Modern art can often be its own worst enemy. Indeed, anything that steps outside the boundaries of normalcy and the establishment begs for a far more critical and jaundiced eye. Experimental and avant-garde approaches have it even worse. They often fall so far beyond the accepted mainstream ideals that no one except a rare chosen few "get" the overriding concept. While you may not know his work, Nigel Tomm has been stirring things up in contemporary circles. His "remix" literary strategy has both confounded and inspired the critical community. He's also the author of the world's longest novel, The Blah Story (now NINE volumes long). Branching out into film, we are now being treated to his version of the classic tragedy Hamlet - and it's unlike anything you've ever seen before. Actually, that's not true at all. You'll see why.
Ummm...there is none? While named after the famous play, this DVD is nothing more than 63 minutes of pure white screen. You heard right - 63 minutes of pure white screen. This is not a joke, or some reviewer razz. Again, this DVD is 63 minutes of PURE WHITE SCREEN. Oh, and no audio either.
Okay - I admit it. I don't get it. It's rare for this critic to step out and speak in the first person, but something like Nigel Tomm's Hamlet more or less mandates it. I don't get it. I don't understand it. It's obviously over my pointed little head and beyond my scope of aesthetic appreciation. Arguably, someone sees something in Mr. Tomm's work. Otherwise, charging $15.99 for an hour of blank home theater screen is just criminal. So if we step back from the obvious issue here - once again, there is nothing on the DVD-R like disc - we need to discuss intent. Now, when Yoko Ono lured John Lennon into her sphere of influence, her radial one woman gallery show was considered outrageous. Yet her efforts had obvious inherent merit. A laborious ladder climb led to a magnifying glass and the word "Yes". Peace was proposed and civil disobedience urged. Here, Tomm's appears to be having us on, farting around with what is the notion of Shakespeare, the interpretation of the Bard, film, the language of cinema, the digital format, and the very limits of legitimate expression. In essence, the title, not the play, is the thing. It supposedly offers the premise needed to appreciate the artist's interpretation.
But there's a fatal flaw in this rationale, something that doesn't exist when dealing with a crucifix floating in urine or a Virgin Mary portrait painted with elephant dung (real art, by the way. Look it up). By offering nothing, Tomm is suggesting one of two things: first, that everything is Hamlet - the air we breathe, the light from a TV screen, the spirit inside every human being. Now, that's a leap - of logic, of faith, of intellectual interpretation, but if you read around the web, that's a small fraction of the reaction you'll get. The other way of looking at it is that nothing is...nothing. It's not inspiring or insightful. It offers no perspective beyond what we consider to be its lack of value. So to offer something called Hamlet as a purposefully featureless representation may seem brave, but it's also pointless. If the audience has to do all the work in 'creating' the art, if they have to infer everything in order to make the piece 'work', then the classification as such is specious at best. Tomm does position himself as the ultimate agent provocateur. His "remixes" of Shakespeare's sonnets are renowned. But this just seems worthless - or even worse, the biggest con job since Clifford Irving put Howard Hughes' biography pen to paper.
And remember, I'm pleading stupidity. I'm arguing for my own status as a plebian, more or less incapable of understanding the purpose here. Nigel Tomm's Hamlet appears to be one of those items that snooty people keep on their bookshelves to show the rest of the world how clued in and cool they are. Its limited value as entertainment is matched, conversely, by its near infinite worth as an oddball conversation piece. Perhaps if Tomm and the rest of his merry pranksters offered us a RECORDABLE disc as part of the package, giving us the ability to replace their stark, blank vision with a few episodes of Unbeatable Banzuke or Holmes on Homes, we might enjoy the joke. But being part of a con, even with the most radical or revisionist intentions, is never a pleasant experience. The result is usually a feeling of foolishness or outright inanity. And believe me, nothing made me feel more incompetent than sitting for one hour staring at a blank TV screen. You got me, Nigel Tomm. Your Hamlet had its way with me. Luckily, I get the last word (see below).
You're kidding, right?
Can't grade what's not there.
This one's easy - Skip It. Unless you are a Nigel Tomm completist and must own everything this man has ever put his name to, you'll regret falling for this so called work of art. There is no denying that, as a member of the human race, this performance personality is allowed to express himself however he sees fit. And we, in return, can respond however we wish. But usually, there is a point connected to both the acceptance and the rejection. In the case of this experiment in interpretation and presentation, there may be no purpose other than to acknowledge none. Johnny "Rotten" Lyndon of the infamous Sex Pistols once asked an unimpressed American audience if they ever had the feeling they had been cheated. One viewing of Nigel Tomm's Hamlet will make that question very easy to answer indeed.
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