If I were to sum up the early work of European artist Peter Weibel in one word, it would have to be "experimental". From 1964 to 1975 (though this collection of shorts contains one from 1979), Weibel primarily worked in film and video, creating odd, arresting and often confrontational pieces in color and black-and-white. His interest in video-based technology continued long after this early period; moving on to video processing and computer-based installations, Weibel nonetheless maintained a distinct visual style and attitude. He has also served as professor and curator at various universities and galleries throughout the US, Canada and abroad. Now 65 years old, Peter Weibel continues to maintain a love for visual expression. Produced by the Slought Foundation and Microcinema International, Rewriter focuses on the artist's early photographs, films, videos and contextual works. Our table of contents reads as follows:
Conceptual Photography: "Self-Limitation" (1971, 2:10), "Self-Drawing" (1971, 2:17), "Self-Description" (1971, 8:12), "Parenthetical Identity" (1972, 3:15), "Tritity" (1975, 8:33)
Conceptual Poetry: "Sense" (1968, 0:26), "Soliloquy" (1973, 16:35)
Expanded Films with Valerie Export: "Tap and Touch Cinema" (1968, 1:45), "From the Map of Dogginess" (1968, 1:48)
Body Videos: "Fluidum and Property" (1972, 2:50), "Switcher Sex" (1972, 5:38), "Solution of the Fantasy" (1972, 2:10), "Eyetext" (1974, 1:10), "Vulcanology of Emotions" (1973, 7:17), "Timeblood" (1979, 4:07)
Tele-Actions: "TV + VT Works" (1969-72 - 8 clips, 14:51 total)
Contextual Works: "Trampling on Law with Feet" (1967, 1:16), "Reconstruction: Stoppages-etalon by Marcel Duchamp, 1913-14" (1970, 0:50)
First things first: Weibel's unconventional style will undoubtedly rub some viewers the wrong way. Some of the content is crude and relatively simple, at least on the surface: Weibel is led around city streets on a leash ("From the Map of Dogginess"), he encourages passers-by to touch the body of a partially nude colleague ("Tap and Touch Cinema") and superimposed images of nude figures are layered together in abstract ways ("Switcher Sex"). Yet within some of these shorts are moments of pure brilliance, such as "TV + VT Works"; this piece is probably the most accessible, for lack of a better term. This sequenced collage of visual fragments is nearly impossible to turn away from: a news anchor smokes heavily in a tightly-encased studio, an aquarium filled with fish slowly drains, and a curious design is created from a thrown bucket of water.
It goes without saying that Weibel was sharply ahead of his time, at least from the perspective of format: video allowed for relatively cheap experimentation with the added bonus of audio...and though Weibel doesn't make use of audio regularly during these early years, plenty of interesting soundscapes compliment the visuals nicely. These aren't always pretty sights...but they're often captivating, especially if you're new to his particular brand of visual design. Some pieces, oddly enough, appear to be reworked from their original format: "From the Map of Dogginess", for example, is heavily slowed down and listed as "2009 Edit" during the credits. It's only 1:48 in length to begin with, but there's barely three seconds' worth of actual footage on display...and since the original version isn't included, it's moments like these that make me think we're not getting the whole picture. Rewriter, indeed.
Here's more bad news: Microcinema's DVD package doesn't always carry its own weight. Many segments have not been paired with English subtitles...so unless you're fluent in German, don't expect to follow along very easily. Some shorts don't suffer a great deal: many don't rely on dialogue anyway, while others ("Tap and Touch Cinema", for example) are easy enough to figure out. Some adventurous viewers may even have fun attempting to decode the riddles here---but in any case, optional subtitles should've been included with each and every short, especially since Rewriter carries such a stiff price tag. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in what appears to be their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, these vintage shorts are in pretty rough shape---but considering the format we're dealing with, I doubt things could look much better. Black-and-white segments are typically on the soft side with varying contrast levels, while those in color are fairly washed-out and dull. With that said, digital imperfections are kept to a minimum, aside from minor edge enhancement and a few moderate instances of pixellation.
The 1.0 Mono mix is equally stripped-down, but the real kicker is that many of these shorts are presented without optional English subtitles; quite unfortunate, since they're already a bit hard to follow.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the extremely basic menu designs are simple and easy to navigate. Each short has been presented without chapter stops, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a sturdy foldout digipak case and also includes a handsome insert booklet (covered in more detail below).
No bonus features are included here, unless you count the semi-biographical Essays printed in the accompanying booklet. These descriptive, retrospective pieces are written by Aaron Levy, Osvaldo Romberg, Christa Steinle, Boris Groys and Gunther Holler-Schuster. As mentioned before, no historical context or commentary is found anywhere on the DVD---so unless new viewers thumb through the booklet first, things might get confusing quickly.
Peter Weibel, Rewriter is aimed squarely at two distinct audiences: seasoned fans of the artist, as well as those curious about his particular style. Being part of the latter group, I can't say that this 15-year compilation of work completely won me over...but it certainly has a few attention-grabbing moments, to say the least. Microcinema's one-disc package is a mixed bag: not only does some of the content lack English subtitles (which is practically a deal-breaker in itself), but the asking price is a bit stiff for less than 90 minutes of content. Die-hard disciples of Weibel will most likely want to hunt this down anyway, but all other interested parties should definitely try before they buy. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.