video, color, 59 minutes, 2006
In a variation on what DJs call a “mash-up,” director William E. Jones combines segments of sound from classic foreign language films with segments of picture from gay porn films produced before 1985, making decisions based upon the length of the segments rather than their content. The somewhat arbitrary juxtaposition of diverse “found” materials often yields surprisingly appropriate results. v. o. suggests a new narrative space and pays tribute to a former era of gay life and cinephilia. The abbreviation of the title stands for version originale, a French term used to denote films exhibited theatrically in their original languages with subtitles, as opposed to dubbed. v. o. includes dialogue in English, Finnish, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Scanners: The New York Video Festival; Cinematexas, Austin, Texas; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Vienna International Film Festival; Flanders International Film Festival, Ghent, Belgium; Mix New York; Filmforum, Los Angeles; Chicago Filmmakers; Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley; Aurora Picture Show, Houston; Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata, Argentina; London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival; IndieLisboa, Lisbon, Portugal; Identities Queer Film Festival, Vienna; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Outfest, Los Angeles; Split Film Festival, Split, Croatia; Reeling Film Festival, Chicago; Mix Brasil; Pornfilmfestival, Berlin; Cinémathèque française, Paris; Home Works IV, Beirut, Lebanon; Anthology Film Archives, New York
Rob Christopher, “Reeling Film Festival,” chicagoist.com, November 8, 2007.
Here’s how movies work: to juxtapose is to connect. William E. Jones’s video v. o. uses this simple, brilliant strategy by taking non-hardcore, “linking” sequences from vintage gay porn and juxtaposing them with the soundtracks of various classic foreign art films. The collision is a revelation, by turns hilarious and moving. By leaving out all the actual sex from the original porn, what we are left with is a strikingly ethnographic mosaic of a vanished world. Rough trade cruisers prowling the NYC subways, hideously bronzed Sunset Strip studs, a plethora of fringed leather boots and hot pants, and a frankness about longing and lust that’s unexpectedly insightful. The soundtrack, which includes dialog from the films of Buñuel, Raul Ruiz and several obscure German movies, serves as an opaque commentary track. In one scene for example, we hear a woman recounting her story of meeting a sailor while we watch two men enact a complex ritual of flirtation on a street corner. v. o. is more than just a time capsule of the pre-AIDS era. By using the source materials for its own ends, it creates a new world of its own.
Philippe Azoury, “Hard contemporain: Festival du porno. Tout l’underground en chaleur à Berlin,” Libération, 31 Octobre 2007.
L’ironie envers sa propre communauté sexuelle et ses prétendus signes de reconnaissance fit le lit de ce festival underground : tous les films lesbiens de la compétition Cum2cut avaient une longueur de sarcasme d’avance et même le plus beau film du festival, V.O., de l’Américain William E. Jones, montage élaboré à partir de films gays new-yorkais des années punk, n’y échappait pas : l’effeuillage d’un giton qui, surprise!, porte un tatouage «Tom of Finland» sur les deux fesses est à se tordre. Mais V.O., distillant un chromo louche, proche des premiers Scorsese, avec ces images d’errance dans le métro new-yorkais, monte en intensité dès qu’il superpose à ces séquences sauvées des décombres du sex-shop une bande-son empruntée à Jean Genet, à la Mort de Maria Malibran de Werner Schroeter ou à La Chienne de Jean Renoir. Le mur de résistance entre culture haute et pornographie de caniveau vient de tomber.
Emily Condon, “In Good Standing: The Walker’s Queer Takes Series Has Plenty of Substance,” The Onion (Minneapolis) June 21, 2007.
The series’ greatest revelation arrives in the sub-program Extracted: Recent Work by William E. Jones. Hailing from Massillon, Ohio (a town known almost exclusively for its championship football team, the Tigers), Jones offers an impressive body of experimental work that re-imagines the genre of gay male pornography. Queer Takes screens three of Jones’ films, all made last year: the close-to-feature-length v. o., Film Montages (Peter Roehr), and More British Sounds. His film Mansfield 1962 also screens continuously through August 9 at the Warehouse District-area gallery Form + Content.
Jones’ v. o. embraces a notion not dissimilar to a DJ mash-up – he lays dialog from European art films over largely forgotten, non-explicit scenes from ’70s and early ’80s gay pornography. Though it sounds hopelessly cerebral and esoteric, the film offers a surprisingly universal, devastating (and hot) glimpse into a bygone age tangling cynicism and naïveté while forcing the viewer to surrender to the melancholic allure of sound and image. An elegy for a pre-AIDS era in which celluloid has lost none of its power or ubiquity, Jones’ film may at times veer too close to fetishizing the past. However, it also offers an inversion of and insight into the ever-more-homogeneous and sterile present. It’s an obsessive piece, in terms of both form and content, that haunts long after the credits roll.
