies, leaving his lover to tell his story. While Rennie recites his tale of lust and mourning directly into the camera, the screen splinters into four equal parts, each displaying a different bodily attitude. Rennie talks throughout on screen right, while beside him unfold abstract images photographed inside the body. Below Rennie this a cropped version of Madonna's Erotica video flickers past. The fourth screen shows close-ups of gay pornography. This four-sided mosaic is a frank evocation of the effects of AIDS, the body broken into dispersed vantages as the narrator attempts to bind with words what this disease threatens.
With 17 million people worldwide diagnosed with HIV, Hoolboom is scarcely alone in his condition. But he has used his privilege as a first-world artist to offer testimony from the front, his film practice part of a burgeoning discourse by those who are infected. In this university of death we are learning a new grammar of morality, a lexicon of illness and decline, and, finally, for each of us, an understanding of how to die.


Read it at Google Books

The Steve Machine
“With every exquisite sentence, The Steve Machine undertakes a stunning post-millennial inversion of Death in Venice, proposing video artist Steve Reinke as a latter-day Tadzio. Only this time, the plague bestows the gift of a talking cure. Wry, wise and hilarious, The Steve Machine is an utterly audacious plague journal, transposing the shimmering brilliance of Hoolboom's filmmaking onto the printed page.” John Greyson
Dr. Phil is a large professional man with a voice like children whispering in the dark. He's been a regular on Oprah so I see him pretty often. There are some weeks, when the guests are threatening to crack under the weight of parental neglect, erectile dysfunction or high school bullying, that I might see him every day. Much more than my friends at any rate. Dr. Phil says that while you might meet hundreds of people in your life, there are no more than half a dozen on the A list. If your life was a movie these names would appear before the title. There's something else he said that quickened the pulse. Dr. Phil insists that accompanying the six (more or less) guest stars, there are just eight significant events. The first is birth. Don't ask me how he knows, but when I look into that kind, smiling face I know it must be true. The eyes of Dr. Phil have seen the end of our days and come back to tell the story, and not only am I grateful to him, I've started counting. Eight moments, that's how long it takes to get to the raw, beating heart of a life.
Set in the art world, this comic novel about AIDS tells the story of a young man's adventures in the Toronto underground. There he meets his mentor, the mysterious television artist Steve Reinke, who creates videotapes which cure insomnia and uncover secret patterns in the stock exchange. But can Steve's art save his dying friends?
"The most complicated machines are made only with words." Jacques Lacan
Auden is the books' narrator, and after arriving in Toronto he sets out to create a life his new illness won't stick to, he tries to become a stranger so that his illness won't recognize him any more. He makes friends with people he doesn't like, visits bars he has no interest in, wears clothes he wouldn't wear even if that was his full time job. In the midst of his personality make-over he meets Steve, who has been fortunate in everything but love, and together they set out on an adventure of love, loss and laughter.
His skin is a kind of camouflage, allowing him to meet the same person over and over, enjoy the same conversation and best of all, recount the same jokes. I was never sure how he did this exactly, and he was reluctant to demonstrate, telling me finally, "It's not something you can turn on or off Auden." I don't move in the chair as he runs a hand over my shoulders, down my back to the small pinched nerves at the base. He never looks at me, he stares, as if distracted, into some dim corner of the room, though this doesn't upset me. Not at all. Only I can't stop my face from asking, never tiring of the question: who will love me?”
In a double twist this book is also a machine, like one of Steve's tapes. And there's no need to ask the bookseller for an extra switch, pulley or button, this book machine can be operated simply by reading it. Exactly what does this machine produce? That is the real mystery that lies between the covers of The Steve Machine.
‘I love this book, though I prefer the original title, Steve Reinke, The Greatest Video Artist in the World.' — The real-life Steve Reinke
The cover of The Steve Machine was made by media artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay (www.nemerofsky.ca). I was in Montreal showing something that would never be seen again at the Mois de la Photo and we were ghosting through artist spaces together. Every few minutes he would stop and make another casually perfect picture. Oh that. And then again, and again. Every time he lifts his camera-eye the world re-arranges itself into something precious and beautiful. The home page of this site is also by him, but it was too low-res for the book cover, so on the next trip back we fulfilled my oldest fantasy and stage managed a déjà vu. Of course, picture after picture went by and none seemed quite as complete as the original. When it was over we had the same summery conversation we'd started months back. Heaven.


The studied art of living means living through art by Geoff Pevere (Toronto Star, November 23, 2008)

Of the three human enterprises most often named as means to defy death – religion, art and sex – Mike Hoolboom's novel The Steve Machine is most heartily concerned with the latter two. Especially art. In this beguiling, funny and smoothly articulated first novel – written by a widely celebrated Canadian experimental filmmaker who was diagnosed as HIV-positive some years ago – art is not only what gets one out of one's deathbed in the morning. Nor is it merely the highest expression of a person's determination to leave a trace. It's the reason we draw breath, and proof that we did.
When Auden, a gay man with an overdeveloped capacity for irony and doom, first learns that he's HIV-positive from a Sudbury doctor who looks "almost sad, like a fifteen-year-old doing Shakespeare," he hops a bus for Toronto. There he seeks clock-punching employment as an insurance company drone, a way of filling what uncertain time he has left. "My temp-worker status suited both of us too well," the narrator says of his boss. "As soon as I left the office it was as if it never happened."
While Auden is resigned to his random and irreversible fate, his newly refigured consciousness makes him especially susceptible to the bland absurdities of the business-as-usual world around him. One morning he spots something as he returns to his apartment from a gym, a place where he practises his own form of short-spurt death defiance. "A posse of small children ran up to cars stopped at the light and pointed their fingers at the drivers and shouted, 'Bang! You're dead,' and ran away laughing. I nodded as I stepped inside."
While he doesn't realize it at the time, this condition of sparked sensitivity makes Auden a perfect candidate for the bizarrely grand "experiment" of video artist Steve Reinke. Reinke is a real Toronto video artist – and creator of the internationally screened 100 Videos project – whom Hoolboom fictionalizes as a figure that combines Kerouac's Dean Moriarty, a Queen St. West Andy Warhol and an affably horny angel of mercy. Steve's thing is bringing out the voice that Auden hears in his head when he's reading. Literally, as it were. "Every book is part of the library," the narrator explains in his introduction, "and inside that library there is a voice already waiting for you." When Auden finally meets the already-legendary Steve – at an orgy, of all un-Torontonian of activities – he's astounded to realize that the voice he hears from books and the voice of Reinke are the same. Their bond is sealed in the "project." Steve compels Auden to write everything down, and in so doing create something new – something vital and alive, a transcendent, death-defying "machine" generated by the synergy of Steve, Auden, words, trust and surrender. "All I knew for certain was that the voice I heard increasingly, inside and out, seemed to belong to Steve. Its soft reliable tones made even angry words desirable. I was learning. Becoming part of the machine."
By now you've probably guessed this isn't exactly airport reading, but the remarkable thing about Hoolboom's own voice – much like his work as a filmmaker – is how unpretentiously graceful and served-straight-up it is. Even though one suspects there are worlds of heaving postmodern theory stored in the author's mind, by the time it has filtered its way through his considerable narrative facility, theory becomes practice in the most practical way.
This is Steve's favourite bar: "There was no dress code, not like at the Crypt, where it was leather only please or, worse, at Ollie's where they didn't wear anything at all. That was fine if you were under thirty, only nobody at Ollie's was under thirty, which is why they drank too much."
Ultimately, The Steve Machine is a post-AIDS love story. Fragmented, elliptical and intellectually whimsical maybe, but really about two guys who find in art and each other a way to look death straight in the kisser. This is really what the machine is saying: The art of living is living through art.

The Steve Machine by Stuart Woods (Walrus, November 12, 2008)

“The Steve Machine is a novel that toys with our notion of reality. A kind of fictionalized biography of Toronto video artist Steve Reinke, it is a faithful meditation on his art that nevertheless skews some of the key details of his life (in particular, the fictional “Steve” is here diagnosed as HIV positive, which the real-life Reinke is not). Other characters, such as a shambling orgy enthusiast (“the most undiscriminating man I'd ever met”), are also named for non-fictional counterparts, though the degree of realism is equally questionable. The living, breathing Reinke is even called on to perpetuate the ruse. “I love this book,” he enthuses in a jacket blurb, “though I prefer the original title, Steve Reinke, World's Greatest Video Artist.”
Ostensibly, the debut novel from filmmaker and critic Mike Hoolboom (who has been living with HIV for close to two decades) is the story of how Auden, himself recently diagnosed, copes with the disease by latching onto Reinke in an intimate, mostly platonic love affair. As the two nurse each other through stages of the disease, Reinke divulges his life story in a series of elliptical anecdotes — part confessional, part portrait of the boundary-pushing artist as a young man. Auden is literally taken over by Reinke's tale, possessed by the “grain of [his] magnificent voice,” which he compares to the subvocal tone one hears while reading. The book, meanwhile, acts as “a machine for producing this voice,” a sly nod to Reinke's own highly conceptual work.
Toward the end of the book, Reinke eulogizes an artist who produced work of such beauty that it filled “its viewers with a perfect and individual happiness.” “[She] was the only true genius I ever met,” he says. “Unfortunately her chosen vocation was video art, which ensured that no one but her closest friends would ever understand her.” The Steve Machine possesses the same urgency. Like Reinke's ambitious project, The Hundred Videos , it twists reality and fantasy, memory and desire, to create an intuitive hybrid in which art transcends individual identity.

