April 4, 2014
I was born in 1954, and for whatever reasons, which is a total mystery to me, I’m fascinated with an early TV series called “Captain Video and His Video Rangers, " that ran from 1949 to 1955 on the DuMont Television Network. We didn’t have a TV set in our house at that time, so I only saw some of the episodes when I was a teenager, and for the life of me, I can’t remember the channel that it appeared on. But what I do remember is that I had really bad reception, so I had to watch the show with the picture going in and out, or seeing the ghost images of objects on my little rabbit ears TV screen.
Even the plot of the show was mysterious to me, which I think was a big factor for me being sort of a fan of “Captain Video.” Over-all it is about a group of fighters for truth and justice. The stories are placed in the future, where there was a certain amount of space travel as well as the characters using a walke-talkie that at the time looked futuristic. The program was originally performed live and broadcast instantly to the East Coast and then three hours later to the West Coast. To this day, I think of the time zones as being a part of the future. When I go back East or especially when I am in Japan, I often feel that I’m traveling to the future, and my life back in Los Angeles is the past.
I believe the show was broadcast from Los Angeles, which appears to me to be the perfect location to do a show like this. The city itself is a mystery to me, and I often feel like i 'm sleep-walking through the sleepy city. When I take a walk, I make sure that I don’t have a thought in my head. I don’t even know where I’m going. Basically I put on a jacket, leave the house, and go on the first bus that I see approaching me. “Captain Video” strikes me as the same sort of narration as my daily walks through Los Angeles. The narration of some of the earlier shows were extremely odd, and due to budget problems, within the show itself, they would start showing or inserting scenes from a western or cowboy movie. The character would explain that these are agents working for the Video Rangers.
The beauty of this at the same time I was discovering a book by Isidore Ducasse, better known to the world as Comte de Lautréamont called “Les Chants de Maldoror." Written in 1868. It’s a key text for the Surrealists, who re-discovered the book by chance in 1917, when poet Philippe Soupault found it in a used bookstore, apparently in the mathematics section. He read it and gave it to Andre Breton, and to this day, the book has not been out-of-print. “Maldoror” is a prose poem regarding evil. It doesn’t have a narrative of sorts, but more a collection of images that are startling, and to this day people find it shocking. There is a famous description of a boy in the book, where Ducasse wrote that he was as “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.” The Situationists also admired Ducasse because he was the first one, in his last work “Poésies” to plagiarize other writers by inserting their lines in his work. He was quoted as saying: “Plagiarism is necessary. It is implied in the idea of progress. It clasps the author’s sentence tight, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the right idea. ”
“Captian Video” strikes me as something that was important to me as reading “Les Chants de Maldoror” as well as his “Poésies” in that inserting a vision that comes from somewhere else is a conscious tool in making art or in the art of writing. The juxtaposition of me watching a TV show that was made before I was born, on a crappy TV set, that inserted another movie (the western) within the program, strikes me as the perfect formula to see the world in a much different light. I walk through the sleepy city with my eyes ahead, and my mind looking back.