Ray Pride, “Films to See Now: v. o.” Newcity (Chicago) February 15, 2007.
Found beauty: conceptually stunning, eerie and deeply melancholy, William Jones’ v. o. draws non-sexual imagery from the dramatic scenes in pre-1985 big-screen gay porn and splices it to subtitled dialogue and soundtracks from Euro high-art sources like Buñuel, Genet, and Raul Ruiz, creating a newly surreal lingua franca. (It opens, of course, with a delivery by a pizza boy.) A cousin to Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, v. o. (for version originale, a film that hasn’t been dubbed) is also a strange time capsule haunted by unlikely meditations on mortality. It’s also far more intriguing than the welter of YouTube-driven mash-ups prevalent today. “Eighteen and exiled from his homeland!” indeed. The content of the end credits, citing the sources of the audio, are one more marvelous surprise.
Max Goldberg, “Alternative Visions at the PFA,” sf360.org, February 15, 2007.
v. o. [is] William E. Jones’s unexpectedly tender mash-up of ’70s gay porn with a soundtrack culled from art cinema classics, philosophical musings (in French, mostly), and music ranging from classical lilt to electro-funk. Collage like this is naturally given to reflection, with a new vision being made both from and of collected materials (mostly dubbed tapes, judging by Johnny Ray Huston’s interview with Jones in the San Francisco Bay Guardian). The filmmaker is preoccupied with the idea of the loss of an authentic gay subculture of which he finds twilight remnants in pornography like Nights in Black Leather (starring San Francisco’s own Peter Berlin) and LA Plays Itself. The clips – mostly seduction (“The neighborhood is a tissue of looks,” one line goes) and foreplay; Jones leaves out the hardcore stuff – play over moody, baroque dialog from films by directors like Buñuel and Ruiz, as well as prophetic interviews regarding the conservatism of homosexual culture with Jean Genet. This romantic yearning for a particular culture’s past is inextricably wound with a view of the urban landscape: of the city as labyrinth, dangerous and alluring, pristine in its filth. As the characters pursue one another through secret subway passages and abandoned lots and Jones’s soundtrack weave blurs in the ghosts of Europe’s past, the effect is something like reverie.
Johnny Ray Huston, “Underworld Meets Underground: William E. Jones Uncovers Hidden Stories in Porn’s Dark Edges,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, vol. 41, no. 20 (February 14-20, 2007) p. 57.
v. o. is on the indieWIRE.com list of Best Undistributed Films of the Year, December 21, 2006.
Robert Abele, “Screening Room: Repurposing as an Art Form,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2006, p. E8.
Experimental video artist William E. Jones’ fascination with the sociological and psychological shadings in the nongraphic moments of gay pornography continues with his latest work, which L. A. Filmforum will show Sunday night at the Egyptian Theater.
One extraordinary result of his obsession, the 59-minute v. o., is nothing less than cinematic repurposing as anthropological awakening. Jones has taken to laying a soundtrack of romantically moody or baldly political voice-overs from European films (by the likes of Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel and avant-garde German Werner Schroeter) over a montage of pre- and post-coital scenes from ’70s- and ’80s-era gay adult films.
There are inevitably more than a few time-capsule titters to be had from the archival moments — feathered hair, tight clothes, and Jones even opens with one old film's pizza-delivery moment, as if to get that cliché out of the way. But what lingers, besides the suggestive glances of hustlers and pleasure-seekers, is a textured, melancholic skimming of worlds long past, whether they’re Los Angeles streets, New York subways or the closet, medicine cabinet, record collection and mover’s box of a gay man circa 1975 leaving his lover.
What’s changed may be AIDS; what hasn’t is the pursuit of desire, and the loneliness that can engender. By removing the sex and adding a sometimes disjointed, sometimes eerily compatible multilingual narration of introspection and longing, Jones seems to create a fresh film language of memory, nostalgia and background-as-foreground. And if the whole enterprise is reminiscent of Thom Andersen’s found-film-generated docu-essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, it should be noted that not only is Andersen’s title taken from an early ’70s gay porn film that Jones samples for v. o., but there’s also a CalArts connection between these two artists as well. Andersen will, in fact, be at the screening to introduce Jones, who will also show two new shorts, More British Sounds and Film Montages (for Peter Roehr).
Jennifer Krasinski, “William E. Jones’s v. o.” Art U. S. issue 15 (October/November 2006) p. 9.