With reality askew, death made terrifyingly real by Jim Bartley (xtra, Dec. 7, 2008)

Award-winning Toronto film and video artist Mike Hoolboom opens his first novel with a tube-tanned doctor delivering bad news. There was a sadness in this doctor's face that remained a stranger to him, and it kept him young. Flashes of this kind of incisiveness recur throughout the book. Two paragraphs later Auden, our narrator, describes the weird numbness that can settle in when mortality hits us in the chops. I felt the muscles in my face as a large pack of steel balls that needed to be coaxed and herded to form basic human responses. Who of us has not been there?
Auden quickly decides that Sudbury is too small to handle his big news. The only place to really live with HIV is Toronto. He throws some clothes into a backpack and exits his basement apartment for the last time. A five block walk almost exhausts him, adding to his newly dissociative relationship with the world: I pretended to continue walking to the bus station until it was there in front of me. I impersonated a ticket purchase, a man waiting on the seat, a person who enjoyed lineups. Toronto's Bay St terminal proves to have the same kicked-dog look of every bus depot in the world. He buys a paper, circles some apartment listings and heads to a bank of pay phones.
As he builds his new urban life Auden's story is reliably fiction, until at a friend's funeral he meets the object of his instant fascination: real-life video artist Steve Reinke, still in the early years of his career. Within moments Reinke has booked him for a writing project, on the surface a bio of Reinke, but actually a kind of operating manual for a machine that he had spent his life perfecting. Auden is profoundly struck by Reinke's speaking voice, as if it has always belonged inside his head. It's the inner voice he hears whenever he reads, now leapt into the mouth of this stranger.
These are the pre-cocktail years in Toronto. With limited treatment options Auden is losing friends to AIDS almost as quickly as he can make them. Hoolboom evokes the cascade of loss succinctly, without any sense of rehashing the iconic urban plague novels of the period. With the arrival of Reinke the story plunges into serious arty-conceptual territory, as Auden becomes a sort of acolyte-stenographer for Reinke's recitation of his artistic past, always intimately connected to his personal life. Part of this is clearly the real life (including a swath of actual text from one of The Hundred Videos , Reinke's first major work) but Hoolboom freely blends fact with fiction, among other things slotting Reinke into an imaginary role in the Toronto reality show The Lofters . Meanwhile, Auden's inner voice feels to him more and more like Steve's. I was becoming part of the machine.
The climax that Hoolboom has been fitfully tugging us toward comes in the hours and days after a second test result. Here his artful dodges give way to stark honesty. We're dropped casually, but with rivetting effect, into the emotional labyrinths of our varied inner responses to AIDS. In tight snatches of groping, painfully real dialogue, almost no twist of mind and gut is left untouched. Fear, confusion, shame, regret, tenderness, a search for hope, finally a macabre sense of irony — as if, says Auden, Steve's habitual TV-sitcom laugh had suddenly grown teeth.
The Steve Machine is finally about taking care of our collective selves, which to Hoolboom seems mostly to be about pushing our way through the stigma of HIV and making safe sex more important than fear of rejection. Disclosure — the issue that lately seems to be twisting too many HIV discussions into impenetrable Gordian knots — is lightly passed over. Hoolboom's message couldn't be stronger or simpler, and is hardly new: We need to commit, for real, to looking out for each other, positive and negative, on equal terms.

Xtra recommends: best queer books of 2009 (xtra, Dec. 29, 2009)

A hallucinogenic and slightly Jesus-like video artist rescues a newly-diagnosed PWA and helps him to shed his anger and self-pity. Or does he? The title character is named for real-life video artist Steve Reinke, but the novel's Reinke is a bizarre blur, more spirit than plot point. His uninhibited, laissez-faire attitude and sexual bravado both attract and repel the narrator. Then, about two thirds of the way through, the snake eats its own tail and the blend of gritty realism and comic absurdity comes to a pleasingly emotional conclusion.

The Machine by August C. Bourré (Vestige.org)

This book had been giving me the eye in my local store for a couple months before I broke down and bought it. The premise of the novel as reported by the back cover struck me as fifty percent intriguing and fifty percent off-putting. The intriguing: Auden, Hoolboom's narrator/protagonist hears a voice in his head, a voice other than his own. When he moves from Sudbury to Toronto after discovering he's HIV-positive, he meets video artist Steve Reinke, only to discover that it is Steve's voice he hears inside his head. (Reinke, according to the notes, is a video artist out here in the real world too, though unlike his fictional counterpart, he is not HIV-positive. Some of his work is available to watch online.) Steve and Auden become... well, friends is the wrong word, I think, but they become close, anyway, and Steve helps Auden begin writing a book about Steve's life.
The book isn't just a book; it's also a machine, designed to heal Auden, to change the voice inside his head, and to alter the reader in such a way that a new personality will emerge from the experience. Sounds pretty amazing, right? Steve's video art also plays a pretty big role, though personally I think that video art is one of those things that sounds much more interesting when you read about it than it actually turns out to be when you see it.
The off-putting bits on the back are the descriptions of The Steve Machine as an AIDS fable and plague journal. Though not actually true of this book (thank God), I always feel like the author (or the publisher on their behalf) has confused themselves with a social worker, and that they've just been assigned my case. Note to authors: I don't give a shit about your social agenda, unless you're telling me an interesting story in an interesting way, with interesting characters. Even then I still won't give a shit about your agenda, but I'll probably like your book. Whenever I see a phrase like "AIDS fable," it makes me worried that I'm about to read a book about Gay People. I don't mean a book about characters who happen to be gay, because I'll take an interesting book about gay characters over a dull one about straight characters any day of the week. A book about Gay People is one in which the characters' homosexuality becomes their sole important characteristic, and the world of the novel has been built around that sexuality, rather than it being merely one fact among many in that world. (I won't even get into the fact that I know it's ridiculous of me to assume that a book with an HIV-positive male narrator means that narrator is gay, except to say that we're talking about literature as social work, not literature as art or even literature as a reflection of reality, because we know that in either of those last cases such an assumption would be foolish.) There's also the strong possibility that the book will become about The Disease, and that the world of the novel will be constructed solely so that we can cry over people dying of AIDS, and we can rage against an uncaring society and a corrupt system and I don't even care enough to finish the sentence that shit bores me so much. It turns out I didn't have to worry; neither Hoolboom nor Coach House Books thought he was a social worker. Instead, they all seemed to think he was a writer who wanted to tell an interesting story in an interesting way with interesting characters. As it happens, they were right.
Hoolboom's prose is casual and energetic, bordering on the Canadian Indie Style, but with enough discipline and control to avoid actually flying off into The Style. Though Auden seems to want to sublimate himself to Steve as the driving force of the story, it's Auden's strong, wonderfully developed personality that really shines through in sentences and paragraphs of The Steve Machine. I quite like this bit:
In my new dreams I savoured dinners with conversation so witty my guests ached with laughter, and all of them begged me to share their bed afterwards, startled by my perfect fashion sense and sexual athleticism. Shallow dreams, I knew, but sometimes even the unconscious gets tired of outputting Greek myths and new corporate logos. Meanwhile, in my waking hours, a small, angry man with a mouth in place of understanding hunted for blame. Like the hummingbird, he'd learned just one tune, and never tired of playing it. It was my fault. That's what he let me know. Even if the day hadn't started up yet, something somewhere was going wrong and I was to blame. When I spoke too frequently, this feeling would start creeping into conversation. Some were born with subliminal seduction, others with subliminal failure: it was a little trick some of us had learned to keep happiness from spoiling a view that had grown only too familiar.
There were two things I knew for sure when I tested positive. That I was going to die. And that I was going to hunt down the voice that was forever busy inventing new kinds of failure, and squeeze its little windpipe until it snapped between my fingers. I would not die guilty. I just didn't have the time. (p. 98)
So much of The Steve Machine is about the roiling course of Auden's attitudes and emotions as he becomes himself, the owner of his own true voice, in the face of his disease and blessing/curse of his relationship with Steve and the book they're writing together. For every moment of despair there's a moment of strength or apathy or affection. Interestingly, speaking of affection, I never really figured out if either Auden or Steve are gay; they clearly both like men, but there are passages that could indicate they might also like women. It just doesn't seem crucial to the book or to their identities to pin a definite sexual identity on either of them. And that's frankly refreshing. In literature, as in life, they are too many people whose sexuality eclipses all their other qualities to the point that it becomes the primary way you think of them as people (and don't those people irritate you?), but there are just as many people for whom phrases like "I don't like applying labels" actually means deep internal confusion, rather than the transcendence of labels that one imagines is the desired impression such phrases are intended give. Hoolboom ought to be commended for managing to create characters who actually achieve that transcendence.
Like Steve Reinke, Mike Hoolboom works primarily as a film and video artist. Though he's written other books, The Steve Machine is his only novel to date. I do hope there will be others.”

Robson Reading Series: Mike Hoolboom (UBC Grad Gazette, Oct. 2, 2008)

The first novel by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Hoolboom, The Steve Machine, is an audaciously original story of the friendship of Auden, a lost and HIV-positive young man, and Steve Rienke, a video artist who can cure insomnia, lower back pain and the ability to fall in love. Together, the duo encounter much love, loss and laughter, as well as Yoko Ono, an orgy master, Leno and Letterman and the staff of Pizzabilities.

The Steve Machine by Mike Hoolboom by Drew Halfnight (Matrix Magazine Issue 82, Spring 2009)

In The Steve Machine, the debut novel by Toronto video artist Mike Hoolboom, the reader encounters less a plot than a series of reckonings, less a novel than a video collage of memories, dreams and impressions.
After learning he is HIV-positive, Auden hauls anchor and moves to Toronto, an obscure purgatory of all-night doughnut cafes, hospital waiting rooms and featureless studio apartments. Once there he meets real-life video artist Steve Reinke, who helps him build a machine (read: write a book) that will record and process his new life with the virus.
An ethereal, fleeting presence, Reinke serves as Auden's companion and alter ego. In meditations on Reinke's videos and ideas, the aesthetic propositions underpinning The Steve Machine are given full play:
“Steve lived inside the books he encountered; he threw himself between the covers knowing that soon there would be no one left to read them. Oh sure, someone would always be able to pick up a book and go through the motions, twitching over miles of letters all lined up in a row like a firing squad. But to really read a book was to feel it as an echo of all the books written before it.”
And later:
"Personality was only an imperfect collection of memories, and now that art had set itself the task of leaving personality behind, we would pass in and out of one another like so many interchangeable parts. Like a machine."
There is little action to speak of in The Steve Machine, but what does occur — an orgy, some office work, bouts of vomiting — unfolds like a most inconsequential dream. The real action is the steady circulation of pathogens in Auden's blood…
At the end of the novel, Hoolboom permits a gust of humanity to blow through his hero's otherwise cold, detached narration. In a night club, Auden gushes: “I looked down in horror to see that my foot was also keeping time with the beat while my pulse raced with an emotion that could only be named as joy. Ohmigod. I was enjoying this.”
After so much morbid exposition, the book's sudden bright ending stings the eyes. Still, the effect is warming enough.

