The Commission


I chose to discuss Woody Vasulka's work, The Commission. Steina was very much involved by operating the camera for the piece.

Woody Vasulka's experiment with narrativity through electronic tools is presented in this "operatic" work that evokes the friendship between Hector Berlioz and violinist Niccolo Paganini whose ill health, loss of voice and gambling habits led to his death at an early age. "Applying for the first time his complex imagining codes to a narrative, Vasulka explores issues of art-making and sacrifice, the tape is a pivotal work in developing a narrative language of electronic image processing"( Resolution: A Critique of Video Art).

Throughout the work the electronic imaging codes are used. When short flashes of the electronic images occur a strange noise, almost like an alarm, also occurs. When the violinist, Niccolo Paganini is first shown he is shown in a medium shot. This is then cut to a headshot. As the violinist begins to play his performance is silent and remains this way during the whole performance. Throughout his silent performance, electronic images are shown over Paganini's body. The images seem almost like they can actually be heard. The viewer finds himself or herself using their imagination to allow themselves to hear the violinist's piece. The use of electronic imagining is this case is very powerful. They actually become so powerful that sound is not needed for a musical performance, which is usually crucial.

This scene that was just described is one of many in Vasulka's The Commission, that portrays how the electronic images enhanced the quality of the work. I chose that particular scene because the imaging was smooth and elegant. Throughout the scene the electronic imaging was a very powerful portrayal of the violin piece.

In addition to this scene electronic imaging is shown throughout the work. Another example of this is not only seen in one particular scene but rather in a series of scenes. Woody uses the imaging as a cut. At the end of the actor's lines the electronic imaging cuts away from that shot to another one. The imaging almost acts as a dissolve or a wipe.

I partly enjoyed this film. One of the reasons I did enjoy it was the fact that there were specific characters that followed a story line. The segments that I did not enjoy were some of the electronic imaging. Some points of the film were almost painful to watch. For example the flashing light and altered images would hurt my eyes because they were too intense. The siren or alarm sound that would occur following an image became piercing. In closing, I feel that Woody Vasulka used the electronic imaging excellently. The imaging definitely enhanced his film.

--Kara Brassil

Woody Vasulka Work