Assembled from “non-pornographic” (read: fuck-less) sequences from gay male porn films of the 1970s and 80s by legendary directors such as Tom De Simone, Fred Halsted, and Joe Gage, v. o. – the latest work of avant-garde documentary filmmaker William E. Jones – continues the appraisal of pornography as text begun in Jones’s earlier films Finished (1997), his autobiography-cum-elegy for the porn star Alain Lebeau/Alan Lambert, and The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography (1998), a corrosive portrait of capitalism’s creep into Eastern Europe. By extracting and assembling the moments from between the money shots (i.e., dialogue, inserts, reactions shots, etc.), Jones has demonstrated that sex can be a distraction from what is equally interesting (and instructive) about porn flicks: namely, how the films stand as venerable documents of queer history – as records not only of bodies wanted and able, but also of the politics and culture surrounding their coupling.
However, v. o. (cine-slang for “voice over”) marks a departure for the artist, if only for the simple reason that his sonorous first-person narrations, which have fuelled his previous films, are nowhere to be heard. Ironically, the absence of Jones’s voice in v. o. serves to amplify his presence, for he has cleverly – wickedly – borrowed a new tongue with which to speak of porn, sex, politics and desire: that of cinema itself. Now, atop appropriated wide shots of toned bodies in tight white briefs, close-ups of men both mustachioed and baby-faced, and inserts of hands caressing cocks-under-jeans, Jones lays in sound, dialogue and song lifted from films by directors such as Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, Guy Debord and Werner Schroeter in order to articulate (and translate) what is happening onscreen. In effect, Jones “re-scripts” the porn clips, rewriting their purpose, and rethinking the relationship of porn to Cinema-with-a-capital-C.
v. o. is indeed a compelling argument for canonizing the smut-peddlers (!), and the dissonant pairings of Jones’s source materials make for sequences so rich and resonant, that an index would serve the film better than a quickie review. For example, Jones scores strung-together reaction shots with a voice that informs us, “What’s at stake is bound to come to mind. Complete the space by means of reverse shots….The neighborhood is a tissue of looks.” Even disregarding the gays/gaze pun, one cannot ignore that the conversation Jones has instigated is not limited to the action onscreen. Placed alongside close-ups of doe-eyed men, the ‘neighborhood’ seems more a state of mind; the space it occupies, quantifiable by a camera – by an act of looking. Film not only records desire, it is desire, a fact which we may have understood before, but now we see played out in the open.
For all of its fierce intelligence and acute criticality, Jones’s film is also a wistful and romantic tribute to a time when the codes of gay male desire were as yet unplagued. Ghosts are always more clearly visible in hindsight, and because the footage which makes up v. o. predates other acronyms that would soon make the scene – HIV, AIDS, NEA – one cannot help but think of the film as a kind of an electric haunting. It is here that Jones invokes Saint Genet to be our guide from the other side by laying in an eerily prophetic sound bite. Over a scene starring boot-licking “Navy Men,” an interviewer asks Genet if love, for him, began with a boy. “Vous avez dit l’amour?” asks Genet, “J’ai entendu la mort.” (“You said love? I heard death.”) Death may be ever-present – stowed inside love, a body, a voice – but when, at the end of v. o. Guy Debord’s voice tells the viewer that “the greatness of art begins to appear only at the end of life,” one is reminded that film is not a simple record of the living. It is also – if only for a few flickering moments – a medium of resurrection.
Ioannis Mookas, “Bright Cathodes, Big City,” Gay City News, vol. 5, no. 30 (July 27 - August 2, 2006) p. 20.
When the Film Society of Lincoln Center inaugurated its New York Video Festival fifteen years ago, the medium was just entering its middle child phase. Caught between venerable celluloid on the one hand and digital media in squalling infancy on the other, video acted out in all sorts of lively ways and the festival’s programming gained from this ferment.
In our precarious new century the baby has cannibalized its elders, video now sharing a liquid boundary with digital media and cinematic processes digitized from storyboarding to exhibition, even if the film image retains its undimmed aura. Sifting the output of an illustrious pool of artists, the festival in its keenness for innovation sometimes acquires an expo ambience, of maquettes unfurled and prototypes test driven on audiences, making for perhaps the most varied item in the Walter Reade calendar.
