Brendan Lee: the cinema-computer experience
Brendan Lee, Cut to the Chase
Melbourne artist Brendan Lee is best known for his compilations of particular moments from mainstream feature films, which he assembles to generate specific, intense effects. Proposing to review “the syntax of cinema going”, his series of video installations exhibited over the past few years have ranged from a looped miscellany of explosions (Boom, 1998), fights (Hits, 2000), outbursts of aggression (Anger, 2001) to random sequences of suspenseful moments (Apprehension of Immediate Danger, 2001). All of these works deploy the common language of cinematic cliché, with the ‘stressed-out’ cinematic body at the core of the visual and sonic bombardment.
Quoting directly from movies is not a particularly original strategy, but it can be used to good effect. Think of the greatest art-film quote of all, Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993), or more recently of Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg’s video Artist (1999-2000). And these works seem indebted to the early 1960s films of Andy Warhol, most notably Kiss, in which a single action is repeated over an extended duration. In all of them, as it is for Lee, humour is a key element.
For some time, Lee has been experimenting with random selections, utilising the potentials of digital video in his installations. Cut to the Chase is a further development in this ‘database’ direction. Moreover, with this installation his work turns explicitly towards the merging identity of cinema and computer games (symbolised by DVD). However, in this work, Lee produces his own footage rather than appropriating existing material. Until we arrive, the projection shows looped footage, with a little speedo at the bottom of the screen showing a constant 60km. Taking a seat on the bench, however, triggers a unique ‘ride’ sequence, as the scene accelerates into a high-speed pursuit. Lee says that Cut to the Chase “seals the viewer into the cinematic space behind the wheel in an action film.” True to its word, it jumps to a sequence inspired by the famous car chase scenes of films such as Bullitt, Ronin and The French Connection. But this is no snippet from any B-grade action film. In fact, the footage of screaming corners is Lee’s own (the camera angles of the footage apparently replicate Bullitt, the Steve McQueen classic, with a chase on the hilly streets of San Francisco that at the time of release was without question the best), and their selection is randomly generated.
Cut to the Chase asks us to identify with the filmic apparatus itself. It’s a formal work, then, all about the lack of narrative closure (underscored by the computerised process of random selection, seen so compellingly in Stan Douglas’ extraordinary Win, Place or Show, 1998, shown in the 2000 Sydney Biennale). If its focus on spectacle and the apparent arbitrariness of cinematic editing and tactics to secure our attention feels a little one-dimensional, the link to computer games is nevertheless a promising direction. Hence the seat rumbling with sound, but also the perverse lack of interactivity in the work. There is neither a steering wheel, nor the character identification sparked, say, in David Noonan’s M3 (1998). Story time here becomes real time, an experience that tickles our desire to control the vehicle, but via a mere skeleton of that most fetishised of teenage pleasures: the real time game engine. In the absence of any narrative denouement, I wanted Daytona-style titillation and spills, the sort readily available at Time Zone. However, as all of today’s mass culture aspires to the condition of a computer game, perhaps punishing the viewer is Lee’s response.