Amazon Review by Kevin Killian

The Steve Machine is beautifully designed by Alana Wilcox and the cover photograph by Benny Nemerofsky-Ramsay is more evocative each time I look at it. It was Richard Canning who recommended this book to me, saying it was the best AIDS novel he'd read in years. And that is not a recommendation I take lightly, for Canning is the editor of Vital Signs, a recent anthology of fiction about AIDS that I consider one of the top books of recent times.
I had never heard of Mike Hoolboom, the writer, nor of the video artist Steve Reinke who Hoolboom has fictionalized into the hero of his modern morality fable. Now I feel I know them both well. I had the same reaction to this book as I had way back when, when I made my way through Tom Spanbauer's novel The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon - that characters one was in love with were populating entirely new fictional territory. And I resisted at first, for I don't care much for "quirky" per se. Auden, a HIV-positive youth from the sticks, moves to Toronto and falls in with an arty crowd that has Steve Reinke at its center, and Steve begins healing him with the eponymous "Steve machine." It sounded like a Louise Hay sort of cure for AIDS, based on a strenuous deconstruction of one's personality and circadian rhythms. I kind of curdled inside, then recalled Canning's thumbs up and decided to give it one more chance. Only a page or so later I realized that the concentrated whimsy and invention were working on me. I hate novels with charismatic heroes, from On the Road onwards, but for this book I make an exception. Steve's aphorisms and theories are extraordinarily amusing and original, I learned to wait for each one the way her followers learned to wait for the next droplet of malice that fell from Dorothy Parker's lips.
As the novel parallels the development of the so-called "AIDS cocktail," it divides itself into two sections, despair and hope.
The only thing I didn't like is that, perhaps in a bid to stay warmly humorous and voguishly ironic, Hoolboom doesn't give us much of a love story. At least not in so many words. It wasn't until the book was over that I realized just how much his two main guys felt for each other, and how they saved each other's lives through the power of invention, of making up an alternate reality superior to the one science and the state had handed them. Bravo, Mr. Hoolboom. On every single page of your book there's a mindblowing new idea; it's a book that changes one's consciousness.

With reality askew, death made terrifyingly real - Jim Bartley

Award-winning Toronto film and video artist Mike Hoolboom opens his first novel with a tube-tanned doctor delivering bad news. "There was a sadness in this doctor's face that remained a stranger to him, and it kept him young." Flashes of this kind of incisiveness recur throughout the book. Two paragraphs later Auden, our narrator, describes the weird numbness that can settle in when mortality hits us in the chops. "I felt the muscles in my face as a large pack of steel balls that needed to be coaxed and herded to form basic human responses." Who of us has not been there?
Auden quickly decides that Sudbury is too small to handle his big news. The only place to really live with HIV is Toronto. He throws some clothes into a backpack and exits his basement apartment for the last time. A five block walk almost exhausts him, adding to his newly dissociative relationship with the world: "I pretended to continue walking to the bus station until it was there in front of me. I impersonated a ticket purchase, a man waiting on the seat, a person who enjoyed lineups." Toronto's Bay St terminal proves to have "the same kicked-dog look of every bus depot in the world." He buys a paper, circles some apartment listings and heads to a bank of pay phones.
As he builds his new urban life Auden's story is reliably fiction, until at a friend's funeral he meets the object of his instant fascination: real-life video artist Steve Reinke, still in the early years of his career. Within moments Reinke has booked him for a writing project, on the surface a bio of Reinke, but actually "a kind of operating manual for a machine that he had spent his life perfecting." Auden is profoundly struck by Reinke's speaking voice, as if it has always belonged inside his head. It's the inner voice he hears whenever he reads, now "leapt into the mouth of this stranger."
These are the pre-cocktail years in Toronto. With limited treatment options Auden is losing friends to AIDS almost as quickly as he can make them. Hoolboom evokes the cascade of loss succinctly, without any sense of rehashing the iconic urban plague novels of the period. With the arrival of Reinke the story plunges into serious arty-conceptual territory, as Auden becomes a sort of acolyte-stenographer for Reinke's recitation of his artistic past, always intimately connected to his personal life. Part of this is clearly the real life (including a swath of actual text from one of The Hundred Videos, Reinke's first major work) but Hoolboom freely blends fact with fiction, among other things slotting Reinke into an imaginary role in the Toronto reality show The Lofters. Meanwhile, Auden's inner voice feels to him more and more like Steve's. "I was becoming part of the machine."
Plot-wise the story often moves as much sideways as forward. Some of the drift leads us repeatedly into petty sparring between Auden and his boss at an insurance office. The job-related sections never really connect with the main body of the story — which itself feels pretty random.
The climax that Hoolboom has been fitfully tugging us toward comes in the hours and days after a second test result. Here his artful dodges give way to stark honesty. We're dropped casually, but with rivetting effect, into the emotional labyrinths of our varied inner responses to AIDS. In tight snatches of groping, painfully real dialogue, almost no twist of mind and gut is left untouched. Fear, confusion, shame, regret, tenderness, a search for hope, finally a macabre sense of irony — as if, says Auden, Steve's habitual TV-sitcom laugh had suddenly "grown teeth."
The Steve Machine is finally about taking care of our collective selves, which to Hoolboom seems mostly to be about pushing our way through the stigma of HIV and making safe sex more important than fear of rejection. Disclosure — the issue that lately seems to be twisting too many HIV discussions into impenetrable Gordian knots — is lightly passed over. Hoolboom's message couldn't be stronger or simpler, and is hardly new: We need to commit, for real, to looking out for each other, positive and negative, on equal terms.
Coach House Books asks Mike Hoolboom A Few Things About The Steve Machine

CH: Steve Reinke, Auden's best friend, is the name of a real person, who is also a video artist. But the Steve in the novel is fictionalized, isn't he? How does fictional Steve differ from real Steve?
MH: On and off the page, Steve is the creator of wondrous and unusual videos that induce healing effects in their viewers. But that's about the only thing he and his literary doppelganger share. He does not teach at Marshall High School in Chicago, he has no taste for paper suits, he never appeared on a reality TV show, he has never met Yoko Ono and most importantly: he is not HIV-positive!
CH: What about the real Steve Reinke made you want to fictionalize him?
MH: Steve was asked by honcho California artist Mike Kelley to fly down to LA and lecture on my work. He talked the talk and showed some movies and when he was done the assembled students were certain that I was another of Steve's elaborate fabrications. When invited by Power Plant curator Philip Monk to participate in Substitute City, a show dedicated to new views of Toronto, I asked Steve to do the voice-over for a new video of mine, and when it was exhibited many thought it was Steve's work.
This authorial dispersion has been extended in other ways. For instance, many of my movies are available for online viewing, and refusing the dire copyright notices that accompany most of these offerings, my notice encourages viewers to download and re-edit. I am looking forward to their newer, shinier, more perfect versions. The Steve Machine imagines a city where identity borders are not patrolled so carefully. We already live in a place where popular phrases and pictures pass in and out of us, in rapid exchange. To say nothing of the micro-world of bacterias and viruses. These principles, which we already live by, are being extended daily via the computer. My book machine is part of the same gesture.
CH: You're a highly regarded filmmaker. What made you make the leap to fiction? How is the process different for each?
MH:I recently heard a brain researcher describe her stroke: from one moment to the next she flipped between a blissful state where she was unable to see where her body stopped and the world began, and a righteous panic as she registered the cold fact of having a stroke. The panic, the cold facts and the inexorable sense that I am monitoring a situation that I have no control over, all this is familiar from my movie making.
[For instance] a little over a year ago, my friend and long-time editor Mark Karbusicky died suddenly and unexpectedly. I have been living inside his fatal decision, visiting his family and friends, retracing the steps. The small pictures that have been gathered through these encounters will not be enough, but they are an offering, an attempt to make a place where my friend can come and visit again. To leave a trace.
The writing of this novel, on the other hand, has arrived as a rare pleasure and relief. To be relieved of the sharp grief, the burden of appointments, the disappointments of technology. Instead I could follow words that moved easily from the keyboard onto the page, as if their stencils or outlines were already there, and I was filling them in. The process of writing was like being given a children's colouring book, with the forms already in place. All I had to do was take up the crayons.
CH: It's widely known that you've been HIV-positive for some time. Is this a subject you've tackled before in film? Is it difficult to write about? How present is the real Mike Hoolboom in the novel? We love especially that you've brought a fine sense of humour to it – the comic AIDS novel is somewhat of an anomaly…
MH: Yes, AIDS and movies have been a long duet in my work. I've won the award for best Canadian short twice at the Toronto International Film Festival, the first time for Frank's Cock (1993), the second time for Letters from Home (1996), and both movies are about AIDS. There was also Valentine's Day (1994), a dystopic AIDS-quarantine sci-fi feature, and Panic Bodies (1998), an episodic feature-length suite that began with a four-screen meditation on AIDS. Unlike most illnesses, this one will not be leaving me, it is also me, my identity, and has been for more than twenty years now.
I think it was Godard (as usual) who said that in order to make a work of fiction, it is necessary to begin with documentary, and vice versa. How much of me is there in the book? If it's true what Lacan says, that the unconscious is structured like a language, then this book machine holds the secret of my structure, it shows the way I gather and arrange words to create meaning. But it is not a transposition of lived events, not at all. There are some who can go out and adventure and then sit home in their recovery and scribble it all down, and others who might make, from the barest suggestion of an adventure, a whole other world. While I long to adventure, I am more at home in the second group.
CH: In the novel, Auden and Steve are constructing a machine in the form of a book. Can you tell us a little about what this machine will do?
MH: The novel follows a trajectory from illness to health, and one of the signs of this brimming new health is a new inner voice. In the cartoons of my youth this was typically depicted by a pitchfork-wielding, red leather devil perched on one shoulder whispering schemes. You are unworthy of love. You are not beautiful. You are not working hard enough. We all have these voices sounding off inside, telling and telling again a narrative that has attached itself to our identity. For many of us, this voice and its cruel truths are the root of who we ‘really' are. This book offers a way out of this impasse: via careful reading, the voice of the reader may be replaced with another voice, no longer needing to fill every available moment with judgments and off-screen commentary. Instead, it offers the hope of a consoling quietude.