The festival’s cynosure attraction is the premiere of William E. Jones’ new feature v. o., billed with The Abominable Freedom by Darrin Martin and Torsten Burns in a single screening on Friday July 28. v. o. syncopates audio outtakes from European auteur films, subtitled in English, with music tracks and visual excerpts from classic gay porn of the 1970s and early ’80s. Notwithstanding the end credit source list, the clips might be gleaned from some akashic sphere unsubject to distinctions of modernist and minor cinemas, where Buñuel, de Oliveira, and Raul Ruíz consort freely with L.A. Tool and Die or Nights in Black Leather.
v. o. opens with a hypnotic invocation and sustains a spell well past its hour. A delivery boy listens to an antique phonograph in his customer’s foyer and is transported — the camera wafts down the horn as a subtitled French speaker commands, “You must clearly visualize the negative agent that is aggressing you. With all your strength, you are destroying it.” Fading in on the two men gauzily entwined upon cushions, an ample member slewed inside the brunet’s briefs, the narrator urges, “Feel your victory… Don’t hesitate to smile, and let positive waves flow through you.” This warm exordium is followed by a lattice of knowing looks between musky rogues in what seems a hideout or cell, introducing the sexual outlaw mythos bolstered by quotes from a BBC interview with Saint Genet.
Jones adopts some of his Cal Arts colleague Thom Andersen’s method from Los Angeles Plays Itself, of deploying fictional film clips for their evidential value, refocusing viewers’ attention to the built or natural urban environments preserved in the backdrops of countless commercial movies as material data of bygone social worlds and political eras. The vintage clips comprising v. o. brim with documentary detail, like a curlicued billboard for Nicholas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s psychedelic gangland orgy Performance (“underground meets underworld”).
Jones’ own methods and preoccupations are synthesized and self-referentially bared. v. o.’s pornscape builds from his earlier feature Finished, and its knife-edge caress from the short The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography. A scrap of sound early in v. o. tunes in a bilious radio preacher (“The Lord has his own ways of doin’ things, it’s not up to us to question why… Mind yer own fuckin’ business!”), alluding to Jones’ debut Massillon, and pictorial details like a shelf of LPs or the opening Victrola recall the turntable motif in his recent Is It Really So Strange? Even the title points wryly to the Angeleno’s signature voiceover, heard in all his works before now.
One extended sequence will captivate Gothamites who may hardly recognize the pre-autoclaved Times Square, seen here as in a mournful snow globe, or the subway circa 1980, setting for a porno that has tomcats prowling the rails all night, the carriages ablaze with graffiti and stations slicked with soot and posters (Evita!). Enacting every gay male straphangers’ fantasy, one heavy-lidded stud cruises amid clueless commuters, tricking in a deserted underpass and following a mustached clone around a chained-off corner on the 28th Street platform, ingress to a dim warren laid open by sheer desire as refuge for their pleasure.
v. o. meets porn’s requirement of physical arousal but achieves something larger, a modicum of grace at confronting mortality. Arriving on the 25th anniversary of the detection of a “rare gay cancer,” and capping its excerpts at 1985, when HIV was isolated, v. o. treats AIDS as a structuring absence, signified in a vanitas, complete with yellowed skull, in a teenage stoner’s bedroom. Disillusionment—“rancor without revenge”—may overtake us in the end, but the French mesmerist’s promise heard at the outset still resounds: “You are an extraordinary factory of natural medication.”
Ed Halter, “Tracking Shots: Scanners, The 2006 New York Video Festival,” Village Voice, July 26-August 1, 2006, p. 68.
One suspects the semi-recently rebranded Scanners: The 2006 New York Video Festival has tweaked its nomenclature in an effort to upgrade its image for the new-media era. Yet, while this year’s event includes a few live sets—among them eternally New Wave vid-artist Charles Atlas performing a musical act called The Intensity Police Are Working My Last Gay Nerve, an in-progress demo of Toni Dove’s interactive movie Spectropia and an interactive piece employing audience members’ cell phones—most programs hew to lineups of single-channel experimental shorts, heavy with mid-career names that have shown in many editions.
But the standard festival format serves well for at least one fantastic entry: William E. Jones’s grubbily austere, conceptually elegant v. o. Jones’s 59-minute featurette collects dramatic non-sex scenes from the William Higgins-era golden age of gay porn films and sets them to a variety of disjunctively highbrow European soundtracks: an interview with Jean Genet, or clips of dialogue from films by the likes of Werner Schroeter and Raul Ruiz. Street scenes of ’70s L. A. and New York reclaim a documentary valence, and v. o. could be dubbed a queer corollary to Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, if not for the fact that Jones explored a similar process in his 1999 short The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography (as CalArts colleagues, there's undoubted influence between the two directors). Jones’s archival anthropology also serves a reminder that such scenes exist due to their provenance: After all, these were cinematic works meant to be watched, not merely fast-forwarded or downloaded.