Fascination 70 minutes, video, 2006

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“A valedictory to late vid artist Colin Campbell, a look at Campbell’s friends and lovers and a consideration of the Cold War rolled into one, Fascination sets an elegant, high-water mark for writer-helmer Mike Hoolboom, one of Canada’s most intriguing non-narrative filmmakers. Deserving recipient of a career survey at the Buenos Aires fest, Hoolboom should find considerable interest in this brilliantly textured biopic-that’s-not-a-biopic, which launched at Rotterdam and is a sure thing for adventurous and gay-themed confabs around the globe. As a gay artist with a keen interest in visual media-and one of the first in Canada to take up video as a legit art form-Campbell forged a trail that Hoolboom has followed, although in a distinctly different style. Campbell’s lifespan (1942-2001) roughly matches that of the Cold War, and Fascination is built on these two parallel tracks. A third strand features Campbell’s companions generally seen facing the lens, as if speaking to Campbell directly. The same style of footage was shot by Hoolboom, as well, and is mixed in seamlessly. Fascination is a sustained dream state in which Hoolboom interweaves his threads. Included are clips from 22 Campbell videos (1972-2001). His final work provides a particularly touching moment, with Campbell saying to his camera, “I, too, have unfulfilled desires.” In a series of bold strokes that could easily have backfired, Hoolboom succeeds in linking Campbell’s personal life (coming out as a gay man, for instance), his art and the era of the Bomb in a form that resembles visual music. The work of both Hoolboom and Campbell also comment on the debilitating state of commercial television. Editor Mark Karbusicky and Hoolboom masterfully blend the widely disparate archive and newly shot material. Uncredited sound work is densely designed.” Robert Koehler, Variety

Colin Campbell in PeripheralBlur performance1

“Metabiopic about the Canadian pioneer of the video scene and icon of the drag scene Colin Campbell who died in 2001. And therefore also about the development of television, the Cold War and the shadow of a master. Colin Campbell, a pioneer of video art, has made about 40 video films, including the classic ultra low-budget underground work Modern Love (1979). Until his sudden death in 2001, he was a university lecturer and above all an elegant and fascinating focus of Canadian art life. In his deliberately marginal films, which have been screened at the Dokumenta and the Venice Biennial, he played with an enormous variety of characters, many sexually ambiguous, such as his campy alter ego ‘Art Star.’ Usually dressed in women’s clothes, he addressed the viewer directly with a variety of confessions. Hoolboom, who strangely enough only met Campbell twice despite coming from the same city, has made more than an introduction to the work and life of Campbell in Fascination. In a visually inventive and impressive way, he also used the history of the era in which Campbell’s art came to fruition: from the Korean War and the Cold War to the rise of the television medium.” GertJan Zuilhof, Rotterdam Film Festival


“Fest gala opener Mike Hoolboom’s Fascination looks to a community of Toronto artists that’s been integral to the fest over the years through a portrait of the late video artist Colin Campbell. Rather than package Campbell in a neat bio, Hoolboom immerses the viewer in his world, to the point where you can no longer feel its edges. Archival footage of nuclear tests reveals the social concerns that drove Campbell’s work, and a series of contemplative voice-overs draws attention to our amnesia in the age of video, “a tool that erases as it records.” Moments with Campbell’s circle of friends, including luminaries like John Greyson, give the film an intimate feel, while clips of the artist’s often hilarious work, in drag as Colleena or as the smouldering, perpetually shirtless Art Star, bring a degree of levity to this touching work that Campbell surely would have appreciated.” Kevin Temple, NOW Magazine, April 2006

“Like his superb 2002 film Tom, the latest by Toronto’s premier experimental film artist is essentially a biographical work, his new subject being Colin Campbell, the local video pioneer who died in 2001. But as Hoolboom dryly notes in his voice-over, “I don’t want to tell his story but to accompany it.” One reason behind this strategy is that Hoolboom feels as if he is an outsider to Campbell’s chosen medium. While Hoolboom’s practice fits in with a decades-long lineage of found-film alchemists that includes Ken Jacobs, Peter Tscherkassky and Richard Kerr, Campbell’s art starts with the advent of the home video camera in the ‘70s. Fascination offers glimpses of Campbell’s often hilarious attempts to subvert the tropes of television, casting himself as its brightest star. The lively and eagerly audacious nature of Campbell’s work makes it a strong counterpoint to Hoolboom’s weightier pronouncements on time and image in the atomic age, as well as the raw demonstrations of grief by the people Campbell left behind. The remembrances of his collaborators, friends and lovers (a cast that includes Lynne Fernie, John Greyson and Andrew Paterson) are skillfully integrated into Hoolboom’s typically hypnotic stream of images new and borrowed.” Jason Anderson, EYE Weekly, April 2006


