Dick Fucking Cheney is uncensored and exceptionally ornery in Bryan Boyce's short video America's Biggest Dick, which someone other than Boyce posted to YouTube, where it's gotten 18,000 views and counting. The popularity of the clip isn't surprising -- it's fucking great. In putting together this week's cover story about TV tweak tactics, I recently spoke with Boyce -- who will be showing new work at Other Cinema soon -- about many of his videos. We also talked about the Wiener Dog National Championships.
Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about when you first began working with TV footage?
Bryan Boyce: Back when I was in college the way I would learn a new editing system was with televangelists – Robert Tilton in particular. He just lends himself to all the extremes of the system, such as “How do you make something play backward?”.
G: That type of manipulation makes me think of the Negativland track “Christianity is Stupid.” You do something similar with Kissinger in 30 Seconds of Hate. How long did it take to put that together – did it take 30 days of nonstop work?
BB: I had about 15 minutes of Kissinger interview footage from Fox, and started to do that micro-syllabic splicing. You use what’s there and only sometimes can you force him to say what you want him to say.
With all of the stuff that involves found footage, I guess it’s this Zen matter of, “What is the material saying to me?”
For the upcoming Other Cinema show I’m working on a Donald Rumsfeld movie with the same technique. I don’t know the final shape of it, but I have some choice stuff. After all, he’s the poet laureate of the Pentagon.
G: How do you go about tweaking the actual Fox graphics?
BB: It’s almost a “No parody required” situation. Their coverage of the war had that crazy eagle graphic. I just did some minor tweaks.
G: The military plane –
BB: The eagle morphing into the fighter jet was their graphic.
BB: It’s hard to believe.
G: I’ve watched more than my fair share of Fox, especially leading up to the Presidential campaign. There are a lot of aspects that are almost self-parody.
BB: That one [the eagle] was a jaw-dropper. Obviously, that was during the peak of war fever -- they’re downplaying the Iraq War now. They were so triumphal about it then, during the first week or two.
G: Was it during that time that they brought Kissinger on air?
BB: That section of tape came from one of those times that they thought they had killed Saddam. That’s why Kissinger kept on saying “kill.” Of course, no one says “kill” like Henry Kissinger. That was one of the things that just rose to the top of the interview.
G: There’s a new TV ad that uses footage of Schwarzenegger from the RNC chanting “George W. Bush!” that I think has to be a little indebted to what you’ve done. Were people like Craig Baldwin an inspiration when you first started to make videos?
BB: I think as far as that style of tweaking goes, I first encountered Negativland. When I was in college, I thought their whole Escape From Noise album was great.
I wasn’t until after college that I came up [to SF] and found out about Other Cinema. I’d been down in UC Santa Cruz for school. I grew up in the Bay Area, and I moved back here and found that scene.
I guess the televangelist re-edits were some of the first things I worked on. Craig [Baldwin]’s also fond of Robert Tilton. Tilton’s his own genre of video work. Somebody did a farting Tilton video because he makes these contorted faces. I did a series of non-farting Tilton videos because he speaks in tongues really nicely – he’s just so over top and sad and terrible. I showed those videos at Other Cinema, and Craig sampled a little bit of that in Sonic Outlaws.
Craig has been great. He’s kind of a godfather of cinema here. But Negativland also crept into my brain early on. I think I’ve always liked that kind of channel-changing edit aesthetic. The abrupt jump cut between incongruous things. The absurdity can really be beautiful.
Also, there’s Emergency Broadcast Network. Circa Bush Sr., they did a bunch of great reedits put to music – him and Dan Quayle doing musical and hilarious things. They played back at the old Transmission Theatre and did this great show – they had this giant mechanical media pulpit with missiles that would raise up and rotate. It was very threatening and beautiful.
G: Absurdity leads me to ask about State of the Union. How did you come upon the idea of combining Bush with Teletubbies?
BB: I’d known about Teletubbies but had never actually seen the show. I went over to a friends’ place -- they were having a lunch party, and someone with a baby had brought the tapes to keep the baby occupied. Soon there were all these adults without children, jaws slack, watching this thing, thinking, “What is going on? This baby in the sun is freaking me out!” That’s when I noticed the whole sun god aspect.
It’s weird, I actually finished making State of the Union in the middle of August, 2001.
G: So you created all these images of Bush bombing the landscape right before he really, really began his reign of terror?
BB: Yeah, the seeds were definitely there. It was much more of a lighthearted movie, but even before Sept 11, he was looking into nuclear weapons and bunker busters. His drilling in the ANWR reserve led me to put oil towers in the Teletubby landscape.
I didn’t even have to add the rising water or flooding – that was part of the original Teletubbies program. The animation was readymade.
State of the Union showed at a couple of festivals. It played at the Chicago Underground [Film Festival] and at Matt McCormick’s PDX Festival. That was the first time I met Animal Charm. They were doing a live video mix and they were dressed up like wizards. They had RCA video connectors that they were walking around hexing people with. It was Labor Day weekend – September 11 was a week or two later. Rich [Bott] of Animal Charm emailed me shortly after [Sept. 11] and it said, “Hey Nostrodamus!” in the subject line.
G: What kind of reactions have State of the Union and America’s Biggest Dick gotten? Do you get a variety of reactions?