Good Candy: an interview with Jason Anderson (December 2008)

Jason: Why do you think you've been involved with so many writing projects lately? Were you working on films in tandem or did this spate of literary activity serve as a break from the editing room?
Mike: Writing is the secret that I have been busy keeping from myself. I was one of those kids who saved their Halloween candy. Only the most unwanted discard was permitted, the rest was cached for some future perfect moment. More than once, an entire year passed with the basket still brimming full. Writing has always felt like the good candy, the rockets and twizzlers and chocolate everythings. Movies are apples.
Jason: Was the development of the novel very different than the creative process that goes into making a film? What sorts of things did the novel allow you to do or explore that you wouldn't have been able to do in a film?
Mike: The Steve Machine had to be written while I was pretending to do other things. It was scribbled on napkins and coasters and the margins of foreign newspapers. The point was never to be caught working at it, because then I would freeze and all the words that cozied up at night would simply rush from the room. Movies, on the other hand, are the necessary seal which keeps out the unexpected, the unbearable, the new. They are only partially successful at this, So their restless vigil must be renewed as often as possible. I'm always working on a movie it seems, while I'm never writing a book, especially when it's being written.
While my movies are filled with stories, it's hard to imagine a plot-driven confection, at least in part because of the required means. In the novel, new cities appear with a few jabs at the keyboard. And then disappear again. And while there are reps and houses and awards, a book is not judged wanting simply because it didn't cost a lot of money to produce. Spending a million dollars wouldn't have made my book any better, though it would have paid for a lot of back rubs.
Jason: Living with HIV has obviously been a primary concern in many of your film works, yet The Steve Machine offers a very different take on the subject. Did the process of writing a novel encourage another kind of approach? (The "plague journal" mode mentioned in Greyson's blurb comes to mind, though the novel's form is too elastic for The Steve Machine to be considered any form of diary.)
Mike: The most true-to-life parts of the novel are fiction, while those few moments which are lifted from conversational gambits with friends or indiscreet encounters seem already covered in the tall tale glow of speculation. Somehow, the novel turns documentary into fiction.
The AIDS pandemic is a long distance runner. When I made Letters From Home , a dozen years back, the voice-over said, “While you've been watching this film, five people have died of AIDS.” Today the number would be much higher. Some of the movies have a messaging urgency as a result, which is good for the message, and not so good for the movies. My novel, on the other hand, is a comedy and a love story, and was written in meringue. Its short chapters float past without any effort at all, and while I had hoped to endow the book with a circuit which would permit pages to turn by themselves, this seemed too much like a James Bond ploy.
One of the book's new joys is that, unlike a movie, it's rarely ingested in a single setting. Instead, it continually vanishes and re-appears in new settings; already it has been washed up in faraway vacation spots and local laundromats. I imagined it like a visiting friend whispering secrets. And while I am prone to inventing blind spots in my movies, I was saved from the worst of these by my genius Coach House editor, Alana Wilcox. She was not only the first reader, but she lent the new book new eyes which dissolved everything which did not quicken the pulse.
Jason: What made Steve Reinke and his Hundred Videos project so ripe for mythologizing?
Mike: Steve's first video was called The 100 Videos , and yes, there were a hundred of them. They were chatty and smart and beautiful and seemed to contain every conversation I had ever wanted to have. And while they might have appeared overbearing, like an unwanted house guest who soaks up all the conversation, they were “only video” after all, and their numbers made a luxury out of them. He also didn't mind failing. Oh look, he's fallen right on his face, and then he gets right back up and knocks out another killer picture. He raised the bar for the art form and granted permission at the same time.
Then there is Steve, the person. I remember rushing over to Steve at some late night swarm with a friend in tow and we both gushed about how much we loved his work. He looked at us like runaway lab specimens. And while he has warmed to the idea of small talk in the intervening years, particularly with a martini or two in hand, there is something dead level in his bearing. Somehow, without running off to a cave for most of his adult life, or holding his body in improbable poses for hours at a time, he manages to exhibit a winning detachment.
Jason: You describe the grain of Steve's voice in the introduction to his interview in Practical Dreamers , too. How did that voice become the voice in Auden's head? Is it the voice you always wanted, too?
Mike: The Steve Machine is a machine in the form of a book. I had always wanted to make useful art; videotapes that could be strong enough to tow cars, but light enough to serve as the bow on a boy's birthday present. After becoming positive, Auden travels to Toronto where he meets Steve Reinke, who slowly but surely shows him how to build a special kind of machine. This machine is not capable of towing anything, instead it swaps the interior voice of the reader for Steve's cool elocutions. Most insider soundings are a jumbled sandwich of past and futures, while this voice, with its wide open spaces and easy handling, returns the gift of the present.
Jason: In the introduction for Practical Dreamers and in several places in The Steve Machine you touch on the idea that film and video art works may have miraculous healing qualities (or at least be useful as weight-loss tools!). Do you think many artists (including yourself) harbour this hope that their work could contain this magical potential? (i.e., that what they've made is not this grubby, flawed, misbegotten thing, but a talisman with the power to transform the audience in some literal way.) It strikes me as a common and probably useful delusion for artists lest they be consumed by the futility of it all...
Mike: In her Dreamers interview, Paulette Philips relates a moment in her art school class during the last federal election. She proposed that art was as important as health care, and her students were dutifully scandalized. 30 years ago they would have been tuning out and turning on, this year it's all about jobs. Art is a conversational backdrop, an extra for people who have evenings to spare, a potential diversion after doing time in the money playpens downtown. Or?
But anyone who doesn't believe in magic has never seen Kent Monkman's painterly reworkings of the Western, or the fine trick Richard Fung pulls off in Islands where he takes his uncle, an anonymous extra in a Hollywood blockbuster, and turns him into the star. Artists movies are a place where someone else's garbage is routinely turned into happiness, and most of all, where we learn to change speeds. What is love, after all, but changing speeds with someone at the same time?
Could I offer a small, often repeated example? If you take a glass already filled with water and hold it in your hand, how heavy is it? It might be a question of time. One minute, no worries. An hour later and that glass feels like you're holding up a swimming pool, ten hours on and your arm needs surgical replacement. But if you put the glass down, even for a few moments, when you pick it back up again it's lighter than ever. Art is like putting the glass down.
Jason: Another notion in the book that I found very compelling was the attraction we have for systems, machines and mechanisms that we hope will rid us of doubt, uncertainty and all the messiness that comes with free will and human frailty. Why does Auden need the Steve Machine so badly? Is it fair to say that he ends up processed by the machine rather than consumed?
Mike: Yes, Auden has been processed, filtered, recombined. Like the virus which will never leave, some encounters mark him, ready or not. His landlord, his boss, the bus driver, the people he meets at the orgy, they are writing on water. They make a fleeting impression and disappear. But when he finally meets up with Steve Reinke, he is startled to find someone whose voice is the one he hears while reading.
Do you remember that strange moment in Augustine's Confessions ? After a thrill ride of maxed-up intoxication and sexual oblivions, he retreats into the bible and reworks his life as if he were an actor learning a part. He doesn't read, he absorbs and becomes the book. Along the way he stops at a monastery where, late at night, after the penitential prayers and ritual floggings, he retires to his chamber and begins again to pore over his precious book. One night he notices, to his astonishment, that a good part of the order has massed outside his door. They look at him in horror and amazement, because while he was clearly reading, he was not reading aloud. How could the words exist if they were not voiced? And of course, because the book he was reading was the bible, the voice that he kept to himself, the voice he gathered inside, was the voice of God.
"I look at the machine and think of a world where each memory could create its own legend." (Chris Marker)
Steve Reinke is not God, but Auden needs him just the same. There is a way out of his illness endgame through a kind of “talking cure,” a machine built out of words. In the doorless rooms we sometimes find ourselves in, it is rare that someone else might have a key, or offer clues about leaving that impossible place. And rarer still that we might be open to hearing them.
Jason: I think Practical Dreamers and Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (2000) are extremely valuable (and readable) as forums for fringe filmmakers to describe how they do what they do. Why do you have such a strong compulsion to deepen people's understanding of an art form that can make poetry (to paraphrase the joke in The Steve Machine ) seem like the daily news?
Mike: I don't need to be the only person eating that special ice cream flavour. You must share the same feeling yourself, Jason, spreading the word in weekly installments about pictures which make new pleasures possible. The two interview books pull the curtain aside so you can see how the thing works, and why someone would want to do that in the first place. Over and again we read how some personal catastrophe (like love, for instance, or racial profiling, or walking home to find your father dead on the couch) puts the artist outside the general hum, the usual traffic flow. It's not so unusual, it happens to everyone of course, but some make a home here, and begin to create new shapes for their experience. They may not be recognizable at first… wait, wait, what is that? But these small pictures allow us, invite us, to be larger than ourselves. They keep on showing me that the good candy doesn't have to be hoarded, because there's lots more where that came from, in new, impossible colours. How can you resist?

Writings on Mike Hoolboom

Imitations by Mark Scala (Nashville, 2009)
Mike Hoolboom wins Bell Award (2009)
Cinema as Talk-Back by Pablo Marin (Buenes Aires Independent Festival Catalogue, 2006)
Best of by Cameron Bailey (Now Magazine, 2006)
Hoolboom by Yann Beauvais (Reprocessing Reality Catalogue, February 2005)
And Our Bodies Will Grow Transparent by: The Work of Mike Hoolboom by Janet Harbord (Vertigo, 2005)
This is not the end: The films of Mike Hoolboom by Matthias Mueller (Vila do Conde Festival Catalogue, 2004)
Notizen Vom Rand by Christopher Huber (Die Presse, June 2004)
Drives, Death, Toronto by Michael Loebenstein (Falter, Vienna, June 2004)
Love, Illness and Memory by Isabella Reicher (Der Standard, June 14, 2004)
From Frank's Cock to Imitations of Life: Ten Years With Mike Hoolboom by Janice Cole (Originally published in POV Magazine Issue 52, Winter 2003/4)
Prolific director opens the doors to ambiguity by Katherine Monk (Vancouver Province, 2003)
Filmova Obsese by Andrea Slovakova (Dok Revue, 2002)
Portrait of the Filmmaker as a Busy Young Man (Globe and Mail, 1998)
Introduction by Kika Thorne (Toronto, 1997)
Movies by Cameron Bailey (Flare Magazine, 1997)
A Pauper Prince of Underground Film by Liam Lacey (Globe and Mail, 1995)
How to die: the films of Mike Hoolboom by Jack Rusholme (Mesh Magazine, 1994)