“Colin Campbell’s death in 2001 left a hole in Toronto’s art community. Generous, prolific and handsome, he was a pioneer in the budding field of video art who created hilarious personae throughout his thirty-year career: Art Star, Robin, the Woman from Malibu and Colleena. He merged the worlds of performance art with video, creating an ongoing series of tapes that were witty and sly—campy takes on the mirror image of video in the age of media proliferation. He was a colleague, lover and mentor to many of the scene’s artists, and the work of artists such as Lisa Steele, John Greyson, Andrew J. Paterson and Tanya Mars would have been substantially different without his presence in their lives… Where the intimacy of Tom , his biography of Tom Chomont, reflected the more internal world of his subject, in Fascination Hoolboom’s take on Campbell plays more with his public persona, and the people who made up Campbell’s personal public. Less a biographical portrait (although there is a life story there) than portraits of the people Colin left behind, Hoolboom reveals the important role of perception in Campbell’s work and life, as well as the charisma which kept his friends and audiences so enthralled. Fascination contains interviews and cameos with dozens of Canadian artists whose paths crossed with Campbell’s. Combined with his customary use of appropriated footage and subjective voice-over, Hoolboom presents us with a deeply affecting biography of a fallen star.” Images Festival Catalogue, 2006

“Just as Imitations of Life compliments Public Lighting, Fascination is a complement for Tom. Mike Hoolboom’s latest work is a biographical portrait of Colin Campbell, video art pioneer, and key figure of the Canadian underground. A juxtaposition of elements that reshuffle and expand some features of Campbell’s art and personality, from the nuclear threat and the advent of television in the 1950s to his death in 2001.” Buenos Aires International Festival

Fascination (BadGirls)

Fascination, Mike Hoolboom’s powerful new biopic about late video artist Colin Campbell, sets the tone for this year’s Images Festival: subversion, interrogation and humanity. As one of the opening lines state: “This is a movie about you, not about Colin Campbell.” In this opening presentation Hoolboom reframes the biopic, creating what he calls a “meta-biopic.” Combining interview footage of friends and video luminaries (including John Greyson, Lynne Fernie, Andy Paterson, Lisa Steele and Tanya Mars) along with his definitive style of disparate found footage, a textured audioscape and an ominous voice-over, Hoolboom creates a work that is both challenging and moving. Hoolboom openly puts his own ideological fascinations into the work, creating a video text that includes commentaries on the atom bomb and the avent of television and video art. What results is a beautiful mishmash of Campbell’s own work along with Hoolboom’s disturbing imagery and complex ruminations. Hoolboom even superimposes himself on Campbell’s 1972 classic character Art Star in Sackville, I’m Yours, implying dual artists and dual visions. Campbell was a pioneer whose underground classics Modern Love (1979), Bad Girls (1980) and No Voice Over (1986) set him as a forerunner in (queer) video art. When he passed away from cancer in 2001, many in the community felt the impact, Campbell’s penchant for camp and colourful, sexually-ambiguous character gave birth to a particular videomaking style. Usually dressed in women’s clothes, he addressed the viewer directly with confessional monologues using long takes. Hoolboom posits that Campbell’s narrative is as much the narrative of North American video art as it is about you and me. The movie traces the history of video art and its emergence as a defiant voice in the fact of television’s ubiquitous imagery. Television is presented as an eradication of time and image, where “amnesia is the organizing principle.” But is this an homage to Campbell or is Hoolboom just plundering Campbell’s work and image to fit his own style? I think Fascination puts forth the inherent dilemma with biography and the inability to get outside oneself—something that Campbell himself was constantly addressing. Ultimately, Hoolboom hints that all artists are connected and that Campbell was a major force, stating that he had an “atomic personality.” Mike Vokins, Xtra! April 2006


“Among documentaries, biographical portraits are a canonical genre. Generally, these strive to stick as closely as possible to their subject, highlighting basic traits that reinforce the viewers’ reasons for holding in esteem-or not-the said subject. Rare but welcome exceptions include Mike Hoolboom’s latest work, which portrays the video artist and performer Colin Campbell (who passed away at the age of 59, in 2001). A beautiful and charming man, Campbell felt driven to externalize his femininity; he would dress up in all the finery of a woman fishing for compliments. As the filmmaker exclaims: “This man-woman, a person who lives in stereo and hence: my first real stereo movie, two channels!” Nonetheless, it took Hoolboom several exhausting months, even years, to put his film together, implying that he sought as much to capture Colin as to define his own identity. The resulting biography serves as a platform for his autobiographic desire: a demiurgic and compulsive determination to subject film images and sounds to in-depth treatment. His superimposition of the faces and voices of Colin and himself forms a thought-provoking single image, which becomes the film’s icon. In a masterful montage that gives rise to astounding combinations, Hoolboom grapples with his phantasms and imagination, which are reflected in the images he shot and later retrieved from his circle of acquaintances and/or took back (“pilfered” as he terms it) from the flow of the industrial audio-visual production. Hence, Fascination has less to do with Colin than with the utter attention devoted by the filmmaker to the life of the images, thought of as aids to dreaming and dying, forgetting and thinking. Hoolboom reveals how such images belong to the time and space where our collective history settles in layers-a history that is explosive and violent, as well as individual, fragile and abortive. Could we say that Colin dims as the subject figure, beside Hoolboom’s spirited manner of turning the portrait itself into a rhapsody with the hair-raising turbulence of a maelstrom? And that Fascination came into being against the will of its main character, whose portrait the film does-if cautiously-end up piecing together? Jean Perret, Visions du Reel Festival catalogue


