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Savant Review:
N9, The Digital Venue for Music and Art, Volume 1

N9 Volume 1
DVD company
2000 / Color & B&W / 1:37 /
Managing Editor Katie Daley
Editor in Chief Mark Ledzian

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

An answer to the grumble for more alternative programming on DVD?

Vidiots, a popular independent video rental house in Santa Monica, is often written up for its alternative and experimental vhs rental section, where the harder-to-find experimental movies rub shoulders with videos put out by all kinds of performance artists and videographers. Some of the videos available there are one-of-a-kind items by the artists themselves.

In a video world dominated by Hollywood output, there is a tiny wail from the wilderness that short films and student work, documentaries and independent music videos, have no commercial outlet. The closest stab at this ideal has been the Short Film Journal series, but most of the films seen there are very high-profile, and made by established individuals who already seem to be well-connected to the show business machine.

Now a New York based team of entrepreneurs is trying to alter this picture, with an ambitious self-produced DVD 'magazine' of their own, called N9, Volume 1.

Here's How N9 describes itself:

"N9 is the original venue for new artists and music, providing exposure to the up-and-coming. A virtual open microphone for newcomers, N9 represents a new kind of streetwise club, opening the doors for hot talent in ways never before possible. Filmmaker Mark Ledzian and other fresh faces contribute to the N9 Magazine's debut DVD, an eclectic fusion of vibrant film and musical works."

This is as independent as they come; no major studio or distributor is associated with the release, which its makers hope will become the first of a series. The first volume is a collection of short films, music performance pieces (not really music videos), and a pair of music-only tracks.

Here's the rundown of the sixteen items on this first Volume:

My Brother's Dream: Little Johnny with lead Singer Elisabeth, a song recorded live at CBGB's.
Odetta Arrives, Mark Ledzian, an excerpt from a longer docu, with the 'Queen of Folk Music' arriving at a basement recording studio, and recording a number.
Yeti Trailer, Stuart Argabright, a short promo for a longer video called 'YetiMovies', shot high in Nepal.
Bowl of Oatmeal, Dietmar Post, NYU student film.
N9 Audio Track, 'Some Things Are Over (Before They Begin)' by Duncan.
Lady Bullrider, Mark Ledzian and Katie Daley, AFI 1995 Visions Award; documentary.
Rachael Loshak sings 'China Doll'.
Sandman Simms, Mark Ledzian docu on famous tap dancer.
Duncan Live the singer Duncan performs live at CBGB's.
Talking Trash, Markie Hancock, a performance poetry piece by Elena Georgiou.
Monk Trailer, Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios, a docu on a strange band called The Monks.
Tokyo String Quartet, Mark Ledzian, a performance docu excerpt from 'Making Sounds.'
15/8, Markie Hancock, a docu on Andrew Hill, jazz musician.
N9 Audio Track, 'Water', a blues band composition featuring drummer Jonathan Kane.
My Brother's Dream: Rainbow Love, another song recorded live at CBGB's.
Reverend Billy, Rage Against Corporate America, appears to be a snippet of a longer docu (mocku?) featuring Actor Bill Talen in his performance persona as an unihibited evangelist.

Looking at the playbill, it is easy to see that this first venture for N9 is dominated by a pair of artists who happen to be the disc magazine's editors. Therefore the disc might be labeled a vanity affair, if sponsorship (domination) by a known label is to be defined as the only claim to legitimacy. But these are quality films; a showcase for disc producers Mark Ledzian and Katie Daley, yes, but solid goods. How many times in film school did I remark that the best of UCLA should be combined into some kind of a commercial show? These NYC independents seem to be pushing courageously headlong in the void that lives beyond film school, and more power to them.

Savant is not musically astute, and doesn't know if some of the performing talent on view here are truly up-and-coming or not. But the performance pieces on N9 are of a high caliber. My Brother's Dream is a very good band, and its Elisabeth a singer with charisma. Rachael Loshak is captivating, and her song registers well. Markie Hancock's poetry piece, Elena Georgiou's Talking Trash is a standout ... a very sensitive mix of imagery and words.

Of the docus, the best is Ledzian's Lady Bullrider, a portrait of the rodeo scene from an unexpected angle that has real emotional impact. The 'artist's portrait' docus on Odetta, Sandman Simms and Andrew Hill are also excellent. Several of the others seem to be trailers for longer or unfinished works and as such are rather unsatisfying. As a cutter of promotional materials, Savant is prejudiced against teasers being substituted for content. Reverend Billy, a couple of minutes with an engagingly nutty motivational-type personality, may be an excerpt or just a joke, but it was good enough to be very disappointing, when it ended with a 'coming soon' title.

The only episode that was rough sledding for Savant was Bowl of Oatmeal, which may have been a hit at NYU but still comes off as a frustratingly uncommunicative student film (like so many, like Savant's own) with a gritty 'look' and a sub-Lynchian grammar. It might be just the ticket for other sensibilities.

N9 is an artist's co-op approach to getting one's work into public view. This first volume leans heavily toward music performance videos and music-oriented docus. Instead of some kind of dreaded amateur production, Savant discovered that this N9 was a high-quality DVD with a number of very impressive short films. But don't look for it at the local Blockbuster. Apparently the only way to obtain a copy is through the N9 Website, but at the moment I found no price for the disc listed, just an inquiry form. I hope N9 doesn't really require one to submit the form just to find out more about the video ... that's bad marketing by definition. ( Submitting a video for consideration for a future Volume is also possible. The site doesn't say so, but Savant assumes "co-op" means what it says, pay to play, so don't dig that student film out of the attic unless you're prepared to help float the showboat.)

A very interesting venture. Savant would be interested in knowing anyone else's opinion of this show. Is DVD to become the alternative-video venue of the future?

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, N9 rates:
Movie: Good+
Video: Excellent
Supplements: Text artist biographies and background information
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: October 1, 2000

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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