OFFON is one of Scott Bartlett's earliest works which unprecendentally synthesized film and video. It is the first videographic film ever made in America and a pioneering work regarded by scholars to be the first experimental film to merge film and video technologies.

The film is composed of a series of film loops which Bartlett manipulates through various re-photographing and video colorization techniques to create an intense cybernetic journey which elevates both the consciousness and the external sensibilities of the viewer.

It is a video-graphic jam of imagery combined with a blasting electronic sound-track, rendering a harrowing vision of the future of cinema/video constructs.

Beginning with an extreme close-up of a blinking pale blue eyeball that pulsates with the sound of a heartbeat, a sense of horror and uncertainties is thereby built up, which lures the audience to penetrate into a psychedelic mind.

The sound resembles the noise of a huge ventilation system in an empty abandoned factory, with the dull and monotonous beat indispensable in discos or techno music.

Suddenly the camera zooms into the iris, which now fills up the entire frame. The iris is no longer an iris; it is now a window, a door leading to the person's innermost mindscape. "As soon as it admits the existence of the point, the mind is an eye. (Bataille, 118)

The intertwine between the eye and the electromagnetic spiral vibrations expresses the chaotic confusion of the mind, as if the spiral were a haunting ghost lingering in the mindscape. The blinking is well in-tune with the heartbeat soundtrack, which give s a consistent rhythm to the whole piece.

It was as if the person is recollecting his/ her traumatic experience which has been suppressed and buried in the backyard of his mind, but now being triggered off and dug out by the evocative and expanding spirals.

The pulsating blue eye is now replaced by a pinkish orange eye on a purple background which appears to be produced by silkscreen. It then transforms into a red ring that has resemblance to a globe as well as a pumpkin.

Gradually, the image of a delicate, butterfly-like, mirror-doubled dancer throwing out multiple layers of arms like a human flower appears. The multiplication of arms was done in cinematic optical printing, and the multiplication of the multiplications was done in video: the halos around the arms were created by videofeedback.

Pink and blue sea gulls superimpose on the succession of geometrical images that never seem separate from one another. The soundtrack was so chaotic that one might suspect it would have been for a war or shooting scene.

A standing human figure, with his hands raised as if he were yelling and protesting, floats and vibrates with the music. It is followed by a short video-clip of a couple on a motorcycle which then evolves into a close-up of a girl's face that seems to be streaking off, disintegrating but somehow holding together. The two halves of the face bounce and cross each other.

OFFON was the first videographic film whose existence was the metamorphosis of cinema and video disciplines. It is not filmed TV, rather, it is a hybrid of technologies.

In the 60s, OFFON was an advanced dynamic fusion of film and video techniques used poetically to expand consciousness and to bring the audience into another world: an abstract reality beyond rational cognition. It is a beautiful visual poetry. The techniques used in the film were technologically groundbreaking in that era.

When Bartlett combined video and film color distortions, he is believed to have "expanded the cinema", which generally refers to film material and activities that branch out beyond the familiar single two-dimensional screen in the cinema-theatre, combined with naturalistic photographic recording on film emulsion.

He interbreeds the language of color videotape recording (VTR) and 16mm film which resulted in a visual sensation of kinaesthetics--motion aesthetics and figurative abstractions. It is a concept of image-making that rests on moving patterns, shapes and colors.

"That's becoming a kind of aesthetic common denominator. Marrying techniques so the techniques don't show up separately from the whole. It's crossbreeding information. That's what a computer does, too. Having several aesthetics force each other into their separate molds and then sort of seeing what happens," said Bartlett.

Color was added to black-and-white film by running it through a three-gun, color film chain. The color is induced electronically through the video circuit and appears on tape.

Bartlett here tries to hide one technique inside another by doing essentially the same thing with both systems and just compounding the action. Two pieces of film of the same shot were flipped over so that the left became the right. This was printed back into the left, except out of register so that it staggered behind, apparently trying to catch up with the right. And the shot itself initially was a very slow zoom, rocking the camera back and forth while zooming on the girl's face, who was herself rocking back and forth. When that was fed through the monitor it was refilmed by a zoom lens which was also rocking and swaying.

OFFON is composed entirely of evocative iconographic, geometric concrete imagery. The short beginning of the film is OFF-everything is stationary and silent. Through the eye, we are brought to the chaotic and hypnotic psychedelic mind beyond normal perception-ON.

--Clara Loon
December, 1999.


Youngblood, Gene (1970). Expanded Cinema. New York: Dutton.

Dwoskin, Stephen (1975). Film Is. The Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston (1997). The Exploding Eye: A Re-Visionary History of 1960s American Experimental Cinema. State University of New York Press.

Scott Bartlett Work