Hoolboom's Writings on Artists


Ann Arbor Film Festival: Mask, Garbage, Sangha (2012)
The Three Bells March 2012
Lost (March 2012)
The Lotus Sutra: The Empty Room (2011)
Michael Stone intro (2011)
100 Years of Experts: Baboons, Ice, Prisoners (2011)
Music of Silence (2011)
Occupy Friendship: The Art of Leaving Home (November 2011)
Why Do I Make Films? (2011)
Sandokai (2011)
Love and Work (2010)
Will It Float? (2010)
Notes on Attention, Projection, Foreplay and the Second Encounter (2010)
White Noise (2010)
Bell Award Presentation (Gladstone Hotel, June 18, 2010)
Opus Bonum Jury (2010)
Music of Silence (2010)
Downward Dogs and Trojan Horses (December 2010)
Invisible Pictures (2009)
Longing for the Invisible (2009)
Opening the Door (2009)
Showing Pictures (with Yann Beauvais) (2008)
Marking (2008)
London Foreword (2008)
Light Cone letter (2007)
What is the situation of experimental film today? (2007)
White Like Me (2007)
Images Festival (2007)
My Best Friend is not a Documentary (2006)
Stealing Pictures (2006)
Complaints (2005)
Viva Vila (2004)
Second Chances (2003)
Love Rigorous (2003)
This Year it's all about Money (2002)
Cinema and Video: Cain and Abel (2001)
Toronto Arts Awards Speech (1999)
The Festival That Ate My Brain (1997)
Nine Thoughts on Short Films (1995)
Canada-US Film Relations (1994)
ABCs of the Canon (1993)
My Life in the Groin of the Crypt (1993)

Independent Eye

The Ends of Ending.pdf (Fall 1988)
Reinventing the Wheel.pdf (Winter 1989)
Desire in Ruins.pdf (Summer 1989)
Leaving the Theatre.pdf (Fall 1989)
Germany: Over the Wall.pdf (Spring 1990)
The Critical Eye: All Review Issue.pdf (Fall 1990)
Continental Shelves: Reports on Distribution.pdf (Winter 1991)
Centering Marginality.pdf (Summer 1991)
Exhibitionists.pdf (Fall 1991)


Preceptions (2011)

Al Razutis (2009)

Mike Cartmell (2009)

Dani Leventhal (2009)

Practical Dreamers, Coach House Books, 2008.

“Taking its title from Man Ray, Practical Dreamers comprises 27 conversations between the author (a respected veteran filmmaker himself) and Canadian fringe film and video artists on the subject of how and why they put their thoughts and dreams into moving pictures. The interviewees represent the range of perspectives being explored in film and video today and speak candidly about both specific inspirations and their general creative philosophy. Like Hoolboom's 1997 Inside the Pleasure Dome , this compendium is sure to connect with fringe-film aficionados but also prove enjoyable for the casual reader.” (Canadian Art, Fall 2008)

'The streets are full of admirable craftsmen, but so few practical dreamers.' – Man Ray

What if there were movies made the same way as suits, custom-fitted, each tailored for one person? Not theatres around the world showing the same pictures, but instead a movie just for you, a movie so particular, so peculiar, it could cure night blindness or vertigo? Welcome to the world of fringe movies. Here, artists have been busy putting queer shoulders to the wheels, or bending light to talk about First Nations rights (and making it funny, to boot), or demonstrating how a personality can be taken apart and put back together, all during a ten-minute movie which might take years to make.

In Practical Dreamers, 27 movie artists dish about how they get it done and why it matters. The conversations are personal, up-close and jargon-free, smart without smarting. The stellar cast includes Daniel Cockburn, Helen Lee, Deirdre Logue, Kent Monkman, Nelson Henricks, Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, Shelley Niro, Peter Mettler, Donigan Cumming, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, Midi Onodera, John Price, Daniel Barrow, Wayne Yung, Jayce Salloum, Jeff Erbach, Su Rynard, Monique Moumblow, Steve Reinke, Alessa Cohene, Ho Tam, Christina Battle, Alex MacKenzie, Jubal Brown, Paulette Phillips and Richard Fung.

'Once again, the indefatigable Mike Hoolboom – known far and wide as an accomplished, courageous and prolific film/video artist and a gifted writer – provides a much-needed service to his Canadian filmmaker colleagues. His breakthrough earlier book of interviews, Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada, provided an extensive and generous introduction to Canadian avant-garde cinema. Hoolboom's Practical Dreamers is not only a fine addition to his oral history project, it is a remarkably readable and energetic volume, an engaging gateway into an immense and intriguing cinematic world. Practical Dreamers is film scholarship at its most useful and enjoyable.' – Scott McDonald

‘Mike Hoolboom is the insider chronicler, confessor and champion of the Canadian media-arts fringe, a concept he invented and has himself embodied for a quarter century. Introduced by knowing, personal and pithy capsules, these interviews with 28 cutting-edge young and not-so-young artists are (in alphabetical order) complicit, devoted, fastidious, generous, intimate, obsessed, observant, patient, witty ... Did I say seductive? Mike draws out the best in these fascinating characters who are stitching together our collective imaginary, and compels us to rush out and catch their work – as well we should if we care about the future of Canadian moving-image art. Warhol has been eclipsed; in the future everyone will be interviewed by Hoolboom.' – Tom Waugh, Concordia University

'Everyone should read Mike Hoolboom's Practical Dreamers: Conversations with Movie Artists and see the work of his more than two dozen moviemaking subjects. Hoolboom opens up a vast territory of investigation and playfulness about films that have the particularity to make us feel right at home. The task of seeing the films, like reading this book, takes a bit of work, but it's worth it. The prerequisite is an open mind. (We can do that: Not long ago, no one would dream of eating raw fish, and look at us now.) Hoolboom's primer assists us in grasping the meaning of the work of some of the more obscure film artists working in our midst. His interview style is unmatchable: His introductory paragraphs are provocative and lucid. The writing reaches back in time and into Hoolboom's own excellent work and filmmaking experience. He infuses with fleet phrases an aura of significance to his subject. (Where is his interview with himself?) By conducting the interviews on paper (or by e-mail), he elicits the wit and insight and the very thought processes of his subjects. This work is in the tradition of Godard and Truffaut and other filmmakers who became devoted to an examination of the work of their peers.' (Gail Singer, Globe and Mail, Top 100 Books of 2008)

Table of Contents

Daniel Cockburn: Smartbomb - 3
Helen Lee: Priceless - 21
Deirdre Logue: Beyond the Usual Limits - 35
Kent Monkman: Miss Chief - 45
Nelson Henricks: Ironic Nostalgia - 55
Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby: I Am A Conjuror - 73
Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay: The Singer - 81
Shelley Niro: The Red Army is the Strongest - 91
Peter Mettler: Gambling Gods and LSD - 103
Donigan Cumming: Reality and Motive in the Documentary - 111
Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof: Memos of Resistance - 127
Midi Onodera: Camera Obscura for Dreams - 137
John Price: Home is a Movie - 155
Daniel Barrow: After Charlie Brown and Liberace - 163
Wayne Yung: My Heart the Travel Agent - 169
Jayce Salloum: From Lebanon to Kelowna - 185
Jeff Erbach: Soft Like Me - 203
Su Rynard: After Science - 211
Monique Moumblow: Doubling - 221
Steve Reinke: My Rectum is Not a Grave - 231
Aleesa Cohene: Twice Told Tales - 243
Ho Tam: Season of the Boys - 243
Christina Battle: Colour Processing - 261
Alex MacKenzie: Blinding Light - 269
Jubal Brown: Life is Pornography - 281
Paulette Phillips: Monster - 293
Richard Fung: Thinking Pictures - 305  

Amerikan Movies (2008)

Documentary (2007)

Touching Pictures (2007)

Deirdre Logue: Enlightened Nonsense (2006)

Deirdre Logue: Why Always? (2006)

Two Films by Owen Land (2005)

Steve Reinke - The 100 Videos (2002)     PDF

Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada, Coach House Books, 2nd edition (Dec 16, 2001)

Everybody loves the movies. But a movie about the colour blue, or an isolated mountain range, or a man grown so thin the world floats through his perfect transparency? 'You know what would be really great - to make a two-hour movie about Taylor Mead's ass,' remarked Andy Warhol, the most notorious fringe filmer of them all. Welcome to the strange and wonderful universe of fringe cinema, where the only rules left unbroken are the ones that have been forgotten. Twenty-three interviews with Canada's finest underdogs lay it all down like a road, ready to take you through the vanishing point of personality.
This new edition includes a foreword by Atom Egoyan, and features never-before-heard raps from Ellie Epp, David Rimmer, Ann Marie Fleming, Anna Gronau, John Kneller, Rick Hancox and Kika Thorne, joining fellow fringers like Mike Snow, Carl Brown, Patricia Gruben, Penelope Buitenhuis, Fumiko Kiyooka, Wrik Mead, Annette Mangaard, Gariné Torossian, Richard Kerr and Mike Cartmell.

Michael Snow: Machines of Cinema
Carl Brown: Painting the Light Fantastic
Patricia Gruben: Sifted Evidence
Barbara Sternberg: Transitions
Al Razutis: Three Decades of Rage
Penelope Buitenhuis: Guns, Girls and Guerillas
Fumiko Kiyooka: The Place with Many Rooms is the Body
Peter Lipskis: I Was a Teenage Personality Crisis!
Wrik Mead: Out of the Closet
Annette Mangaard: Her Soil is Gold
Steve Sanguedolce: Sex, Madness and the Church
Gary Popovich: Lies My Father Told Me
Philip Hoffman: Pictures of Home
Garine Torossian: Girl from Moush
Richard Kerr: Last Days of Living
Mike Cartmell: Watching Death at Work
Rick Hancox: There's a Future in Our Past
Deirdre Logue: Transformer Toy
Ann Marie Fleming: Queen of Disaster
Chris Gallagher: Terminal City
David Rimmer: Fringe Loyalty
Ellie Epp: Notes In Origin
John Kneller: The Church of Film
Anna Gronau: The Dead Are Not Powerless
Kika Thorne: What Is To Be Done?

