Los Angeles

Flyer by John Dorr for James Dillinger’s 1983 feature-length video Blonde Death. From “EZTV: Video Transfer.”

Flyer by John Dorr for James Dillinger’s 1983 feature-length video Blonde Death. From “EZTV: Video Transfer.”

“EZTV: Video Transfer”

Flyer by John Dorr for James Dillinger’s 1983 feature-length video Blonde Death. From “EZTV: Video Transfer.”

Founded in 1979 in West Hollywood by queer screenwriter John Dorr, EZTV was one of the first of its kind: a showcase and incubator dedicated solely to video makers. EZTV inhabited several locations before settling into a space on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1983, where it thrived as a nationally recognized center for independent video, featuring an on-site production facility, an art gallery, and a lively schedule packed with screenings, performances, and music. After Dorr (its major champion, front man, and director) died of HIV-related causes in 1993, EZTV gradually fell into obscurity, and its treasure trove of narrative and experimental videos, which were housed for years in the cardboard boxes and paper bags of surviving EZTV members, threatened to warp and disintegrate.

Now, thanks to the efforts of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries—the biggest repository of queer historical materials in the world—EZTV is finally getting its due: The archive recently acquired more than three hundred videotapes produced or screened at EZTV (which are currently in the process of being digitally conserved) as well as Dorr’s personal papers and a substantial amount of ephemera. To celebrate this acquisition, curator David Frantz wisely selected a narrow but evocative cross-section of EZTV’s prodigious output. “EZTV: Video Transfer” highlighted several remarkable aspects of this alternative artist-run venue, including Dorr’s visionary understanding of video as a tool for do-it-yourself moviemaking, the decidedly queer bent of much of EZTV’s work, and the organization’s later groundbreaking forays into computer graphics and digital art.

The cramped confines of the two-room ONE Archives gallery managed to hold a rewardingly deep sample of work from EZTV’s heyday. Posters for premieres were displayed among programs for evening events (including screenings of James Dillinger’s gory and satiric feature Blonde Death [1983]) and flyers for hands-on video workshops that illustrate the center’s emphasis on seizing the means of media production. Nearly twenty monitors played excerpts of such EZTV classics as Dorr’s campy black-and-white Sudzall Does It All (1979); video of live events by the likes of performance artists Luis Alfaro and Johanna Went; and EZTV stalwart Michael Masucci’s documentation of the Screamers’ lead vocalist Tomata du Plenty’s A Shakespeare Travesty, 1984, a mishmash of the playwright’s most famous lines spoken by a cast that dances in colorful drag.

Dorr married the populist, utopian strand of early video ideologies with a gay male sensibility, and pages from his notebooks detail the uniquely queer orientation with which he approached video, including never-realized fantasy television shows such as “The Big Cock Game Show” and a “video movie” called “The Beer Bar Cruise.” Typewritten scripts covered in hand-scrawled annotations and promotional invitations drawn wonkily with pen or marker proclaim their belonging to an analog past, and indeed, this retro reliance on making do has an aesthetic (as well as a nostalgic) value. Much of the interest here stemmed not only from the exhibition’s content but from the old-timey feel of clunky tapes in their cases and the distinctive glitches and textures characteristic of predigital video. Frantz also launched an ambitious range of programming that underscored EZTV’s role in shaping pre-YouTube networks of video distribution and viewership.

The most transfixing piece in the show was documentation of the 1983 Gay Pride Parade as it streamed right past the EZTV facility. This hour-long video captures people on the street in the aftermath of the festivities in their outstanding ’80s fashion (from barely there leotards to sporty Palm Springs dyke-wear) as EZTV members conduct short interviews. Among the drunken responses is a telling exchange between Masucci and two men who were also videotaping the event. They nerdily swap information on equipment before Masucci bids farewell, saying, “Hope you gentlemen get some good tape today!” The men respond: “Good tape to you, too!” as if this were a common salutation. Footage of the parade was screened later that evening for anyone interested in seeing themselves again through this mediated lens, underscoring EZTV’s linkage of queer practices with its embrace of new media technologies.

Julia Bryan-Wilson