BB: When they’ve made it to festivals outside of the U.S., they’ve gone over hugely well. They really love the Kissinger movie in Brazil [laughs]. Election Collectibles was popular in Rotterdam.
America’s Biggest Dick played at Sundance. Most of the reactions there were good, but it was also online at the Sundance website, posted there with my email address and cell phone number. I didn’t get that many calls, but I did get a great message from some guy in Arkansas who called and said -- with this beautiful twang in his voice – “I just love your movie.”
I’ve gotten some interesting hate mail – some interesting, poorly spelled hate mail. From the left and the right. Some people were concerned that I was dragging the quality of the Sundance festival down. Some animator and self-proclaimed “liberal” was offended. It is, admittedly, crude. It’s a crude technique, crude movie, matched to a very crude vice president.
G: There still is a subtlety within it, though – in the way you use the “bad guy” speech from Scarface. It implicates the viewers or voters.
BB: Yes, in some ways I’m guilty of [using him as a bad guy], too.
G: I didn’t watch tons of the Republican National Convention, but that was the part that really singed its mark onto my brain. Bush is similar but not as pronounced – with both of them, the contempt is just all over their contorted faces.
BB: “Twisted mouth to match his twisted soul” – they’ve got a Richard III thing going on.
G: Did you see Cheney at the convention and think, “Scarface would go great with this,” or did you see Scarface and think of Cheney and the Bush administration?
BB: I knew I wanted to do something with Cheney. To give credit where credit is due, my main stunt mouth in all of the pieces, Jonathan Crosby, hadn’t even seen Scarface but suggested it. I hadn’t seen it in 10 years, but instantly it seemed like a great idea. One of the things I wanted to work in there was him [Al Pacino] going off and saying “Go fuck yourself!” on the Senate floor. I knew I wanted extensive profanity, and Scarface more than delivered. But I was also amazed at how well some of the dialogue fit – for example, “With that kind of money, you can buy the Supreme Court!”
G: I like how he becomes a stand-up comedian in a way, and then he crosses the line with the audience when he makes the obscene gestures with his tongue. Did it take a while to assemble the crowd’s reaction shots?
BB: That was tricky. At some point I had to have the audience turn on him. Fortunately, protestors broke in [to the RNC]. All the other booing came from staged call and response whenever John Kerry’s name was mentioned.
I manipulated some of the audio and played it backwards to make the crowd seem unruly and angry.
G: Has your approach changed over time in relation to the video equipment you use?
BB: I use a lot of after-effects, such as the mouth-pastings. I really like that as a tool – you can do a lot with it. I’m trying to learn new techniques, but at the core you have to have a good idea – otherwise it’s noodling.
G: Where did you get the audio material for Election Collectibles, the amazing conversation between the two TV shopping network salesmen?
BB: That’s straight from the Sports Collectibles show on Shop At Home. I think one of the guys isn’t on the show anymore, but one of them is still thee – the guy who does Al Gore’s voice. The other guy is just perfect for G Dub. The whole show – I can’t watch it anymore because I just fried the circuit. I had six hours of material that I whittled down to four minutes. Just wading through it all you get to the essence of sales. For six straight hours it’s just this continuum where every single item is more unbelievable than the last – it’s this impossible arc that they somehow keep up through a bathtub full of speed or whatever they use to keep on that trajectory.
G: Do you have a lot of that type of footage collected at home?
BB: I’ve got tons of random VHS tapes with bad sitcoms and other trash on them. I don’t seek out as much random stuff as Animal Charm, though.
G: What are you working on for the new show?
BB: I guess Rumsfeld is the big spotlight. I’ve been trying to do a Condoleeza Rice thing too, bringing back the mouth-pasting. I don’t know if it’ll be done in time, though. It might be a work in progress.
I’ve also started making music lately. I feel like an imposter because I abandoned those guitar lessons in 5th grade. I hate learning curves. But I’m plowing through that and enjoying it. The editing is really rhythmic. I feel confident about my editing and it applies well to music.
G: Will you be making visual work to go with the music?
BB: Yeah. When I lived on Albion Street a neighbor had these dogs, and one of them in particular had this star quality. I took him up on a roof and shot a little video and gave him a thought bubble with some archival footage inside it, and made a song to go with it. The show may have a trio of melancholy dog videos.
I just finished another one that uses footage from the Wiener Dog National Championships. I was up in Oregon helping Matt [McCormick, of Peripheral Produce] with a project and we looked at the paper and saw this full-page ad for the Wiener Dog National Championship Race at a dog track. We just went, “Oh my god – gotta go!”
The race was really quick, and to be honest it was poorly shot. The footage is grainy and blown-up, but it’s still beautiful because it’s these wiener dogs running on a track. And because wiener dogs don’t really know how to race, their owners are on the track trying to lead them – it’s like man and dog racing.
G: What do you think about YouTube in relation to your work and similar videos. What you and Animal Charm have been doing for years in an underground way is now available to a larger audience, to see and to and maybe even make their own similar work.
BB: YouTube has so much -- ancient music videos – and that’s nice. Several people have posted America’s Biggest Dick on it, and I’m fine with the proliferation. I’m sure some people who are trying to sell their work might have problems. I kinda wish the quality was better – sometimes the lipsync is off because of bandwidth issues. The Animal Charmers love taking things to the most lo-res level, so I wonder what they think.
Stuffing just killed me the first time I saw it – total destruction. You just want it to go on forever.