"In some ways I can't understand why experimental film continues to have such a small audience," says celebrated artist and filmmaker Michael Snow in Inside the Pleasure Dome. Perhaps this book by Mike Hoolboom, a veteran of Toronto's underground film scene, will help rectify matters. In any event, it does much to aid in understanding this underappreciated area of filmmaking, which has an especially rich and vital history in Canada. First published in 1997, Inside the Pleasure Dome is now available in a new and much-expanded edition. As before, the chapters are devoted to long interviews with a wide assortment of filmmakers, all with varied backgrounds, methodologies, and philosophies. Profiles of elder statesmen like Snow (whose '60s works Wavelength and New York Eye and Ear Control have been massively influential) and Philip Hoffman sit alongside pieces on super-8 maverick Penelope Buitenhuis and idiosyncratic animator Garine Torossian. In his questions, Hoolboom quizzes the filmmakers on technical issues as well as thematic ones—how the work is made is often as important as why. Handcrafted from intentionally weathered scraps of original film and found footage, John Kneller's stunning films are a case in point. Yet his work is still deemed inaccessible by many and seldom seen. As he ruefully notes to Hoolboom, "It's funny, people will wait at a bus stop or laundromat but can't sit through a five-minute experimental film. Sometimes they get so angry." Regardless of whether it helps decrease hostility toward these filmmakers' unorthodox visions, Inside the Pleasure Dome provides invaluable insights to the form. --Jason Anderson

“In his latest endeavor filmmaker and critic Mike Hoolboom takes the reader on a splendid tour of “five generations of fringe film in Canada,” i.e.. primarily Toronto and Vancouver. Hoolboom interviews many artists, from Michael Snow as Ur-conceptualist to the anarchistic Penelope Buitenhuis to the process-centered Carl Brown to Wrik Mead with his pixillated gay wit. Barbara Sternberg, Fumiko Kiyooka and Gariné Torossian individually nuance themes of cultural displacement and more. The varied modes of practice that each filmmaker represents are discussed with a surprising, welcomed degree of frankness and articulation... Essential to the cultural surfer for whom moving images should make sense.” (Ger Zielinski, Parachute, Spring 1998)

On Words And Images by Kathleen Pirrie Adams (POV Magazine, Spring/Summer 1998)

“...Fringe Film in Canada is an excellent survey of the issues surrounding the making of experimental film. It provides a sampling of the styles of thought and the creative habits of a handful of artists who represent a cross-section of generations, aesthetic styles and art-making methods. Like any anthology, this one is burdened by the weight of what is missing. What it offers instead of comprehensiveness is the celebration of uniqueness of each approach, each filmwork, each artist. Hoolboom's quiet assumption that the anecdotal can justify his subject proves good, as the reader becomes immersed in a foraging expedition that uncovers gems like: Carl Brown's artist as cockroach theory; Gary Popovich's candid disclosures about how his interest in feminist film theory carried with it a desire for friendship, connection, intimacy; Michael Snow's story about how in the 1960s the Filmmakers Co-op in New York rented films from their collection to ad agencies wanting to keep up with, and appropriate, the most current stylistic innovations coming up from the underground; or the story about how Man Ray's sabbatier-style was the result of an assistant flicking the lights of the darkroom on and then off because they were frightened by a mouse.
Part of what makes Hoolboom's interviews so interesting is their ability to call forth background details that situate and illuminate the films under discussion. The interviews fascinate also because they reveal the very personal investment these artists make, not just in the images they create, but in all aspects of the filmmaking process and the lifestyle of constant experimentation.... Fringe Film in Canada is a collection of conversations concerned with the way the talk that surrounds a film affects it. In the book the world of words and the world of images mesh under a more general rubric: ideas. As Hoolboom says in reference to Patricia Gruben “...a change in ideas might hinge on a change in prose.” It is a book that understands the anti-authoritarian (other) side of the language virus that writers like William Burroughs laboured to confound.”

Sentimental Illness by Hal Niedzviecki (This Magazine Jan/Feb 2002)

“...Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (Coach House Books) by Mike Hoolboom, recently expanded and re-issued is another largely interview-based oral history of a very specific genre. Though organization here is by artist, the effect is similar. Culture is imbued with history, but not at the expense of its present-day possibilities. I stop to read about how Maritime filmmaker Barbara Sternberg came to make her first film. In one brief section, we get a vision of life in Sackville, New Brunswick in the late 1970s, a sense of an industrial age already drawing to a close, and insight into the mind of a budding filmmaker who would go on to quietly make ten short experimental films over the next twenty years.
Since these texts consist largely of interviews with those who were—and remain—on hand, a living, breathing culture id depicted with all its warts, glories and on-going challenges. They speak of other eras-even idealize them—but in a way that both recognizes the primacy of our current struggles. They are the antithesis of nostalgia, which slaps a beige coating of caricature and conformity over a cultural event—whether the moment ends in a splash of blood or a happily-ever-after-rainbow. Located somewhere between cold hard facts and the soft focus, perpetually re-released hard sell, we find a valid nostalgia that acknowledges the messiness of lived experience without devaluing the lessons—and legends—we might find if we look to the past.”

New Books by Arthur Cantrill (Cantrills Filmnotes, 1989)

Faced with the perennial problem of finding a name for non-mainstream film art, Mike Hoolboom opts for "fringe film," a gesture I read as deploring its systematic marginalization. Because, as Atom Egoyan puts it in his foreword to this important book: "To treat these films as marginal is to marginalize some integral part of ourselves." The author sees this book on Canadian work as ‘the child of The Independent Eye,' a magazine on film art which he brilliantly edited while working at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre in the late eighties. Both publications were motivated by "the belief that artists should be seen and heard, that they have constructed universes in miniature whose patterns of development possess an exquisite rigour," and this deserves to be discussed and understood, in the hope of enlarging the public for such work. As a filmmaker and a writer on film, Hoolboom is well acquainted with the problems associated with this project.
The book begins with Michael Snow—who else?—that ‘blue-chip conceptualist' whose work over so many art media has been impressive. As with other entries in the book, it takes the form of a short introduction, followed by a probing and expansive interview conducted by the author... Perhaps the last interview in the book, Watching Death at Work with Mike Cartmell, goes furthest in mapping out the problems and future of avant-garde film practice. He considers himself to have stopped filmmaking after three films done in the eighties (he has much uncut footage which may or may not form new work), the discussion to do with the future of film seems to be ending in the most pessimistic way, when Cartmell suddenly says, "...it's astonishing how things change. A stupid invention in someone's garage can completely change the way everybody things. And there are garages in which the lights are burning all night.”

Filmmaking without narrative by Gale Singer (Globe and Mail)

In an articulate conversation overheard at a café on Toronto's fashionable College Street, a woman in black mentioned a film she had seen earlier that day. She said, “I loved the riddle of it. I loved not knowing what it (the film) could possibly have meant.” The film she was referring to could only have been an experimental film. Experimental filmmakers seem to throw all caution to the wind. They are able to retain a child-like curiosity about objects, events and processes, which allows them to investigate these without the usual conventions of film construction. They are working without a narrative net. They perceive as legitimate in cinema the kind of exploration many people mistakenly abandon at the end of formal schooling.
I've never detected any particular eagerness on the part of experimental filmmakers to clarify what it is they are trying to do, with a couple of notable exceptions. Mike Hoolboom has included these two exceptional filmmakers in this collection of wonderful interviews. Both Philip Hoffman and Patricia Gruben have rendered their exquisite work more meaningful and relevant by constantly engaging in non-obscurantist dialogue about it. Hoffman is a kind of experimental film proselytizer; he seeks out audiences and addresses them in accessible language. Hoolboom has taken his cue from Hoffman, and enriched the potential for understanding this medium—in particular the work of these artists—by engaging in conversations with them that sound as if they were lifted out of the notebook of a wise psychoanalyst. The interviewer asks intelligent questions, but doesn't impose himself on the subject. There is an implicit trust and freedom between author and interviewee, which releases the words and ideas off the page and into the reader's imagination.
There may be more experimental filmmakers in Canada than there are people who have ever deliberately seen an experimental film. Most people think that experimental film is Norman MacLaren, and vice-versa. Without quite saying so, it appears that Hoolboom understands this very well. Of experimental filmmakers he says: “I was struck by their incredible perseverance as well as by their willingness to expose themselves to personal risk, ridicule, financial ruin.” He should know. Hoolboom has been part of this avant-garde world for nearly 20 years, as a practitioner and as a kind of dramaturge at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, and then as the force behind the now defunct magazine, the Independent Eye.
The first interview is with Michael Snow, probably the person most mentioned by other experimental filmmakers. Experimental film is even more self-referential than other film categories, but if the viewer, or in this case reader, isn't familiar with Stan Brakhage or Hollis Frampton, these references leave you pretty much in the dark. But Snow is not interested in merely leaving behind a dance card full of names, he has used experimental film to explore or elaborate upon his painting and sculpture. “I got the idea to make a film using Walking Woman ... it starts with the figure as an abstract blank, either white or black. It's a hole in the image in some sense, which later develops to include life through the negative space; that is, real women stood behind the cut-out, and from there it went to these black and white images—it's a black and white film of black and white people... The end of the film shows a black and white couple in bed.”
In so many of these interviews there is a stream-of-consciousness quality, much like that in certain experimental films. But woven through these dreamy verbal brushstrokes are glimpses of remarkable insight. Patricia Gruben speaks about her film Sifted Evidence , in response to one Hoolboom's amazing observations. Hoolboom: “He tells her the exact moment he falls in love with her—like the narratives of Christian conversion that obsessively detail the precise moment their life changes forever.” Gruben: “The cliché... maps our sense of ourselves onto our surroundings. But what happens when this sense comes from outside, from a culture that assigns women tools of understanding that don't necessarily fit with our experience? The woman in Sifted Evidence is caught inside these images; her passivity stems from not being able to work out these contradictions.”
Hoolboom's intelligence and experience flourish on these pages. The large-format book is rich with photos. There is no index, but each filmmaker's filmography is included. This is a fine handbook for the interested or uninitiated and the devotee of experimental film alike.

Further Inside the Pleasure Dome by Shannon Brownlee (LIFT Newsletter, July/Aug 2002)

The second edition of Inside the Pleasure Dome takes the reader through the wonderful and curious shutters and gates of the Chinese box that is Canadian experimental film. The collection of interviews, conducted over the course of several years by filmmaker Mike Hoolboom, is by turns personal, theoretical, concrete, aesthetic, psychological and historical. The first edition featured such filmmakers as Michael Snow, Wrik Mead, Steve Sanguedolce, Barbara Sternberg and Philip Hoffman; in the second they are joined by the diverse voices of Rick Hancox, Deirdre Logue, Ann Marie Fleming, Chris Gallagher, David Rimmer, Ellie Epp, John Kneller, Anna Gronau and Kika Thorne.
The book does anything but establish a canon of Canadian experimental filmmakers. As Hoolboom writes in the introduction, those who appear in the book were chosen because their work touched him, and perhaps this is the most meaningful criterion for a collection of thoughts on works that often speak so clearly to the unconscious. It spans the space between the sometimes strange and usually marginal personal experience of making and watching these films, and the community in which they have arisen. Recurring references to such organizations as LIFT, the CFMDC, the NFB and the Canada Council build a sense of shared history. However, these bodies' histories are always told from the perspective of individuals on the fringe.
Anna Gronau sheds light on diverse moments in the history of Toronto's avant-garde film community, discussing everything from legal battles over censorship to the difficulties of buying and housing equipment. For today's community, Kika Thorne's thoughts on the current political and economic climate contextualize these struggles. The fringe filmmaking community seems to align itself naturally with the left on at least one count: even the most technical or meditatively personal interviews are punctuated by questions of funding and the desire for more general access to equipment.
Of course, the films have not been diminished by the modest means of their creation. On the contrary, the practical limitations have long gone hand in hand with unlimited ingenuity, humour, attention to detail, and both technical and aesthetic mastery. The second edition of Inside the Pleasure Dome sheds new brilliance on that contradiction. Hancox's commentary of his life and films reads like a wry documentary, and Deirdre Logue's imaginative and deconstructive self-knowledge casts a direct, intense light on the work. Chris Gallagher, David Rimmer and John Kneller all describe their techniques in such concrete detail that the reader has a sense of being led, frame by frame, through a privileged and uniquely layered screening. Finally, while Ellie Epp speaks powerfully for herself, she also speaks for a way of working on the fringe when she says, “It is amazing to have been able to choose the margins.”
Is this book a set of personal portraits? The interviews are jagged, like sketches of people in action, with none of the false stasis of portraiture. Although at times quite cinematic, the interviews also speak with a personal, experimental art of their own that can only enrich the films and that amorphous, brilliant, seething mass we call experimental cinema.

