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The Swing


1972 00:17:20 United StatesEnglishB&WMono4:31/2" open reel video


Simultaneously dark, surreal, and unnerving, this seventeen-minute tape is a stark departure from the usually playful productions of the Videofreex. Through the use of slow fades, processed audio, and the juxtaposition of often-times violent imagery with a bleak, winter forest, the viewer is thrust into an atmospheric and experimental trip.

The opening shot captures the rotating motion of a tree swing whose ropes have been intertwined, ambient sounds of birds chirping and wood creaking in the background. As the point of view dreamily swings, distorted laughter can be heard echoing alongside a drone pulse of electronic noise. The image of a flowing river washes into view, eventually fading out to reveal the glimmer of a switchblade. This sequence gives way to the fileting of fish at a market. Then, a mouse being devoured by a snake. Another fade, and a cleaver swiftly comes down on a rooster’s neck – it spastically flapping its wings. The intense movement of that shot is contrasted by the next wherein, slowly and methodically, a butcher slits the throats of three sheep. The laughter, drone pulse, swing and stream return in a multi-layered shot melting the images and sounds together. This marks a shift in the video, the resulting, final sequence taking place along a partially frozen stream in the woods. The camera, in voyeuristic first person, follows a cloaked figure at a distance. Sometimes they enter the field of vision, always from afar, other times, the camera looks around as if lost – nothing but dead trees and the rocky, ice-covered creek. Heavy breathing behind the camera becomes more and more audible, one gets the feeling of panic, and a rough cut shows the cloaked figure looming above for an instant – the laughter from earlier begins again. Shortly thereafter the video abruptly finishes, and an end-card reading “EDITED AT MAPLE TREE FARM” appears – this too slowly fades away.

 — Nicolas Holt, 2016

VDB Videofreex

Videofreex, one of the first video collectives, was founded in 1969 by David Cort, Mary Curtis Ratcliff and Parry Teasdale, after David and Parry met each other, video cameras in hand, at the Woodstock Music Festival. Working out of a loft in lower Manhattan, the group's first major project was producing a live and tape TV presentation for the CBS network, The Now Show, for which they traveled the country, interviewing countercultural figures such as Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.

The group soon grew to ten full-time members--including Chuck Kennedy, Nancy Cain, Skip Blumberg, Davidson Gigliotti, Carol Vontobel, Bart Friedman and Ann Woodward--and produced tapes, installations and multimedia events. The Videofreex trained hundreds of makers in this brand new medium though the group's Media Bus project.

In 1971 the Freex moved to a 27-room, former boarding house called Maple Tree Farm in Lanesville, NY, operating one of the earliest media centers. Their innovative programming ranged from artists' tapes and performances to behind-the-scenes coverage of national politics and alternate culture. They also covered their Catskill Mountain hamlet, and in early 1972 they launched the first pirate TV station, Lanesville TV. An exuberant experiment with two-way, interactive broadcasting, it used live phone-ins and stretched cameras to the highway, transmitting whatever the active minds of the Freex coupled with their early video gear could share with their rural viewers.

During the decade that the Freex were together, this pioneer video group amassed an archive of 1,500+ raw tapes and edits.

In 2001, the Video Data Bank began assembling this unique archive of original 1/2-inch open-reel videos, collecting them from basements and attics where the tapes were stored. A restoration plan was hammered out in 2007 and a distribution contract was signed between VDB and the newly formalized Videofreex Partnership (administered by Skip Blumberg).

The Videofreex Archive, now housed at VDB, chronicles the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The  titles listed here are the first wave of an ongoing project to preserve and digitize important examples of this early video.

More About the Videofreex Archive Preservation

Also see:

Parry Teasdale: An Interview

Videofreex Official Website