"You'll never look at music the same way again," announced MTV when the music-video channel began cablecasting in 1981. Though the Long Beach Museum's series is tied to the 10th anniversary of that cable network's inception, the exhibition explores ground that MTV will not touch.
"Music video can be an art form if you look beyond the MTV format," said Kim Harlan Tassie, curator of the series. "Most videos in the exhibit have had no chance to be widely exposed. They're either not selling product or they're not stupid enough. . . . (The exhibit) is an outlet for all this great work that is being produced. Without it, there'd be little or no opportunity for these artists to get any exposure any other way."
"The MTV Decade," and "Music Video and the Politics of Dancing" will be screened this weekend. But don't expect a remedial course in MTV 101 or a video dance party at International House.
Though "The MTV Decade" features some vintage videos from MTV's early days - clips by Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads, and David Bowie's self- directed efforts - the focus is on videos that broke new artistic ground. You'll also see clips directed by well-known film directors: Derek Jarman's ''The Queen is Dead" for the Smiths comes under the umbrella of "Ad Auteurs"; Jonathan Demme's "Perfect Kiss" for New Order falls under the fascinating category of "Anti-Videos."
The second program, "Music Video and the Politics of Dancing," culls 22 videos from around the globe and 10 "Rock the Vote" public-service announcements. It's a package that the exhibition's fascinating catalogue calls "the best examples of 'agit-pop.' " Two clips in this collection are worth the price of admission alone: a "Rock the Vote" that features Donny Osmond in a Nazi uniform, and the hilarious cult classic "We're Talking Vulva" (sort of a condensed video version of Our Bodies, Ourselves), by Shawna Dempsey and Bad Tribe.
Said Harlan, "The second program, in particular, really focuses on music video as a cultural phenomenon. Looking at it, you see it's come to pervade our culture on several levels as a form of expression. It's a long look at politics in music video." Three rap videos in the segment portray "the implementation, or exploitation, of rap as a form of expression," Harlan said.
"MTV is so corporate and so conservative," she said. The network's programming is rife with sexual - and sexist - images, yet "they are afraid of anything remotely to the left of the political spectrum." She points to MTV's refusal to play NWA's "Straight Out of Compton," as an example of MTV's conservative bent. The NWA video is included in the second program.
Videos by Bongwater, Nikki D. and The Roches serve to offer "positive, feminist, nonsexist portrayals of women in video," Harlan said. "That's something rarely seen on MTV. Some of the international videos are really impressive. Laibach's 'Life Is Life' reminds me of The Sound of Music from hell." In it, grandiose images of uniformed Aryans posed against stupendous works of nature resonate with fascist overtones. "They're Yugoslavian - actually a Croatian band - and the video is steeped with black comedy. It's a very dark parody and a strong statement. The video was filmed in '87, but one can read it as speaking out against what has oppressed them for decades."
The third part of the series, "20th Century Music Visions," will focus on music video's precedents. A tribute to Oskar Fischinger, the German filmmaker credited as the father of the form, is the keystone of this collection. Selections from "Soundies," the original film jukebox, features jazz great Louis Armstrong. "Scopitones" of Nancy Sinatra, Procol Harum and Ray Charles round out a segment that proves - amazingly enough - that the history of music videos can be traced to the early '30s.
"Notes From the Underground," the fourth program, will survey music videos from the renegade quarter of independent rock-and-roll bands. The fifth part of the series, "Artists' Advertisement Alternatives," takes on the cutting edge and explores innovation and collaboration with artists who have worked, until recently, in unrelated media.
Though curator Harlan takes a slightly adversarial stand on MTV, she heaps praise on MTV's in-house creative department. "Some of the most artistic and
innovative works being created in the medium today are the station's own promotional shorts," Harlan said. Dozens of those shorts will be screened throughout the series. "What the creative department is doing is just outstanding; it's the most interesting material on MTV - the interstitial stuff," she said.
The series, which runs through Jan. 26, offers a rare overview of what Harlan calls "little works of art." At any rate, you'll never look at MTV the same way again.
IF YOU GO
"Art of Music Video: Ten Years After" is presented by the Neighborhood Film/Video Project. All programs will be shown at International House, 3701 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. General admission for each program: $6. Student and seniors admission: $5. Five-program pass: $15. Phone: 895-6542.
Sunday: "The MTV Decade" at 7:30 p.m.; "Music Video and the Politics of Dancing" at 9:15 p.m.
Nov. 17: "Music Video and the Politics of Dancing," 7:30 p.m.; "20th Century Music Visions," 9:15 p.m.
Dec. 8: "20th Century Music Visions," 7:30 p.m.; "The MTV Decade," 9:15 p.m.
Jan. 19:"Notes From the Underground," 7:30 p.m.; "Artists' Advertisement Alternatives," 9:15 p.m.
Jan. 26: "Artists' Advertisement Alternatives," 7:30 p.m.; "Notes From the Underground," 9:15 p.m.