Diaries of Light: Cara Morton takes you ‘Inside the Pleasure Dome' (Originally published in LIFT Newsletter, 2001)

“Mike Hoolboom's book Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada , is a record of unique living moments. Moments through which the filmmakers, as individuals, strive to learn and to explore and to push the boundaries of self and the expression of that self… It's hard to know whether to be more excited about the book or the work it celebrates. Books and films are so different, yet here in this book, this diary of living moments, we are allowed insight into the very personal nature of filmmaking. The artists collected in this treasury are unique, yet united by the desire to push, to create shifts in perception. They use the medium as a personal tool, to go beyond telling universal stories, to explore the boundaries between the individual, the medium and the audience. Like the films behind the book, the interviews gathered here push beyond the celluloid surface of facts, scripts, stocks, tools, weaving language and personal vision into an inspiring form.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this book is that it provides keys to the mysterious and difficult questions artists are facing today. In the face of cutbacks and financial struggles and a general denial of the connection between art and life, we need places to go when we forget why. We need places where dialogue occurs, where questions are asked, answers sought without expectation of finding them, but there is no giving up. For me, this book has a home beside my diaries. It is a record written in that mysterious yet accessible language of life, providing evidence of those moments when shifts occur. These moments are the history, the life-blood of experimental film, and there they are, dotted like landmarks over the page, for all to experience in their own personal way.”
Inside the Pleasure Dome by William Wees (Canadian Journal of Film Studies Fall 1998)

This large format, well-illustrated collection of interviews with sixteen non-commercial, independent filmmakers offers a revealing cross section of Canadian experimental/avant-garde/fringe film (the filmmakers themselves are far from unanimous as to what label—if any—belongs on their work). Not only do we learn about the lives, opinion and films of the filmmakers interviewed, but we also enter a collective discourse on what it's like to work on the fringes of critical recognition, public approval and financial rewards.
As a writer and polemicist as well as a filmmaker, Hoolboom has been part of—indeed, has helped shape—that discourse for many years. Someone should have interviewed him for this volume, but at least his questions and occasional comments convey some of his thoughts on the subject of Canadian fringe film. Hoolboom knows the work of each filmmaker well, which not only indicates respect for their accomplishments, but enables him to use his own analysis and interpretation as a way of prompting filmmakers to discuss their films in greater detail. At other times, he simply says, “Tell me about...” (naming a particular film), and lets the filmmaker take it from there. All the filmmakers talk about when and how they got into filmmaking (nearly all of them studied film, to a greater or lesser degree, in college or university—five went to Sheridan College) and Hoolboom leads them through a discussion of their films in chronological order. Consequently, the interviews yield a great deal of useful information about the films and their makers. The result is both an introduction to, and a source for research on, the filmmakers Hoolboom includes in his book.
While comparable in many ways to Scott MacDonald's A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers (three volumes of which have appeared to date), Hoolboom's Inside the Pleasure Dome is distinguished by its Canadian content and, consequently, by a sense of film “community” working under common constraints and sharing similar concerns. His book, Hoolboom says in his introduction, “takes aim at a single national expression—Canada's—and provides a sampling of its artists' voices.” It must be added, however, that Hoolboom's “Canada” is Toronto and a few points west. More than half the filmmakers live in Toronto (as does Hoolboom) and he includes no representatives of fringe film from the Maritimes.
Nevertheless, there is considerable variety among the filmmakers interviewed. Their inclusion, Hoolboom insists, does not imply that they are the “greatest or grandest of them all.” They were chosen “according to the criteria of individual interest and aesthetic difference,” and they represent, by Hoolboom's reckoning, “Canada's five ‘generations' of film artists.”.. This mix of older, better-known and younger, less well-known film artists implicitly affirms a continuity and renewal within the perpetually endangered species of Canadian experimental film.
One thread running through the interviews is the notion that experimental film is, indeed, endangered, and that the film medium itself is on the verge of extinction. Snow: “It's going to die. Part of my life's work is not only decaying, but soon there won't be any way to show it.” Torossian: “(Film) seems primitive. It's so old. I'd like to explore other mediums.” Kerr: “Maybe all this modernist stuff is a cry that film is near the end... Hoolboom: “It's finished All we can do is talk about what was.” And yet... “On the other hand,” Snow says, “it's surprising that (experimental film) still exists, that there are young people coming to it. The medium itself still seems inviting and there's still a lot to be done with it.” Sternberg: “There's lots of work and what's good will stay around somehow. And if not, so what?” Brown: “The artist is like a cockroach—we have to be able to eat anything in order to survive. You try to kill us but we keep coming back.” The book's final words are Cartmell's: “Certainly I don't think there's any reason to be optimistic. But it's astonishing how things change. A stupid invention in someone's garage can completely change the way everybody thinks. And there are garages in which the lights are burning all night.”
A related thread is summarized by Snow: “In some ways I can't understand why experimental film continues to have such a small audience.. I just don't understand (the) resistance.” Brown observes caustically, “You hardly get any recognition. Avant-garde film is like a pariah, like having leprosy.” More thoughtfully, Kiyooka remarks, “The problem with the reception of marginal art is that the public doesn't accept it because of where they find it. The context destroys it even before it's begun.” Issues involving exhibition and reception are staples of the discourse of fringe filmmakers—from “getting screenings” and “the politics of exhibition” (both phrases are Sternberg's) to self-doubts about one's own work: “I really liked the films but didn't expect others would enjoy watching them,” Mead says about the super-8 films he made in film school. When Hoolboom asks Sternberg, “Do we need an audience for this work—do numbers matters? Is there a certain point where public attention wanes so completely that you have to say, okay, let's pull the plug on this. What if no one comes?” Her reply is, “That's fine. Then I'll make it for myself.” Lipskis: “The bottom line for me is to keep making work I think is interesting. I don't lose sleep over audiences.” Popovich: “Audiences don't matter... For me the communication isn't with my audience, it's with my tools, my medium.” Buitenhuis, on the other hand, says, “I just take my films around...” and not only does she find audiences, but she has discovered that “most insight comes out of discussion rather than in direct response to the work... Response comes when we start talking.”
Buitenhuis's efforts to “reach other kinds of audiences” and “not preach to the converted” are related to a broader issue addressed, in one way or another, by most of the filmmakers in the book, and it goes to the very heart of what experimental/avant-garde film is, or was, or might be. “Is there an avant-garde today?” Hoolboom asks Brown. “Sure,” he replies, mentioning Hoffman, Sternberg and Chris Gallagher as examples. “Avant-garde means a cutting edge,” Brown continues, “It means taking yourself over the precipice and looking into an abyss and pulling something out of it.” When Hoolboom adds, “Some people would insist that any notion of ‘avant-garde' includes a political dimension,” Brown fires back, “That's bullshit. Theory and politics are as fashionable as changing your underwear. The work will last, not the politics... Art is about the politics of seeing and feeling.” Comparable opinions are voiced by Kiyooka: “I don't make political activist-type films... I think the personal is political,” and Hoffman: “Personal work wasn't thought of as political back then (the late Seventies) but to my mind it's the most political.”
For Razutis, “avant-garde” includes “the political, the transformational, the artistic, and those (films) historically linked to other avant-gardes.” Moreover: “I don't believe it is ‘dead' or has outlived its usefulness in shaking up the status quo.” Kerr, however, thinks of the avant-garde in historical terms: “(It's) not something I'm a part of.. When Snow was making Wavelength in New York, that was an avant-garde period. Popovich says much the same thing: “I'm not part of an avant-garde. That was an important term when we were starting out. I don't see what value it has any more.” Sanguedolce, noting the appropriation of avant-garde techniques in music videos and advertising asks, “Where is the possibility of opposition in all this?” And Cartmell: “There's an avant-garde that erupts at a certain time, that's radical and distinct, but eventually it is recuperated and becomes part of a canon and a tradition.” Razutis makes the same point about “underground” film of the Sixties blaming Annette Michelson, P. Adams Sitney and Gene Youngblood for “making schools and movements, which was the beginning of the end: its professionalization, anthologization, academicization. Underground film became art, and that was the demise of the form.”
The creation of “a canon and a tradition,” and the identification of “schools and movements” can be perceived as privileging a-political, formalist work that only a small circle of cognoscenti appreciate. “At what point,” Hoolboom asks Lipskis, "does the practice become elitist and self-serving?” “When the artist becomes arrogant,” Lipskis replies. A somewhat different take on the situation comes from Mangaard, who says that although she doesn't like to call her work “experimental,” “It gets put into that very male-dominated category.” Calling the experimental film community in Toronto “a boy's club” and “a closed community,” Mangaard says it is dominated by “attitudes (that) have emerged from the work's academic base, its masculine history of division.” Hoolboom pushes this argument farther in his interview with Cartmell: “What about the argument that avant-garde film is now, and has traditionally been, a white, male and middle-class preserve. That it's racist and sexist by exclusion.” And in the bleakest and most condemning characterization of what is, after all, the central subject of his book, Hoolboom asks rhetorically, “Is there any point in making avant-garde films now given its marginality, its inability to see beyond its own formalist history or respond to newer agendas of race, representation and the media? Given the preponderance of white male hegemony, the absence of critical discourse, the lack of exhibition outlets?” It is appropriate that these questions appear in the interview with Cartmell, who has not completed a film in ten years. “I don't do anything at all,” Cartmell says. “It may be the highest mode of non-compromise. Silence.”
Luckily, neither silence nor abstention from filmmaking has been the collective response of Canadian fringe filmmakers. Nevertheless, it is to Hoolboom's credit that he poses these difficult questions even if no definitive answers are possible. In effect, he shows the fringe to be contested terrain, not the “closed community” some perceive it to be. Moreover, as Atom Egoyan says in a brief forward to the book, “To treat these films as marginal is to marginalize some integral part of ourselves.” While Hoolboom's book will not eliminate this marginality, it should at least help to illuminate it.