“1966 produziert Sony ein erstes Video-Aufnahmegerät. Für alle, die der Macht des TV etwas entgegen halten wollen, ist der erste Schritt zur visuellen Emanzipation nicht mehr weit. Eine Politik des befreiten Privaten gegen jene der zugerichteten Öffentlichkeit steht an der Tagesordnung des künstlerischen Underground. Colin Campbell (1942-2001), dessen persona der in Leipzig nicht ganz unbekannte kanadische Experimentalfilmer Mike Holboom hier in einer Art Meta-Biopic re-inszeniert, gilt als einer dieser Video-Pioniere. Während sich der Nuklearwissenschaftler mit Uni-Professur zur Drag Queen verwandelt, flimmert auf dem TV-Screen im Hintergrund die unfreiwillig komische Szene des Aufeinandertreffens Kruschev-Nixon – symptomatische Verkreuzung der Bildwelten. Campbells Biographie macht deutlich, wie sehr mediale Marginalität zum ästhetischen Ursprung des Politischen wird, und wie eng die Eckpfeiler des amerikanischen 20. Jahrhunderts (Atombombe, Anti-Kommunismus-Kampagne, Vietnam) mit den ‚Konstanten’ der Kunst-Szene (Video-Art, Transsexualität, HIV) verbunden sind. Ein experimenteller Abschied von einem Freund & Lover, eine melancholische Stimulation der Erinnerung, ein Skizze des Sterbens und Loslassens.” Barbara Wurm, Leipzig Festival

“This biographical film on one of Canada’s most important video artists, Colin Campbell, is a loving farewell and exploration of Campbell’s life, art and philosophy by renowned Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Mike Hoolboom. Campbell died in 2001, leaving behind dozens of personal videos that explored the video form, the gaze, and the creation of numerous personas. The film is a documentary that is part biography of times and events that shaped the sculptor-turned video artist, and part examination of the filmed image, the relations we leave behind, and a meditation on what creates an artist. Mike Hoolboom has created a singularly unique biographical documentary, for in addition to a chronology of the major signposts in Colin Campbell’s life, he also dedicates considerable time in the film to an exploration of the nature of the filmed image. Using archival clips, sections from Campbell’s films, still photos and numerous interviews with Campbell’s peers, and Campbell himself, Hoolboom has pieced together a story that is as engaging and interesting as the subject, due in large part to such a perfect marriage of the context to the form. Certainly an important film about one of Canada’s most important filmmakers, this challenging work is a rare opportunity to see a new work by a leading Canadian avant-garde filmmaker in the appropriate setting.” Donovan Aikman, Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival


“Prolific fringe filmmaker Mike Hoolboom (Panic Bodies, Tom) turns his lens to the fallen video ‘art star’ Colin Campbell (1942-2001) in this deeply affecting experimental portrait. Video artist and charming gender provocateur on the Toronto art scene, Campbell pioneered video art in the 1970s, creating drag personas that paralleled conceptual performance of the time. As Hoolboom notes in his voice-over, he does not merely tell Campbell’s story but accompanies it. Contextualising Campbell’s art practice within the TV generation and the Cold War, Hoolboom enters the video milieu by mixing a dreamlike cocktail of found footage with Campbell’s hilarious, poignant videos. Interviews with friends, lovers and art world companions such as John Greyson and Tanya Mars add an intimate layer to this thought-provoking tribute to an important artist rarely screened in the UK.” Kyle Stephan

“’What is my name? I thought everybody knew. My name is Art Star.’ Colin Campbell, who died in 2001, was the pioneer of video art, colleague, lover an advisor to many of his followers. A mix of interviews, Colin’s works, archival material and author images multiply his portraits and represents a chronicle of the period in which Campbell worked and which roughly corresponds to the Cold War years. As if the atomic bomb era was the perfect prerequisite for the visual music of experimental cinema.” Petr Kubica, Jihlava Festival

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“In order to take the next step (not forward or backwards, but only: to go on) it is often necessary to lean on a picture made by someone else, sometimes a word will do, a gesture, the look on a stranger’s face. Colin Campbell made the next step possible for me so I took up a video camera (his pictures were my company, and my camera accompanied his pictures). Between his images of the past and mine, Colin Campbell emerged as a Cold Warrior, as an artist who would fight the Cold War with stereo. Yes, a stereo artist! Fascination contains only the pictures I would find in my camera when I reviewed the material in the morning, after all the serious work had been done (while I and all the others who spoke his language, lay sleeping).” MH

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