Thursday, October 01, 2009

i moon-walked with a zombie

Now on view through October 11 at DCKT Contemporary in New York, it's Josh Azzarella's first foray into pop culture, and away from iconic images of our violent recent history. Josh, of course, was featured in Paradox Now! at the AAC this summer. For his newest piece, instead of showing Abu Ghraib sans prisoners, or Kent State sans Mary Ann Vecchio, the artist with an erasing fetish offers Untitled #100 (Fantasia)--Thriller sans Michael Jackson.

The video is a painstaking frame-by-frame reconstruction of the most popular music video of all time. Azzarella has subtracted every human image, as well as every human sound--and every note of the original soundtrack. What remains are a collection of shots tracking across a series of fully realized but fairly generic horror movie sets, provided, of course, by An American Werewolf in London's director John Landis.

The illusion is pretty seamless, except for when the camera pans back and forth or zooms quickly; at these moments, the shots begin to look like composites: part found footage, part computer generated first-person shooter environment. Suddenly the set from Thriller appears to be an empty virtual container in which any number of unreal acts could be performed.

Azzarella has brought the background noise squarely into the foreground; stray reverberated artifacts appear here and there--of a scream, or of something like a zombie moan--but otherwise, the video is a progression of howling wind or cricket sounds at various pitches. When the edits become faster and closer together during what once were either dramatic moments or dance scenes, the pitch of the background noise rises and falls, rises and falls, almost like a piece of experimental electronic music.

It's a little startling to be reminded how this hugely popular moment in pop culture relied on zombie movie tropes. The main two sets--the graveyard where the zombies rise, and the dilapidated urban backdrop/warehouse in front of which they dance--remind me an awful lot of (bear with me here) Resurrection Cemetary and the Uneeda medical supply warehouse from Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead. Of course, that film was released in 1985, two years after Thriller, so I've got the flow of influence backwards.

And to follow this train of thought to its unnecessary conclusion: Below, from the completely forgettable follow-up, Return of the Living Dead, Part II--one of those sequels where the producers attempt to do a remake of the previous movie, complete with some of the same actors from the original now playing different roles--is a certain red-jacketed zombie being jolted by electricity.

Apologies for the very blurry YouTube footage, but by the time those little white socks pop into the frame at the end of the nine second snippet below, you'll have no doubt that the undead King of Pop has just been dispatched.


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