Introduction by Mike Hoolboom

This volume is a machine for turning pictures into words. This machine is marked, like any, by celebration and sadness. Its appearance is a joy and a puzzle, not because like Groucho Marx I could never join any club that would accept people like me, but because most of my efforts, most of the work of my friends and community, are invisible. And as strange as it is to say, this invisibility is something that brings us happiness. The terrific thing about being an artist who works in film is that movies are important to everyone; they are the stories we tell each other or the stories we ourselves are living. In our best moments and our worst, they are the way we imagine ourselves. The worst thing about being an artist who works in film is that movies are important to everyone. For most of us, “I know what I like” means “I like what I know.” But alongside the great march of television and movies that most of us are on, there are those who have decided to go down the road not taken. They are, we are, the minor literature of cinema, the poetry, the fringe, the underground. We are every dream a company will never have, every longing that does not lead to success. We are everything without a bar code or a corporate sponsor. The work is too long, too short, too disgusting, too beautiful, too boring, or too self-indulgent to fit in. To belong. To be a part of it all. Unlike their mainstream cousins, no two fringe films are alike. There are no series, no reruns, and no commercial breaks. Each is unique, as individual and eccentric as one of your friends. This book, like so many of the films described within it, the venues dedicated to showing it, and the distributors who make this work available, have been made possible by the arts councils in this country. While others are searching for a national culture, they are busy funding it. The list presented here is hardly definitive, nor are these filmers to be taken as the largest, greatest, or grandest of them all. Something in their work touched me, showed me there was another way to fall in love, to speak with a friend, to touch. All of them, or so I’d like to imagine, have moved towards everything that gives them pleasure, and turned that embrace into a shared flicker of light. All have staged the small hole of personality that admits the world, insistently presenting not just what they’re seeing but the act of seeing itself. They are gathered between these covers to speak about the feuds and deaths and marriages and happinesses that have made this seeing possible. Here in the underground, new kinds of lives have made new kinds of pictures possible. Here are their stories. One day they may be yours.

Foreword by Atom Egoyan

Why am I writing the foreword to this book? What does my sensibility and creative orientation have to do with the work discussed here? Where does my world (commercially conceived and distributed feature films) meet the visions and ideas of the experimental filmmakers discussed in this collection? The answer might be in the imaginary audience we both share. I’ve been deeply inspired by artists like Michael Snow, David Rimmer, Phil Hoffman, Peter Mettler, Michael Hoolboom, Barbara Sternberg, and Bruce Elder — not simply because of the extraordinary quality of their work, but also, and perhaps more profoundly, because of the ceaselessly curious and completely trusting nature of the audience they’ve had to imagine for their creative efforts. These filmmakers taught me that there is nothing more exhilarating than to feel self-conscious in front of a screen. The viewer did not have to lose themselves into an image, but could actually observe it, and create a dialogue about that process. This dialogue could be meditative, amusing, and provocative. By watching these films, I learned how to respect and indulge the intelligence of my audience. We dream in moving pictures. Every night, images are conjured in our minds, induced by mysterious and primal needs for sub-conscious expression. I’ve always found it fascinating that the serious attempt to articulate and find meaning to these dreams paralleled the discovery and development of cinema. It’s also fascinating that the essential grammar of mainstream cinema has remained relatively unchanged since the art form’s inception. From the first films, it became evident that there were certain places you could put a camera, and certain places where you couldn’t. No other art form has been so immediately and comprehensively bound by such an orthodox and rigid system. Why did this happen? Was it because of a latent terror that seized us when we discovered a medium so close to our dreams? Or, more to the point, is the traditional grammar of cinema a direct expression of how we dream? Do we dream in multi-angle coverage, with static masters, close-ups, tracking shots, and pans? Do we never cross the magical axis, except when we wake out of our sleep in terror? Is this why the language of early cinema came so quickly —
because we’ve been playing it inside our heads forever? I ask these questions because the films discussed in this book come from a different perspective. They are truly revolutionary; not simply because they defy conventional rules of industrial cinema, but because they confront the very nature of what we need to see. We are driven as much by narrative as by impulse, yet mainstream cinema is almost completely concerned with giving expression to ego-based storytelling. Fringe films are id-based. They address, liberated from the moderating influence of narrative, our purest sense of impulse — the way we see. To treat these films as marginal is to marginalize some integral part of ourselves.

Philip Hoffman (2001)

Barbara Sternberg (2000)

Lux (2000) A Decade of Artists' Film and Video

Plague Years (1998)

Expanded Cinema (1970)

Mike Hoolboom is a Canadian artist working in film and video. He has made twenty films and videos which have appeared in over four hundred festivals, garnering thirty awards, including four awards in Oberhausen, a Golden Leopard at Locarno, and he has twice won the award for the best Canadian short at the Toronto International Festival. He has been granted two lifetime achievement awards, the first from the city of Toronto, and the second from the Mediawave Festival in Hungary.
He has enjoyed retrospectives of his work at the Images Festival (Toronto), Visions du Reel (Switzerland), Cork International Festival (Ireland), Cinema de Balie (Amsterdam), Mediawave Festival (Hungary), Impakt Festival (Holland), Vila do Conde Festival (Portugal), Jihlava Documentary Festival (Czech Republic), Stuttgarter Filmwinter (Germany), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (France), Sixpack Film (Vienna) and the Buenos Aires International Festival (Argentina).
He is a founding member of the Pleasure Dome screening collective and has worked as the artistic director of the Images Festival and as the experimental film co-ordinator at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.
Mike Hoolboom has written three non-fiction books, Practical Dreamers: Conversations with Canadian Movie Artists (Coach House, 2008), Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (Coach House Press, 2001) and Plague Years (YYZ Books, 1998) a tongue-in-chic autobiography. His first novel The Steve Machine was published by Coach House Press in the fall of 2008. He has published more than one hundred articles on fringe media which have appeared in magazines and catalogues around the world.
Since 2004 he has been working on Fringe Online (www.fringeonline.ca), a web project which makes available the archives of a number of Canadian media artists. This ongoing project currently consists of hundreds of pages of transcripts, reviews, interviews and scripts, and remains the largest publishing project in the Canadian fringe media sector.
"Prolific and protean, Mike Hoolboom has produced over 20 films, ranging from experimental shorts to daring feature-length dramas. Often cinematically breathtaking, Hoolboom’s works are as visually inventive as Derek Jarman’s and as politically courageous as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s in their explorations of the troubling intersections of desire, the body, the world, and the nation-state in the chaotic, fearful late 20th century. A major talent whose work has been acclaimed here and abroad, Hoolboom has received more than thirty awards."
--Tom McSorley, Take One

Considered the finest experimental filmmaker – or in his words – "fringe filmmaker" of his generation, the prolific and mercurial Hoolboom has made over 50 films and videos since 1980. (Exact numbers vary as Hoolboom notoriously prunes and reshapes his filmography: cutting some films, merging others and completely removing others from circulation.) He has also played a major curatorial and critical role in the Canadian avant-garde film community, working as the fringe film officer at the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre from 1988 to 1990, where he started the now defunct magazine The Independent Eye. In 1989, with Jonathan Pollard, Barbara Sternberg, Philip Hoffman and Gary Popovich, he formed the artist-run exhibition group Pleasure Dome, devoted to fringe film and video. He has also collaborated with some of the foremost experimental film- and videomakers in Canada: Kika Thorne (Two, 1990), Steve Sanguedolce (Mexico, 1992), Ann Marie Fleming (Man, 1991; The New Man, 1992) and Shawn Chapelle (Shooting Blanks, 1995).
The son of a Dutch father and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, Hoolboom began making movies with his father’s Super 8 before studying media arts at Oakville's Sheridan College from 1980 to 1983. Hoolboom’s early work includes dozens of films of various lengths and different sensibilities that, according to critic Geoff Pevere, “demonstrated a consuming interest in navigating the outer limits of perception, of language, of self, of mechanical reproduction, of bodily sensation and experience (and most recently, and surprisingly, of the discourse of nationhood).”
Hoolboom employed many traditional experimental film strategies — hand processing; altered found-footage and home movies; charged, often poetic and ruminative intertitles and voice-over — but, ironically, it was the 1986 White Museum that established his reputation. “Ironically” because it’s a film that’s not quite a film. Almost devoid of images, it is 32 minutes of clear leader accompanied by an audio collage comprised of TV ads, pop music and a wry voice-over, which muses about (among other thing) the expense of making movies, the tedium and joy of lining up to see them and the gulf between sound and image and being and nothingness.
This gulf became more significant and more urgent when Hoolboom learned in 1989 that he had contracted HIV. Hardly succumbing to the illness, the already prodigious filmmaker became almost Fassbinder-ean in his work ethic; between 1989 and 1995, he made 27 films, including the ambitious Brechtian satire, Kanada (1993), starring Babz Chula, Gabrielle Rose and Sky Gilbert. The filmmaker’s fascination with the body (exemplified in Eat, 1989, and From Home, 1988) became a fascination with its impermanence. House of Pain (1995), a horrific collection of four shorts obsessed with bodily fluids and the fluidity of sexuality, resembles the avant-garde classic Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963) remade by Pasolini. In a more pensive but still angry tone, Hoolboom produced two films that deal explicitly with AIDS: Frank’s Cock (1993), starring Callum Keith Rennie (who was later dubbed “Canada’s Brad Pitt,” once he made the leap to big-budget films and TV), and Letters from Home (1996), inspired by a speech given by the late AIDS activist Vito Russo. Both films received the NFB’s John Spotton Award for best Canadian short film at the Toronto International Film Festival; just two of the more than 30 international awards Hoolboom has received for his work. He has also written two books, Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (2001) and Plague Years: A Life in Underground Movies (1998), and his writings on film have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals. - tiff.net/CANADIANFILMENCYCLOPEDIA/

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