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Masucci, In Good Standing, Makes Waves At Eztv

AND NOW A WORD FROM YOUR LOCAL VIDEO ARTIST . . . : Last in a series examining the Los Angeles video art scene.

October 23, 1987|DON SNOWDEN

"I say this as a joke but it's largely true: Being at EZTV is a lot like being in the (music group) Ramones," declared video artist Michael J. Masucci in the screening room at EZTV, the West Hollywood facility that serves as a low-cost video production center and presents programs of independent video work each weekend.

"People may not know your name but everybody (in the film/video/art world) has heard of EZTV as an entity. They don't know specifics about us but they have a very rabid sense about what we do. We're really like punk rock was, and that's fine."

That outsider's role suits Masucci fine, since the Bronx native's original connection with video came through his love of controversial, on-the-edge rock 'n' roll. He frequently attended early '70s concerts by glitter rock heroes the New York Dolls at the Mercer Art Center in New York City, which then housed the Big Apple's principal home for video art, the Kitchen.

But Masucci, 34, didn't get hooked on video then. He became enthralled by the medium in the late '70s when a rock band of photographers and designers that he was playing in was the subject of a graduate student's video project.

It was the hands-on experience of working with the equipment that captivated Masucci. "It's really like a new part of your body, an extension of your senses because it's so instantaneous," he explained.

His affinity for the visual arts had already been nurtured through his job at Modern Age Photographics in New York, a facility specializing in large-scale reproductions. The company's client list ranged from giant corporations to famed artists like Richard Avedon.

"It was actually an excellent learning experience because we were switching gears all the time, going from a Scavullo to an IBM and having to capture their styles," reflected Masucci. "In a sense, it was art like anthropology--it's understanding that styles are not religions or dogmas. There's no 'appropriate,' just lots of answers."

Eventually, there were lots of questions in Masucci's mind about the physical effects of working at Modern Age Photographics.

"I was dealing with very caustic chemicals, incredible quantities of them, making these prints," he remembered. "My hands were blown up and I was having a lot of health problems. I took a leave of absence and I was very scared."

Masucci left Modern Age in 1982 and wound up in Los Angeles doing video work for a fashion company in Sherman Oaks. He lived in West Hollywood and, one day in 1983, happened to be out for a stroll when fate intervened.

"I saw a bunch of 3/4-inch video equipment boxes being thrown out in front of this building," he recalled. "I said, 'There's somebody serious about video in this building.' That was a couple of weeks before EZTV officially opened and I just walked in and said, 'Hello, I did a video.'

"What I was able to do was just live a video life style--work with other people on assignments and I'd do commissioned stuff. I guess a manager would advise me differently about career planning but it was basically magic timing."

Masucci has no problems accepting the eclectic mixture of programs EZTV presents each week in its theater area.

"The idea of showing lots of different things is curatorially very poor or incorrect," Masucci explained. "Virtually all the museums that show video are genre-oriented and show slices. We get criticized for too much diversity but we take our cue from television: programming as opposed to curating."

But Masucci's personal aesthetic is at odds with the narrative stories and Hollywood film values of most of the artists whose work is shown at EZTV. He prefers interpretive collaborations with performance artists, dancers and actors looking to stretch themselves.

"The idea is for two people to synergize and create something they don't know about," he explained. "First, there's conversation and arguing, a lot of pushing buttons and trying to out where those buttons are. It's very common during the first couple of days shooting for someone to start crying, scream at me and pick something up to throw at me.

"We agree on the things we want to do, and usually 70% happens and 30% is completely unexpected. You end up using things that are absolutely improvisational and just magic. To take credit for more than just discovering it would be bad."

Ironically, Masucci attracted the most attention for a 1983 tape called "Standing Waves." The piece was intended to satirize what he termed the "lava lamp" genre of video--slowly moving abstract imagery--but wound up being embraced by dance club deejays who used it to accompany their music.

Masucci's current priority is establishing a world-class multidisciplinary theater company with choreographer Zina Bethune that will incorporate his contributions as a video/media artist. That's not a goal destined to earn him the pole position on the Hollywood fast track, but that's OK by him.

"I get a lot of fatherly advice from people telling me what I could be doing to get rich or famous," he acknowledged. "I know those things but I'm not trying to be a film maker because I think that's dead. I get quite rabid about that.

"There's an avenue that I'm walking down and it's definitely not the tried-and-true. It's not the way to get to be the director of 'Star Wars 4.' "

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